Photo Credit: Gabriel Garcia Marengo

I’m Using Human-Centered Design Principles to survive Thanksgiving

The Turkey is Not the Only One Sweating this Holiday Season


Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and we are all thinking the same thing, “Are we going to make it?

If you are hosting families for the first time this Holiday season, I’m certain you are riddled with stress and anxiety. Beads of sweat are probably rolling down your both of your temples. You are thinking about the food, the entertainment, and the clashes in personalities that are about to invade your living-room.

You are also most likely stocking up on alcohol, like a frantic autumn squirrel collecting nuts. Your credit is mounting quickly and you have no where to hide. Your nails have disappeared, as you have quite literally bitten them off, wondering if all your visitors will play nice. While you ask yourself if inviting everyone was a good idea, try to take deep breaths and know that you are not a lone.

I may have a solution for you.

I figured all this stress and anxiety over keeping people happy and feed this Holiday season needed some attention. However, I want to work the solution from a different angle: one centered around meeting the needs of those who will soon be commandeering your home.

I personally have decided to leverage universal principles of design to overcome the anxiety of hosting family for the first time for Thanksgiving. I hope you are able to make good use of some of these ideas, and please share your own too. At minimum, we should be able to avoid any future unscheduled AA meetings.

My proposal.

Require less input from your guests

  • Accessibility: use a label maker and label everything in your kitchen to improve accessibility. Label where you put your plates, serving utensils, pots, pans, and serving trays so people don’t get frustrated searching for something that isn’t there. This should work well for new visitors.
  • Grouping: group related and sequentially accessed objects together — you might have your plates and silverware where you think they belong, but trust me, it’s not going to work for the family. Which means, if the drawer with spoons is not right above your plates, fix that now. Group related items on the dinner table as well. Make sure that when things get passed around the table that related items follow. We wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on the green-bean casserole (that would be me)!
  • Default settings: provide a default arrangement of things that your guests will look for in your pantry — this means anything and everything that they will look for should be at eye level. This includes sugar, shortening, salt, oil, spices, cinnamon sticks and of course backup alchohol.
  • Automate: make drinks for everyone. No one hates an attentive bartender.
  • Minimize the need to search for ingredients — labeling will fix this problem.

Reduce recall memory

  • Setup extra rolls of toilet paper in each bathroom and alert your guests. No one knows where your spare rolls are.
  • Provide a history lesson on where everything is located, including the detergent, extra towels, Tylenol, wireless passwords, and coffee.
  • Minimize the need to make multiple selections to access your wireless router. Change your password to Password123. It’s the holidays. Everyone deserves free wifi!
  • Provide instructions on how to access your TV. No one should have to struggle to find the parade. Also, leave instructions on how to feed and walk the dog. Families always want to help and if they are willing to take the early morning dog-walking shift, let them.

Understand your guests mental models

  • Frequency of use: make the most frequently accessed items easily available. Some frequently accessed items may include but are not limited to Bailey’s, honey-roasted peanuts, pay-per-view movies, and the garage-door opener for the much needed alone-time escape.
  • Plan: buy everything you think you will need ahead of time. If you play the role of the “glue” in the family, then you won’t want to leave the house unattended.
  • Default settings: provide default snack bowls that are always full. Food can be a great distraction. Don’t fill the bowls with organic and healthy snacks unless you are a fitness instructor. No one will understand your reasoning behind bowls of tomatoes, carrots, and celery.
  • Multiple users: record the football game if you live in a God forsaken time zone. You can watch the parade first but make sure no one will get hurt because they missed the game.

Improve guest performance

  • Delight: say yes to all and any help that’s offered, especially in the kitchen. That’s where almost everyone will hang out and where you can make some of them happy.
  • Shortcuts: make it easy for family to help you. Buy pre-cut vegetables, potatoes, ginger, and garlic. If you are smart and can afford it, your entire meal is probably pre-prepared or catered. Good for you!
  • Primary vision: place dessert in the guests' primary field of view — they need to know you have it.
  • Workflow: if you have time, create a checklist and step-through it to make sure you have everything for your guests.

Anticipate guest expectations

  • Familiarity: try to preserve the original location of things your guests need if they have been to your house several times before. That doesn’t mean you should skip labeling. Your guests won’t remember everything.
  • Directions: provide clear and descriptive guidance on details of how the shower works, how the garage-door clicker works, where the liquor store is, where the nearest park is, and how to set the thermostat. On second thought, don’t share the last piece of info, it might come back to bite you. Minimize the request for help.
  • Don’t hide functionality: if the toilet requires a constant hold for a proper flush, be sure to tell your guests.

Thanksgiving can be a hectic time with large families, but it can also be fun if you design their visit around their needs. People are designed a certain way and if you understand these needs and limitations, you might be able to overcome any unanticipated stress and anxiety.

This list is an overgeneralization of things you might be able to do in preparation for your new role as host. Remove even the smallest of barriers. Remove anything that might add the tiniest bit of frustration, impatience, or embarrassment. Do so by labeling things, leaving instructions, and providing easy access to the elixirs of the Holiday spirit. Enjoy!