Photo: Bekka Palmer

Last week at Civic Hall, we launched our first Ideation & Prototyping workshop for NYC BigApps 2017 with a packed room of inspiring designers, developers, educators, students, entrepreneurs, and government enthusiasts. This first workshop introduced the concept of human centered design – a process that puts the user at the center of the research, design, and creation of a product, service, or experience.

You may be wondering, “what does human centered design actually mean?”.  If you are, you are not alone! Let’s break it down. The term “human centered” really translates to putting people first, at the center of whatever you are doing. When we add “design” onto the end of it, what we mean is: how do we put people at the center of what we are designing? And, how can we design with the people who will be using our app or product? For example, we might be designing a product or service that will improve transportation information in New York City. In this case, we need to put the people (and the users of transportation) at the center of our inquiry. We might ask questions like, “what is currently frustrating you about the transportation infrastructure in New York City?” and “if you could wave a magic wand, what would you change about the way you get to work?”.

When we start to ask these types of questions, we get to the heart of the problem for which we are solving and start to see opportunities for solutions. Using the example above about transportation information, we might find that users want up-to-date information about when buses and trains are arriving and departing. This would be one of our first insights, or clues, that we need to design a product that will include time-sensitive information for passengers.

With the BigApps competition, we have the incredible opportunity to work on a set of three real-world challenges faced by our most vulnerable communities in New York City: seniors, youth, and immigrants. Our challenge areas include how to create ease of using transportation and transportation alternatives, how to improve access to knowledge and information, and how to foster inclusion and community  resiliency. Through using human centered design and extensively partnering with community-based organizations and government agencies in New York City like Big Brothers Big Sisters NYC, New York Immigration Coalition, and the NYC Department for the Aging, we are able to design with our user groups to make sure the end product that is created solves a real need.



One of the cornerstones of human centered design is not only ensuring that we consider the human needs, but also the feasibility of what we are building and the viability of the product in the market. In other words: the product or service that you create to solve a problem must address a real human need, demonstrate a feasible solution leveraging technology to which you have access, and prove viable and sustainable in the marketplace. We will be keeping these three components in mind as we ideate, prototype, and test solutions for this competition.Innovation Venn Diagram

With this foundation, we are able to kick-off the initial phase of human centered design by getting inspired by the three challenge areas and the depth of area that they cover. Our next workshop will focus on techniques for research and gaining empathy for our three user groups.

Join us at the next workshop on February 8! Register here.


By: Allie Mahler, Founder, Community x Design