Building products that address long-tail user needs (i.e. the wide variety of infrequent-but-sometimes-painful needs of specific users) requires somehow providing users an open-ended landscape to create a solution. It’s the promise of the entire “low-code” tool space. We want to create a playground with appropriate guardrails that lets users discover and build their own solutions. Since the tool-builder can’t possibly understand the intricate details of the long-tail of user problems, we want a solution to actually enable the emergence of solutions we didn’t predict or design for.
In this post, Kasey Klimes compares situations this sort of emergence-friendly design model to approaches like user-centered design:
Design for emergence is open-ended. There’s no room for surprise in high modern or user-centered design, unless the design is exapted for an unintended use (see “Design Exaptation” in the bottom right quadrant of the 2x2 above). Meanwhile, a key characteristic of design for emergence is that the end design may be something that the original designer never imagined. Whereas exaptation may indicate a design failure, this kind of surprise is an indication that the designer has succeeded in nurturing emergence.
Design for emergence is permissionless. It empowers people by way of its constitution even though it can never know what people will do with that power. In contrast to user-centered design, design for emergence invites the user into the design process not only as a subject of study, but as a collaborator with agency and control.
Every product has to consider its floor, ceiling, and walls. Meaning, how easy is it to get going (floor), how advanced can I get with it (ceiling), and what variety of things can I solve with it (walls). The best emergence-designed products have a low floor, wide walls, and a high ceiling.