Design for America
Design for America Process Guide
Design for America Process Guide
For us, the guide appears to be an incredibly useful introduction for people who want to use design and make a difference but don’t necessarily know how, and who aren’t necessarily designers. “It feels like a rigorous thoughtful process that solves for a real pain point.”
We liked that it was developed in an iterative process of development and field tested. Appreciated that they have adopted and embraced their methodology to create the guide through a very intentional development process.
Particularly liked how the guide, and indeed Design for America harnesses the idealism of college students while channeling their irresponsible exuberance.
Feels like an important step in forward in the development of Design for America’s methodology. After making our decision, we reviewed the previous year’s entries and noted that Design for America appears to be engaged in a long-term and systematic development of their systems (building cohorts, infrastructure, and tools) to increase the effectiveness of their programs and their chapter’s projects. We really want to applaud them for this work.
Design for America Process Guide
The Design for America (DFA) Process Guide provides self-directed instruction in the human-centered design process for extra-curricular, interdisciplinary, university-based teams tackling local and social challenges. Novice designers use the Guide to situate themselves within the three main phases of the process (Understand, Create, Implement), gain confidence in their design abilities, and understand the skills needed as they design solutions for pressing problems such as illiteracy, poverty, and obesity. Each phase contains detailed steps and examples from past DFA challenges, and reflection questions to help students know when to re-evaluate their work or proceed to a different step.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
University students are highly engaged and enthusiastic young citizens that want to use their education to make an impact in the world. Many students are choosing to put their education into action by working on extra-curricular design-based projects in their communities; however there are limited educational resources to provide self-directed guidance to novice designers working in interdisciplinary teams.
Through design research we found that novice designers struggle in several key areas of the design process including scoping projects, communicating with community partners, rapidly iterating ideas, testing solutions, and implementing solutions with users. Additionally, because students enter extra-curricular projects with different levels of experience and academic backgrounds, they find themselves without a shared design language to use when communicating amongst themselves and with their community. Team members lack the foresight to establish clear goals to effectively proceed forward and often do not know when to ask for help. Existing design resources provide examples of the human-centered design process but from professional designers. This limits a team’s ability to find relatable examples for where they are in the process and determine appropriate next steps. The DFA Process Guide was developed out of a need for eager students to more rapidly learn the human-centered design process, become aware of and navigate the obstacles ahead of them, and appropriately seek resources and guidance to overcome them.
We wrote the Guide from DFA’s point of view that students need a way to learn about the human-centered design process in a way that is easy to understand and can be transferred to socially-oriented problems to allow students to successfully implement impactful projects and build their confidence as young innovators. Designed specifically for novice designers working on extra-curricular design based projects, the DFA Process Guide set out to achieve the following criteria:
● Familiarize novice designers with the human-centered design process.
● Scaffold the information to meet the needs of team members with varying levels of experience.
● Model best practices and behaviors for overcoming hardships and navigating the complexities associated with human-centered design.
● Create a shared accessible language around the process so team members, mentors, and partners can have a common understanding.
● Establish a consistent process that can be easily understood and replicated to ease the training of novice designers.
Although novice designers were our primary user, DFA also sought to meet the following needs of our secondary users:
● Mentors & Advisors: create a shared frame of reference for their advice by knowing what the team members know about human-centered design.
● Community Partners: expose potential partners to the process of design and appropriately co-identify projects for teams to work on.
We used the human-centered design process over the last 4 years to understand our stakeholders, create and test solutions, and implement our Process Guide. We started with the following question: How can we empower novice designers to quickly learn the human-centered design process and apply it to projects that make local and social impact?
Inspired by traditional product development textbooks such as Eppinger’s New Product Development and Human-centered design toolkits from Stanford and IDEO, we created the first version of the Process Guide in 2009. The 10-page document outlined the human-centered design process as a three-step process: Dig, Form, Act. We disseminated the guide to the founding Design for America studio at Northwestern University. After receiving feedback we quickly learned that more detail was needed, especially for novices with little exposure to human-centered design. In 2011, we expanded the DFA process using visual icons and embodying the culture of DFA with the phases: scope, discover, reframe, ideate, prototype, and implement. This process was then shared at DFA’s first leadership training to 17 student leaders from 8 universities. The terminology and language of the updated guide resonated with students but they wanted a more thorough explanation of the process and an easy to understand, over-arching framework to situate themselves within.
