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In the Human-Centered Design learning module, we are going to introduce you to the concept of human-centered design - a structured set of methods and tools that can help us develop innovative solutions that truly respond to people’s needs. Specifically, we’re going to explore the principles of human-centered design and how they can be used in the public sector to define your problem and improve outcomes. At the end of this module, we hope you will understand why it is important to place residents at the center of your work, and have an introductory knowledge of methods for using human-centered design in practice.


What is Human Centered Design?

In this interview, Stephanie Wade, lead for innovation programs and design at Bloomberg Philanthropies, discusses the importance of human-centered design. Specifically, she provides a definition of human-centered design, and explores how the human-centered design process works, how it can be implemented and why its a valuable and important process for government to utilize.



Thumbnail of interview with Stephanie Wade


Through her work at Bloomberg Philanthropies, Stephanie Wade helps local governments around the world develop and implement strategies for issues like murder reduction, homelessness, economic development, infrastructure, and other complex problems. Using an “innovation” framework that emphasizes design and behavioral methods to better understand user interaction experiences, rigorous and insightful analysis to synthesize and make sense of data and creativity to quickly develop and implement effective solutions, Wade creates cultures, strategies, experiences, services, products and processes that make the world a better place.


Design Thinking Origin Story plus Some of the People Who Made It All Happen.

Jo Szczepanska


Jan. 2017

This is a lengthier blog post, but well worth the read to get a more expansive view of the bigger “design” picture. The author introduces design thinking as an umbrella term under which many human-centered approaches fit underneath, then proceeds to explain the history and evolution of such methods. She touches upon how the processes have evolved, how they can be successfully implemented, and why they are so important.

Read the full article here.

Essay: Advanced Design for the Public Sector.

Jonathan Veale


Jan. 2018

A thoughtful and comprehensive essay that explores how we can reshape government and policymaking from within, by using different design techniques. The author points out that there are already governments who employ designers to work on public policy issues, stating the problems that many governments face and how proper design methods can solve them.

Read the full article here.

Designing for Public Services: a Practical Guide.

Kelly Duggan


This toolkit first and foremost serves to help readers understand the principles of design thinking and how they can be used in a government context. As with any effective guide, it explains why the technique is so critical and proceeds to demonstrate how to move through the different stages of the design process. Highlighting numerous examples and case studies, this guide goes the extra mile to explain design thinking, human-centered design, and their benefits in government.

Read the full article here.

Rethinking Design Thinking

Don Norman


19 Mar. 2013

Don Norman writes this column in response to an essay he posted three years prior titled “Design Thinking: A Useful Myth.” He now admits to changing his stance to seeing design thinking as an essential tool, explaining how often he encounters designers who do not approach a problem effectively and could seriously benefit from design thinking. Overall, it is a thoughtful and personal read that posits the value of design thinking.

Read the full article here.

Design Thinking: Dear Don...

Bill Moggridge


2 Aug. 2010

Interestingly, this column is also a response to the above author’s original essay, rejecting the idea that design thinking is mythical. Moggridge believe that design thinking “harnesses the power of intuition” and that people from any background can leverage the methodology. Even using a diagram to illustrate his point, Moggridge summarizes what he believes to be an effective design thinking process.

Read the full article here.


What is Human-Centered Design?

Design Kit

A fun, animated introduction to human-centered design that covers all the basics one would need to know. From its definition to benefits and applications, the video touches upon all the key lessons and quickly walks you through the process from start to finish.

Watch the full video here.

Human-centered design


In this video, IDEO’s founder David Kelley shares insights from his personal experience and from his company, the mission of which is to create positive impact through design. Using plenty of videos and graphics, he offers a glimpse into IDEO’s work and emphasizes the potential of human-centered design.

Watch the full video here.



Choose the correct answer.

Fundamentally, design thinking refers to an approach where the problem solver:

Correct! While there can be many ways to arrive at this understanding, the ultimate aim is to see a problem from the perspective of the person confronting it.

