If you want to authentically engage and make a lasting impact, you need to get at the heart of a person’s lived experience.
This is the heart of the design thinking process. This process has been used by businesses for who knows how long, and anyone–social workers, educators, students and more–can use this process.
In fact, design thinking helped me fall back in love with the Reproductive Justice movement because I was rapidly burning out. I wanted another way to remain engaged in the movement, and wanted to reenter the movement from another angle. Being introduced to design thinking by CoreAlign and the American Evaluation Association a few years ago was the answer.
In short, design thinking (which came out of the Design School at Stanford University), is a structured approach to generating ideas by getting into the mind of of the audience you’re trying to reach.
We’re designers, in one form or another. Teachers develop class curricula based in district expectations and well as students’ learning styles. Social workers and others in the helping professions create evidence-based interventions that meet the needs of the populations they work with. Businesses create products based on user feedback. The best way to make something better is by going to the source.
Here’s the process:
The first step in the design thinking process is discovering why the audience does what they do, their physical and emotional needs, their worldview, and what’s meaningful to them. This is the most important step in the process because in order to create a solution, you must identify why finding a solution matters to them.
It’s having a conversation, and it moves people from being statistics to names and faces. Having conversations with the intended user and observing them in their environment allows you to see behaviors within the context of their lived experience. Insights from these conversations hones into what really matters from their perspective. Oftentimes, we think we know what the problems are, and we create programs, services, and initiatives that aren’t successful because the voices of the people we’re wanting to reach weren’t involved in the process.
I’ll go into depth of each part of the design thinking process later, but today we’re going to use a tool that allows you to to get at the heart of a person’s lived experience: The User Persona.