Responding to this, in 2012 DFA sought out a concise framework that would be easy to remember with corresponding sub-steps to detail the “what” and the “why” of the process. Upon soliciting input from students, experts, several brainstorms, and one facilitated workshop with an outside consultant we developed a variety of frameworks and agreed upon: Understand, Create, Implement, with corresponding sub-steps and process criteria. The revised Process Guide was shared with 45 students from 14 campuses at our annual Leadership Studio and an afternoon was devoted to students providing feedback. This feedback showed that students appreciated the explanation of the steps, however there was still a need define terminology being used, know more about the tangible skills needed to complete each step along with more relevant student examples.
In 2013 DFA’s Fellows further revised and refined the Process Guide. They conducted an expansive literature review of past professional work while interviewing and receiving feedback from students, experts, and academics. They identified key topics within each step, wove relevant examples from past DFA projects throughout the guide, and developed supplemental graphics. The current version of the Process Guide was printed and given to each of our 17 campuses and used as the basis for over a dozen training workshops during DFA’s Leadership Studio. The Guide has been fully released to all 400 DFA members digitally and is being used to facilitate teamwork and campus workshops. From the positive feedback and excitement we have received we plan to build on the Guide’s content and develop supplementary learning tools such as How-To’s, workshops, and make the Guide available on our forthcoming online learning platform while digitally distributing the Guide widely.
The DFA Process Guide teaches novice designers the human-centered design process so that they can develop innovative solutions to local and social challenges. The Process Guide will enable more student teams to implement their solutions and improve the quality of life for others by adding value where teams need it most:
• The Process Guide includes best practices for project selection including a Project Scoping Wheel outlining criteria for an effective challenge to help ensure teams are selecting problems that are within their sphere of influence and increasing the likelihood of their solutions’ implementation.
• Because teams often feel they have to have a successful start-up in order to make an impact, which may deter some from trying, DFA’s Process Guide outlines a variety of other methods of implementation ranging from collectives of volunteers, one-time installations, and partnerships so that all teams can make an impact in their community before moving on to a new project.
• The DFA Process Guide discusses the role of community partners and professional mentors so that teams actively seek to gain knowledge from experts as well as those affected by the challenge, and design professionals who can actively guide them in their process and provide feedback increasing the quality of teams’ concepts.
Already having received requests from numerous organizations and universities, the DFA Process Guide will be available to our broader audience of 6,000 followers and beyond to put human-centered design into practice around the country leading to life-improving solutions for our communities.
Our philosophy that drove this self-defined project was to apply the process we are teaching, human-centered design, towards the development of our guide. We believe that creativity and innovation can be learned and we set out to uncover the needs of our users to help guide them through this process. Through our work, we came to the following conclusions:
● Learners are coming from varying levels of experience, therefore we needed to start with an over-arching framework to situate their understanding and ladder the content while focusing on what each step is and why it is important. Follow-up materials on our online learning platform will go into further detail regarding the specific directions for how to accomplish and approach these steps.
● Celebrating small wins helps build confidence in one’s ability to innovate and maintains motivation on a team. Our “pause” sections were designed to encourage reflection to solidify learning and celebrate incremental successes.
● The Guide needs to maintain an approachable tone and emphasize the iterative nature of human-centered design in order to encourage learning from failures and take a continuously learning attitude.
● Students need a tangible roadmap to reference frequently and throughout their process.
By having taken a human-centered design approach we believe the DFA Process Guide will increase student learning, increase student confidence, and increase the impact students are able to make in the world.
The DFA Process Guide empowers students to envision the human-centered design process, set goals, and build consensus as a team to further implement life-improving solutions to local and social challenges. For example, in the past from 2010-2013, 30% of DFA teams chose to continue their project towards implementation. This year over 50% of fall teams have indicated that they plan to continue their project. Additionally, below are just a few testimonials from those using the Guide:
"I no longer feel as though I have to jump from point a to point b immediately. I now appreciate the time and effort it takes to reach my goals." - Ben Pruzan, Brown University. Undecided ‘17
“We do a presentation/workshop highlighting a different stage of the design process for each Open Studio…The way that the guide breaks down each section into steps and extracts the essential ideas makes it very easy to structure a presentation around. There is a reason why we refer to it as the "DFA Bible." Rob Linkens, Cornell. Design & Environmental Analysis ’16.
“As a more experienced team…the Process Guide helped us visualize each step of the process and think strategically about how much time we needed to devote to each to reach our milestones.” Hannah Hudson, Northwestern University. English & Design. ’14.
With the DFA Process Guide, students develop the skills to understand the needs of users different from themselves, create a myriad of tested solutions, and implement social innovations throughout our communities.