How People Work: Reflection Blog Post

Sarah Xi & Alison Hu Fall 2020

Sarah Xi
3 min readOct 18, 2020

As our class transitioned into understanding and exploring human cognition, we took a glance at how a human’s emotions and perceptions both enhance and shape the way people think. As our class explored how designers define “How People Think,” we particularly focused on the importance in not only recognizing diversity in individuals, cultures, and context, but also designing for it. We realized that oftentimes, keeping inclusivity in mind is not enough — designers hold unconscious biases that result from a lack of understanding from different worldviews. In order to best avoid harmful designs, designers must seek to understand how to best serve people’s needs while working from different perspectives.

When holding these conversations, we found ourselves struggling to understand how designers can truly work around these problems. Essentially, what is the designer’s role? If it is not the designer’s role to tell people how to feel and what to think, perhaps it is mostly instead to design meaningful spaces where users can reflect on these experiences. We wondered how to build capacities to create these spaces as our conversation centered around what “human-centered design” truly means. If “universal” means to include all humans, then what is the difference between “universal design” and “human-centered design”?

Is “Universal Design” Achievable?

Sarah: For me, the short answer is no. I feel like people are always designing for a specific thing, and by having that, you’d have a target audience. Having a target audience in of itself already entails that there’ll always be people outside that intended audience.

Alison: I think “universal design” sounds good in theory, but I don’t know if it’s necessary. Universal design is impossible because it’s impossible to truly understand all humans.

Sarah: The goal is to at least try to be as cognizant of inclusivity in design as possible, since it could potentially create unintended consequences by not doing so.

Alison: And the people who face these consequences usually aren’t the designers — they are the ones who fall short of the term “universal” in people’s minds.

Sarah: Yeah, like mentioned in our Design and Social Justice lecture, sometimes people subconsciously design with straight white males in mind due to the pre-existing mental schemas they have.

Alison: This is something we also talked about in my Environments studio track; as we were prototyping interactions that required users to touch the interface with both hands, my professor asked how a disabled person who has one arm could interact instead. No matter how hard you might try to be inclusive, there are always different people to account for.

From this discussion and the lectures in class, we both agreed that it’s our role to be mindful of inclusivity, even though it’s impossible to be 100% inclusive of everyone’s experiences and worldviews. Moreover, though inclusivity is obvious in design, we also agreed that we were definitely reminded of being aware of the faults in not keeping track of our personal internal biases. We decided that human-centered design doesn’t mean designing for everyone; it means actively listening and designing for any human in a respectful and flexible way — knowing that even if we cannot relate, we will try to understand. This way, we can become designers who will create spaces that are increasingly safe and meaningful for more people to experience.



Sarah Xi

Hey! I’m currently studying design @CMU with a focus on communications design + minor in HCI. You can find some of the projects I’ve worked on here.