Human Centered Design: Workshop

by Jiawen Fang, China, ELP 2014
Written on July 21, 2014.

The synthesis and reflections of the workshop
I am very interested in creative design for city slums, or some ways out of urban poverty. The workshop on July 17th by really inspired me a lot. The workshop contained two parts. In the first part, faculty from gave us a brief, but important introduction about human centered design, including its definition, principles and processes. In the second part, we were provided a great chance to design a wallet in group work.

What is is a nonprofit design organization that works to empower the poor. They believe that by understanding and working alongside those in the greatest need, they can design solutions that create prosperity. Partnering with nonprofits, social enterprises, and foundations, practices human-centered design to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.

Part 1: Introduction of Human Centered Design
Having done some design projects before, I found it really helpful and inspiring. Here are the summary of principles and process:

  • Get out there: go where your designs locate or somewhere you are crazy about.
  • Talk to extremes: the needs of the extremes decide how human centered your design is.
  • Understand and observe: be sure to pay equal attention to both reality and aspiration. Gather inspiration from unexpected places. Keep your eyes and your heart open.
  • Work with disciplines: cooperation between different fields.
  • Prototype early and often: problems will never emerge before design put into practice.
  • Consider the system: where people system, technical system and business system overlapped is where design thinking begins. See Fig. 1

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Stories (from the real world) → Insights → Opportunity Areas → Ideation → Idea Solutions (back to the real world)
Concrete → abstract → concrete

Part 2: Design a better wallet!
In the second part, everyone was asked to design a better wallet for their partner, and that’s where we experience the spirit of human centered design. First, we are allowed to sketch a few of our own ideas, then we tried to gain empathy by engaging our “users” through Q&A for basic information and specific stories for digging out the specific needs rooted deeply inside.

My partner, Myo Ko Ko, shared several stories with me about the trouble of leaving his wallet at home in the morning, especially when he changed his clothes. He said that it would be perfect if his wallet can ring as a reminder before he leaves for work. Based on his strong needs for the “wallet reminder,” I came up with the idea of inserting a mini alarm clock which is about the size of a coin in his wallet. This mini clock can remind him to bring his wallet as well as wake him up in the morning.

For me, I shared my stories about the inconvenience of not being allowed to bring my backpack into the museum, dining hall, or in any other special occasions. I have to hold my wallet, cell phone, passport and camera in my hands! Myo then suggested that we design a bag that can be folded into a very small piece and hidden inside a fold in the backpack. When we have to leave our backpack behind, we can pull the small bag out as a spare one.

I felt so excited about these two brilliant ideas, and meanwhile surprised about the importance and charm of the stories. By personal stories, we are able to put ourselves in users’ shoes and design from the perspective of them but with our design talent and intuition.

Connecting to my own project --- the charm of story
I have been doing a project of revitalizing a slum surrounded by Peking University, Tsinghua University and Yuanmingyuan Park in Beijing. Our idea is to build a community-based enterprise where people can make creative handicrafts out of recycled materials. The community will be working as a factory including departments of designing, production, marketing and retailing. In this way, people in the community can have both a job for living, but also build a close relationship with their neighborhood. So far, we have finished the conceptual plan of this community (see Fig. 2), but the biggest challenge is that many people do not have the passion to build such a new community. Actually, we have done a survey in the community, but still felt we cannot really understand their real needs and definitely unable to design as a local guy.

The workshop let me realize the charm of storytelling by residents. When they tell a story to us to express their struggles as well as happiness, we actually walk into their life, even into their hearts. It is not only about learning more about their needs for a better design, but also about sharing the same feelings with them so that your design will be human and just like the organic part of their life. There is no need to facilitate or to motivate them deliberately, empathy happens naturally and works well.

Besides, the way and the attitude of listening to their stories is also important. When we design a wallet for our partner, we are equal like friends. However, when we did the survey in the community last year, some of our teammates did their job in a way of a leader of a charity, with empathy, but without equality. That is another reason why we receive so much negative feedback.

I think story telling is key to overcoming the challenges, and we are sure to go back to that slum to share stories with local residents.

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