Human-Centered Design: Common Aspirations, Uncommon Action

By Jessica Martin on March 11, 2014

Are you an aspiring social change leader looking for tools to affect change in your community or specific area? Acumen and IDEO.org are partnering for a second time to offer Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation. The seven-week course is based on the fundamental belief that gaining a deep understanding of the needs, hopes, and aspirations of potential customers and the lives they live yields incredible inspiration for new solutions. Human-centered designers learn by doing and evolve their solutions based on real-time feedback.

First offered in July of 2013 and bringing together more than 13,000 people from 134 countries, the course follows a group-guided learning structure. I think of it as a bit of a mashup between a weekly book club and training workshop. Similar to human-centered design itself, all of the learning happens as part of a team.

One strong example from last year was a team that included Melior Joseph, a law student studying in St. Louise, Haiti and Ellen Feig, an assistant professor of English from Yonkers, New York.  Both individuals signed up for the course on their own. Neither could imagine how the course would unfold.

The first task given to course participants was focused on redesigning one of the group’s morning commutes. Melior immediately shared the frustrating realities of bus transport in Haiti. The cost for everyday customers is expensive, and constantly going up. As costs of fuel rise on the international markets, the bus drivers raise the prices to ride and keep the prices high. It is an opaque market where riders have no idea what they will pay until they step on the bus. Add to this the inconvenience and even higher costs of driving a car (if you have one) and the traffic congestion make getting around a daily headache.

The group was inspired to attack this challenge for the remainder of the course. During the “Discover” phase, which is the first step in the human-centered design process, Melior interviewed every day Haitians on the street, who, like him, were eager for transportation that was more consistent, affordable and reliable. This led the team to the idea for solar powered buses during the “Ideate” phase of the course. As the team moved into the “Prototype” phase, Ellen knew they needed engineering talent to move their idea from one-dimensional Post-it notes to something more tangible. She connected Melior with Jason Green, a former student and environmental engineer who is now working directly with Melior to develop the first prototype.

The vision is to create a transportation system that is sustainable, both for the environment and for the pockets of Haitian customers. Ellen hopes to join the team in Haiti this summer, as Melior continues to iterate and experiment with the technology in partnership with bus builders and engineers.

At Acumen, we’re working to change the way the world tackles poverty. The Human-Centered Design course is one of many designed to inspire and equip emerging leaders like Melior, Ellen and Jason with the tools to play a part in Acumen’s mission and put their ideas into action. For us, what’s been amazing to watch is how quickly connections are made and bonds are formed across borders when people set on designing a better world come together.

Are you ready to design the future? The course begins on March 31, 2014. Register here.

 

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