What We Do

Designing Change uses the principles of design to help solve social problems. Social problems demand human-centered solutions, and design thinking is a human-centered problem-solving process.

Here’s what design thinking looks like:

It all begins with

Observing & Listening.

Drop your assumptions and start at the beginning. Open your eyes, your ears, and your notebook and learn how others are experiencing this particular problem.

View case study: Empathy

A Food Shelf

Looking at how a food shelf might better serve its community of participants, a three-member design team spent six full weeks gathering information: They watched the comings and goings at the food shelf. They got to know both the staff and the patrons. They took photos, recorded interviews, and made sketches. In short, they came to understand the food shelf through the eyes of people most invested in it. THIS is empathy.

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Your next step is

Defining the Problem.

Ask lots of basic questions like Why do they do it this way? and Who is this for? These questions will help you focus on what problem you want to solve.

View case study: Problem definition

An Activist Dashboard

Working in collaboration with the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) and a grant from the CURA Tech Challenge, we focused on developing a digital tool to create greater neighborhood impact around environmental justice. The big question we asked—Who is this for?—was critical to framing the right problem to solve: Concerned citizens who live in environmentally degraded neighborhoods need easy and timely access to information so they can participate in key public hearings that will impact their futures.

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It’s time to start

Generating Ideas.

Turn your imagination loose and avoid the impulse to censor yourself. Your right brain will assemble seemingly illogical ideas and produce innovation: Steve Jobs’ genius was in imagining a phone that played music.

View case study: Ideation

A Gathering Place

Hennepin County enlisted us to engage four neighborhoods in the redesign of the future Southeast Library in Minneapolis. We used design thinking methods to shake loose people’s assumptions about the current library and encourage them to think expansively. We asked: If you were to borrow anything, what would it be? The answers: tools, a car, space to experiment with clothing/shoe design ventures, a home-repair expert. All of these ideas found their way into the final recommendations that will inform what resources and spaces are found at Southeast Library.

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When you’re ready, you can begin


Now is the time to apply some analytical reasoning. Which ideas are realistic? Which ideas actually address the problem?  Pick a few promising ideas and visualize them.

View case study: Prototyping

A Local Foods Exhibit

We assembled a group of designers to create an exhibit on local food for the Minnesota State Fair. Each team took one desired outcome—for example, buy locally grown food—and generated ideas without regard to physical or cost constraints. This produced some very creative possibilities. But then we assigned the teams a certain amount of space and a budget, and asked them to prototype one or two ideas they felt were possible within that framework. Prototyping is the convergence of innovation and attainability.

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You’ll learn what works by

Testing & Evaluating.

This is critical: Gather feedback and tweak your idea until you are satisfied you have solved the problem. If things still aren’t working, don’t be afraid to go back and revisit any part of the process.

View case study: Testing

Recycling Bin Signage

Westminster Presbyterian Church has committed to reducing its waste stream, and recently introduced new bins to accommodate organics, recycling, and trash. After an extended design process, we implemented signage for the new bins, then evaluated how people used them. To our surprise, people were more than confused—they were frustrated. So, we returned to the drawing board, making note of the items that caused the most misunderstanding, and are in the process of iterating on the original design.

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That's It.

This looks like a smooth, linear process. It’s not.

Design thinking can be messy and unpredictable. But, managed well, it can also be a recipe for innovation. Designing Change is all about finding new ways of addressing old problems.