Written by Steve Bosak
Each of us at DesignThinkers Group wears a few hats. One week we are consulting with companies to create new services or products; the next week we are training a team on how to facilitate human-centered design (HCD) workshops within their own organization. We also teach open enrollment design thinking classes through our DesignThinkers Academy.
One of the most satisfying outcomes of teaching HCD is when a course participant instantly sees the value of design thinking and starts applying it to her own work. This happened recently when our colleague Daniela Marzavan and I were teaching our Design Thinking for Sustainability course in Washington, DC.
In the first day of our course, we introduced a sustainability design challenge for our participants and discussed the role of empathy and the importance of ethnographic research to discover stakeholder needs and desires. We introduced activities such as stakeholder mapping and empathy mapping.
At the start of the course’s second day, participant Amy Gambrill of Environmental Incentives was excited to share with her course colleagues that she had immediately used the stakeholder map the previous evening after going home. She was advising some partners on the design of a website and the Academy’s stakeholder mapping enabled her to take a broader view of the website’s users and influencers. Once she viewed the stakeholder map that she’d created, she pushed the site’s designers to re-think the design to be more user-centered.
Her motto: “Stop polluting the world with well-designed solutions to poorly-designed problems.”
A few weeks after the course ended, Amy called to tell me she was now employing human-centered design for a number of projects with her clients. Environmental Incentives works with municipalities, governments, and foundations on performance-based conservation. In the U.S., they focus on water, wildlife, and water conservation issues.
Internationally, they focus on biodiversity, forest conservation, climate change, energy, and water. In one case, Amy pre-populated a stakeholder map for a project and showed it to her client. They realized they had to consider a wider range of stakeholders and it led to a reframing of the project’s challenge.
Amy is also using the DT Academy tools from the course to develop Personas and Journey Maps to show her client new types of users that they had not originally considered in their project. The Journey Map allowed her client to examine barriers for their target stakeholders, and to realize that they needed to develop a method to promote behavior change.
Now that she’s started using HCD tools in her everyday work, her firm has asked her to use HCD for an organization-wide visioning exercise later this year. She is showing off her HCD skills to Environmental Incentives leadership to assist them in planning for the firm’s future.
Amy’s overall aim in using HCD is to prevent her clients from jumping to solutions too quickly before understanding a problem. Her motto: “Stop polluting the world with well-designed solutions to poorly-designed problems.”
The two-day course on Design Thinking for Sustainability gave Amy tools — and practice in using those tools – that were instantly relevant in her job. We believe that the HCD method and philosophy can assist many types of organizations in solving complex problems and innovating creative practices and products.
It is hugely satisfying work, and a real thrill when our course participants are able to immediately apply what they learn. If you have a story you would like to share, please reach out to us and let’s talk.