Sorry, that’s not correct. Design thinking approaches can involve this but it’s why we might do it that underpins the design thinking approach.


Choose the incorrect answer.

Design thinking approaches include:

Correct! While this is a good complement to design thinking approaches its not a design thinking approach.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct - this is one of a number of methods and tools often used in design thinking.


Choose the correct answer

Which of these represents a design thinking approach?

Correct! You can learn a lot about a problem and possible solutions by observing people experiencing it - and while data analysis is a good complement, it’s not a design thinking approach.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct. However, data analyses are a useful complement to design thinking approaches.


Choose the best answer.

One of the underpinning principles of human centered design is talking to people in real world situations to test the ______ you hold in relation to a problem.

Correct! In government we typically don't experience the problems of the people we’re aiming to serve, so explicitly articulating and testing what we assume to be true is a key principle in human centered design.

Sorry, that’s not correct. Testing this in the context of real world experiences of people can be useful but the key underpinning principle of human centered design is more about testing the fundamental premise of our definition of problem.


Choose all that apply

Julia is a Principal Policy Officer tasked with leading a review of her state’s industry assistance policies, with a view to better directing support to the development of future industries. Currently, the bulk of the funding and other support goes to a large auto plant - an “anchor institution” - whose future competitiveness is in doubt.
Who should Julia consider consulting as part of her review?

Correct! Changes to policies that affect anchor institutions typically have profound impacts on the communities where they are located. Consulting widely helps to understand not only how the auto plant may need to change but also what other problems may arise as the change begins to affect families and individuals and other businesses associated with the auto plant.

Sorry, that’s not correct. There’s more to this answer.

You're right but there's more to this answer. Please try again!


Choose the incorrect response

Among the key benefits that NGOs can typically offer when you are gathering evidence about a problem is:

Correct! NGOs are often cash-strapped but have great resources such as knowledge of particular types of problems and access to people experiencing a problem that you could talk to.

Sorry, that’s not it. NGOs are typically good for helping with this.

You're right but there's more to this answer. Please try again!


Choose the correct answer.

To gain deeper insight into a problem when interviewing people, it’s good practice to follow closed (yes or no) questions with a request for:

Correct! An anecdote can sometimes lead to epiphanies about the real nature of the problem. For example, is the real problem causing the low uptake of a welfare benefit that people don’t know about it or that there’s a social stigma associated with being seen to receive it?

Unfortunately, that’s not correct. Hint: You want people to offer the context that they saw as relevant to their answer.

You're right but there's more to this answer. Please try again!


Choose the correct answer.

According to corporate anthropologist, Sam Ladner: “Interviewing is very important to find out what participants are thinking … but observation offers that key ethnographic differentiator: the gap between what participants ____ and what they ____.”

Correct! Finding the difference between what people say and what they actually do can offer valuable insights. For example, someone who tells you they eat healthily might interpret that as simply “eating 3 meals a day”, regardless of the kind of food being eaten. Asking them to take photos of their meals might help you get a clearer picture of how healthily they are actually eating.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct. Hint: At times we’re all guilty of saying one thing and...

You're right but there's more to this answer. Please try again!


Choose the correct answer.

For ethnographic research, a good guide for the number of you people you need to talk (i.e. the research sample size) is:

Correct! The point is not to have a large or even random sample - it’s to understand the dimensions of a problem being experienced by a certain group of people (e.g. users of a service), so the task is to keep talking to them until you are no longer uncovering new information.

Sorry, that’s not correct. Hint: The number of people you need to speak to can change according to circumstances.

You're right but there's more to this answer. Please try again!


Choose the correct answer.

A journey map or service blueprint is:

Correct! Journey mapping helps us understand the sequence of interactions and conditions which surround a service and how that might impact the effectiveness and value of a service to citizens.

Unfortunately, that’s not correct. Hint: Everything in design thinking is aimed at putting citizens at the center so that their experiences drive our responses - journey maps help with this.

You're right but there's more to this answer. Please try again!