Human Centred Design: it Starts with You

Series 3/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 3/3: Human Centred Design – The following series covers the concepts and ideas behind Human Centred Design?


My wife is an artist, she is driven by the creativity design process. Everything she does is led by a passion to explore research and understand different ideas and concepts. Before I met my wife I could distinctly separate the idea of art and design. To me art was about expression and communicating your identity through a creative process, design contrary to art was about working for the end user and building up a solution to solve a challenge they are facing. With this definition of design don’t we lose the idea of ownership and responsibility? Is the challenge of designing with the community, first about understanding who you are as a designer? When I first met my wife I started to understand more about the design process, I started to work on my engineering designs as an artist would; taking ownership of the design and crafting the details. The more I understand who I was the more I enjoyed the process of design. I was less driven by the result; instead I saw the process as an opportunity to grow and learn and discover my own identity as a designer. Is the journey to achieving Human Centred Design therefore a journey of self-leadership?

This idea of self-leadership is central to the design process. It is required in order to understand and relate to the problem, it enables us to dig deeper and find the route cause developing a design which empowers the community. This part of the creative process is the empathy stage and in order to develop empathy you must know yourself and use emotional intelligence to relate to and understand the problem. Emotional intelligence enables us to connect with people and develop a genuine understanding of the impact of our designs. This was where my week in South East Asia started, it wasn’t in the excitement of discovering a different culture but in the reflection of understanding who I am as a designer. This first workshop was led by May Sripatanaskul founder of the Asian Leadership Academy. We started to learn more about empathy and how it fits within the design process. The workshop was a great insight into how empathy can build up the creative process and bring identity into design. How does defining your identity as a designer empower you in the design process?

May enabled us to understand the connected nature of the design process, how each piece of the puzzle fits together to create an innovative solution. The process of empathizing built up the understanding and passion to ideate; developing different potential solution. The more unrestrained the process was the more innovative we were in our approach. This was a central lesson in the Human Centred Design process; there is a time to be creative and a time to narrow down on the idea. The creative stage is about building up on ideas, using creativity to create. In order to achieve this we need to create a safe place for innovative thinking in which we can openly discuss different ideas. Understanding the creative process and the importance of following through the stages of the design is the first step to designing with impact. Human Centred Design starts with each one of us, it starts with understanding the way we relate to each other and how we can encourage and build each other up. Is the basis of sustainable development about building up relationships and working together to create a better future?


The Story of Strategic Development

Series 2/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 2/3: Human Centred Design – The following series covers the concepts and ideas behind Human Centred Design?


I have always loved strategic planning and structured development. It’s one of my personality traits which led me to become a civil engineer. I love the methodology and high level management engineers use. Everything has to be designed to a high level of detail and the design has to work together with this detail. Landing in Bangkok and discovering the city was therefore a little overbearing for a self-confessed obsessive compulsive perfectionist. It was challenging to make sense of the way buildings came together. The structural diversity I observe in one city in the UK was present within one street in Bangkok. The wealthy modern buildings where surrounded with self-assembled buildings. The city presented element of organic community led growth and strategic development. It was a great place to try and understand the different ideas and concepts behind development and the practical impact. It provided a great place to develop an insight into organic growth.

The first part of my journey into understanding this question was to understand the idea of sustainable development and economic growth. This question would enable me to understand the practical impact of strategic or organic growth. The level of affluence present in today’s society can be traced back to the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution enabled society to progress from a general level of extreme poverty to an affluent and opportunistic society. The issue is we have never been able to create a prosperous society in which the great wealth creates a wider sense of well-being. We have constantly worked towards quantitative solutions creating more effective and calculated systems. These systems have enabled us to develop amazing and wonderful engineering systems; our failure has been in measuring their wider impact. Two pillars of sustainability our extremely difficult to measure: the environmental and social impact; as a society we have ignored these ideas. It is therefore more important than ever that we focus on qualitative solution in order to create sustainable growth. How do we achieve qualitative solution when the basis of our modern economy is founded on mechanical quantitative progression?

The difficulty with qualitative solution is they cannot easily be defined or measured. Qualitative solutions require us to listen and understand the problems, potential solution and their impact. It is not just about having the best engineering solution but designing the solution which works for the end user. We cannot achieve this without Human Centred Design; our traditional design methods limit what we can achieve both economically and personally. In order to be creative and approach the different design challenges we have to rethink the reason why we are designers? Is it to design using the tried and tested method? Or is it about taking ownership of the design building an innovative solution which challenges our understanding? How do we take ownership and design using innovative processes?


Design Thinking the Creative Process


A week ago I returned home from South East Asia after spending ten intense days learning about sustainable development and grass route social innovation. The journey transformed my understanding of the design process and the importance of Human Centred Design. I look forward to sharing this journey and the different design processes I learnt about, but more importantly I am excited by the opportunity to express the stories of the people making a difference.The innovators going against the grain to solve problems in a creative and groundbreaking manner. Working with the community to transform lives and bring about positive change.

There are many stories and theories I want to unpack in order to understand how they can be used in strategic frameworks; building up better solutions which meet the needs of the community. One of the main messages throughout the field trip was the importance of process. Continually iterating and improving the design process in order to build up a solution which develop and overcome challenges. Including the clients and users throughout the design and creative process. Building up solution in which the designers steps back and lets the client and user develop a solution which works for them.

As a designer I am very much led by strategic thinking and results. I enjoy thinking that I can overcome any challenge through a set of procedures to build up the best result. The challenge of design and development is admitting your own limitation and understanding that the community has a great depth of insight into the design challenge. The key to sustainable development is for the designer to be process driven in which the quality and the standard of the design is as important or more important than the end result. In which the impact is measure by the lessons learnt and the shared involvement in the design. Human Centred Design is about building a better future together.