Text Zoom

Designing services for cognitive diversity

Christine Hemphill

April 13, 2019

Christine Hemphill

April 13, 2019

Tom and Christine presenting at Service Lab London

In November 2018 we presented on Service Design for Cognitive Diversity at the fabulous Service Lab London meetup, hosted by The Guardian. We presented an overview of varying cognitive needs and considerations as well as some specific design principles for two groups, older people with memory loss and people with dyslexia.

We were followed by the lovely team from Humanly talking about some specific service design projects they have conducted and running an interactive session for us to practice the skills ourselves. The final, very engaging speaker was Dr. Steph Wilson from the University of London. She shared her deep experience in designing for people with aphasia (loss or partial loss of language skills, often post stroke). She also shared a really fabulous therapeutic VR experience they have developed at INCA to help rebuild skills and confidence in speech for people with aphasia.

Here is a link to a short Twitter feed summary of the evening provided by the team at Service Lab London covering all three speakers.

Our full presentation is available for you via Slide Share here.

Our basic premise is that everyone thinks differently – from each other and even from themselves at a different moment in the day or over time. Designing services that work well for their intended users must take these differences into consideration to be effective.

All three of speakers agreed on many things. Here are a few of the highlights we all noted:

We all think differently

That is a given, so design for it.

Get diverse insights

Engage people with a range of cognitive needs relevant to the service being designed during the design and development process. Engage users preferably in at least three stages: very early on when defining the needs and minimum requirements/ acceptance criteria of any solution, as concepts emerge to test them and as the solution is created to test its accessibility (can everyone access it), usability (can everyone use it efficiently and achieve the primary or secondary goals) and overall experience (how enjoyable was the journey for different individuals)

Be creative in how you ask, engage and listen

Design user-centred research in ways that suit everyone involved’s needs and preferences. Get creative, use games, drawing, telling, showing, making or other ways to identify needs and develop appropriate solutions. Ensure the research and engagement is itself inclusive and designed from start to finish to support all participants’ needs.

Universal + adaptive design

As far as possible design the service to work for a very broad range of intended users without any requirement for user adaptation. However, sometimes tradeoffs between conflicting user needs limit “one solution for all” approaches. At that point consider the most user-centred and effective way to allow users or service providers to adapt the service to their specific needs or their customers’.


Very few people enjoy wading through complex instructions or bureaucratic processes. For some people, these are complete disablers of a service to them. As far as possible simplify the process, language and interactions to make them easier for everyone, and accessible to those who are excluded when the complexity is too high.

If you are interested to know more about cognitive diversity and how it may influence the design of products or services in your organisation, please contact us. We would be delighted to help you.

Here are some of the images and slides from the evening.

Provide alternative ways to access information. Prioritise key information. Minimise reading. Minimise number of fonts and styles. Put user goals ahead of designer goals. Keep users motivated. Allow for greater variance in vocabulary, spelling accuracy, ability and desire to read chunks of text, ability to comprehend text (especially jargon or complex terms) and concentration span
Design Principles for Dyslexic Users (please note that there is a second slide on design tips for dyslexic users in the actual presentation)


The slide behind Ali reads acquired brain injury, dementia, people living with mental health problems, english as an additional language, learning disabilities, specific learning difficulties, Autistic people and everyone!
Ali Fawkes presenting on some of the categories of cognitive diversity


A guide to designing for people with aphasia. Do keep text short and simple, include a text label with every icon, minimise distraction, let users control their own pace, limit the number of steps. Don't use complex sentences, rely on images or text alone, clutter the screen, use timeouts or use complex user journeys
Design “dos and donts” for people with aphasia


Christine presenting at Service Lab London
Christine presenting on some of the various reasons that we all think differently
Back to top