The Human-Centered
Design Process


First, we design the project.

We don’t just create artifacts, we create engagements. Every project is intentionally designed to maximize ownership, implementation and impact by engaging end users at the start.

  • We practice appreciative inquiry by positively framing projects in terms of solutions to achieve, rather than problems to fix.
  • We seek out positive deviants—the small number of folks who have created their own solutions—so we can learn from their work.
  • We find participants using the principles of relational recruiting, identifying key stakeholders and building partnerships with community-based organizations.



Our learning happens in the real world.

Rather than surveys or focus groups, our research is about observing behavior in context. We believe that seeing and learning from people’s behaviors in real time is the best way to build empathy—the key to good design.

  • We take our interviews and exercises where our users are, so we can immerse ourselves in their realities.
  • We start by explaining our goals and purpose, so participants understand why we’re there and how important their role is.
  • We take a trauma-informed approach to working with vulnerable populations, building on strengths and creating an atmosphere of psychological safety.



We define opportunities around what is working.

Traditional design focuses on finding and meeting unmet needs, but we also focus on assets–the existing tools, habits and relationships we can support and scale through design.

  • We make our qualitative data tangible—filling the walls with photos, quotes and stories—to keep the team grounded in concrete examples.
  • We find themes and insights based on patterns of behavior, then make them generative with frameworks and “how might we” statements.
  • We share findings through compelling videos, engaging workshops and inspirational visuals that help teams take action.



We use brainstorming as a tool for inclusion.

All brainstorms are not created equal. Our ideation sessions are facilitated to engage diverse stakeholders and bring out their creative confidence, so they can take an active role in designing their own solutions.

  • To keep brainstorms both focused and productive, we use thought-provoking tools such as user stories, “how might we” statements and solutions from analogous fields.
  • We defer judgment and go for quantity, so everyone can be comfortable sharing their insights.
  • We use storyboards to show how program and service ideas add up to a comprehensive experience.



We always prototype before we pilot.

Prototyping reduces the risk of trying something new. By finding fast, cheap ways to make our ideas tangible, we get closer to knowing what will work, what won’t and why.

  • Anything can be prototyped—from programs and services, to spaces, events and communications, as well as digital tools and products. We create props that simulate the full experience.
  • We gather user feedback so we can rapidly iterate on the prototype until it meets users’ needs.
  • By mimicking what the final product will really be like to use, prototypes are the best way to gather evidence instead of opinions.



We test solutions in real time.

Piloting lowers the costs of implementing a new solution at scale. By testing our solutions at a small scale we can learn directly from users’ unbiased behaviors, while leaving space to address unanswered questions and new learnings that arise during each scale of implementation.

  • We plan pilots that make sense for our clients’ capacity, defining each specific element of implementation: what tasks need to be done, by whom, and on what timeline.
  • We determine the appropriate data to record and metrics to measure during our tests, recognizing that our definition of success might change with each piloting cycle.
  • Pilots include moments of reflection to refine solutions for the next scale of implementation.