Human Centered Design: What, Who, Where, When, Why, How

I’ve been on hiatus from this blog since I began curating the blog for GrantCraft. I will try to at least cross-post my personally-authored posts here and revive my own writing as time permits!

Affinity clustering activity following a Rose-Thorn-Bud from Foundation Center’s youth philanthropy retreat, May 2014

What: Human-Centered Design (HCD) puts humans at the center of a creative and critical thinking process that promotes rapid generation of ideas, helps organize and process lots of information, guides group input, and ultimately helps make better decisions. It relies on our human capacity for empathy, as well as our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional.

Who: You! HCD helps to harness the unique perspectives and ideas that we can find difficult to get our arms around. It’s inclusive, allowing all voices to be heard including introverts and extroverts, senior program officers and communications associates, the tech-savvy and people who prefer pen and paper only.

Where: In meetings, at your desk, at strategic planning sessions, in the field. Make sure you’re in a place that has a flat surface like a wall or a table and some post-its, markers, and sharpies.

When: HCD can be used for observing people, seeing how they interact with a product or service, understanding challenges and opportunities, and testing ideas in real-time. In short, there are opportunities at any point in a project to use design thinking.

Why: HCD approaches problems and solutions more thoroughly and thoughtfully by allowing more ideas and diverse perspectives to surface. It focuses on action instead of just thinking, makes abstract ideas more tangible, allows for uncertainty and challenges, and better integrates the human experience.  It supports thinking outside the box and provides anonymity of ideas, making it easier to iterate and ideate as a group without bias or confrontation. Plus, it’s fun and keeps things interesting!

How: Read up, get trained, and seek out resources to find out more. There are a few non-negotiables when doing HCD:

  1. Plan early and with a partner.
  2. Secure necessary supplies.
  3. Set ground rules.
  4. Clearly explain the activity so people can fully participate.

As the activity progresses, you’ll also want to digitally record outcomes (take pictures!) and create a safe space by being mindful of different personalities and perspectives.

Looking for more? Here are three great resources for those getting into HCD:

  • The Luma Institute provides terrific resources on HCD, including books, planning materials, and activity templates. I can personally vouch for their terrific two-day trainings, too.
  • Ideo created a free HCD toolkit designed to help social enterprises and nonprofits “understand a community’s needs in new ways, find innovative solutions to meet those needs, and deliver solutions with financial sustainability in mind.”
  • Beth Kanter’s blog, especially her post summarizing a day-long meeting in which we both participated at a foundation.


Brainstorming: A History and Future

I really liked this infographic and experiment. Below it, I’ve included a few more brainstorming exercises that I think work well. I don’t think there’s a catch-all answer.

via Are We Brainstorming the Right Way?

Brainstorming about Brainstorming… more exercises to try

These are a few from my experience; please add yours, too!

  • Pitch Not-Your-Own Idea: Write your idea down on a sheet of paper. Mix the ideas up and distribute randomly. Every person pitches the idea they now have (likely not theirs), meaning they have to own it and do whatever they can to support it in front of the group. It forces people to challenge their own biases stemming from who pitched an idea or how it was pitched, and everyone contributes. (via MaxFunCon 2011 workshop with Kasper Hauser)
  • Stickywall: People contribute ideas (either outloud or written) that are then literally stuck to the wall. The facilitator can then physically rearrange and cluster thoughts. It’s a great visual tool and a way to include as many ideas as exist in a room without being overwhelming. (via Rachael Swanson from my time on the LIFT student advisory board.)
  • Build-the-Idea: Someone gives an idea. Someone else builds on it through acceptance of the idea and addition of information. Still another person builds on that by again accepting all pieces of the idea and then adding to it. Each idea should go through at least 3 iterations before moving onto the next. This allows the group to really play with possibilities of an idea, support oneanother, and have some fun. (via my improv classes and inspired by an earlier post).