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What is Human-Centred Design?

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs. Embracing human-centered design means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality and clean water are solvable.
Field Guide to Human-Centred Design with Post-It notes

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving.

It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their needs. Embracing human-centered design means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality and clean water are solvable.

The Three Phases of Human-Centred Design

Human-centered design consists of three phases. In the Inspiration Phase you’ll learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives and come to deeply understand their needs. In the Ideation Phase you’ll make sense of what you learned, identify opportunities for design, and prototype possible solutions. And in the Implementation Phase you’ll bring your solution to life, and eventually, to market. And you’ll know that your solution will be a success because you’ve kept the very people you’re looking to serve at the heart of the process.

In April 2015, IDEO.org launched the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design. A 192-page book and open-source toolkit, the Field Guide includes an explanation of 57 design methods and is full of worksheets and case studies that show human-centered design in action. Some of the methods associated with the three key stages outlined above are:

  • Inspiration: framing your design challenge, interviewing stakeholders and experts, having your target audience create a collage of what they want or need
  • Ideation: brainstorming, role-playing, creating a storyboard, getting and integrating feedback
  • Implementation: prototyping, piloting, defining success, creating a pitch, monitoring and evaluation

These methods all allow you to co-create and develop a social enterprise idea in partnership with the people you intend to benefit.

Human-Centred Design Mindsets

The Field Guide also outlines seven mindsets of human-centred design: Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure.

Now would be an opportune time to look at the Field Guide. You don’t need to read the entire document, but try browsing through some of the activities and case studies to find inspiration for your own social enterprise.

Now, think about your social enterprise idea. How would you translate the problem you are trying to solve into a design challenge? What methods would you use to solve this challenge? If you don’t have your own idea just yet, please share an example of human-centred design from a social enterprise you admire.

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Social Enterprise: Turning Ideas into Action

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