How Human-Centered Design Can Solve the World’s Biggest Problems

In 2009, published the Human-Centered Design Toolkitto introduce creative problem-solving to nongovernmental organizations and social enterprises working with impoverished communities.

Thousands of printed copies of the toolkit have been sold, and it’s been downloaded over 150,000 times. Designers, entrepreneurs and key figures in the social sector embraced this resource and used it to make a difference.

Six years later, new ways of teaching and implementing human-centered design prompted to create new tools.

“We had such great traction around our previous teaching tools, the HCD Toolkit and the website HCD Connect,” says Patrice Martin,’s co-lead and creative director. “But we know so much more about how to practice and share human-centered design now, and it was clear that our resources needed an update as well.”

So launched Design Kit, an online platform for teaching human-centered design to a growing community of 75,000 members from over 200 countries. Taking it a step further, the team imagined what book and PDF versions of Design Kit would look like.

What they envisioned became the “The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design.”

Hot off the presses, this groundbreaking 192-page book is an illustrated introduction to human-centered design. The book details 57 design methods, key concepts and fresh-from-the-field case studies that show how designers, nonprofits and businesses can use human-centered design to solve problems.

What is

Behind the book is Based in San Francisco, the nonprofit design organization works to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable communities in developing countries at home and abroad. Instead of using traditional methods of tackling poverty, creates innovative solutions rooted from the perspectives of the people they’re helping. This opens doors to new and exciting opportunities to address and eradicate global poverty.

“Too often in the sector, the communities on the ground are left out of the conversation,” Patrice explains. “We believe that talking directly with them, designing alongside them and getting our ideas back into their hands throughout the process gets us to solutions that will be adopted and embraced.”

This small team of thinkers refuses to let geography limit their reach. The “Field Guide” spreads the value of human-centered design by placing tools and methods in the hands of social enterprises and NGOs around the world.

The “Field Guide” is your companion to understanding the people you’re designing for, even if you’re out in the field or away from your computer.

Taking the Book to Kickstarter

The “Field Guide” came to be entirely through the support of the design community. decided to produce the book through crowdfunding, using Kickstarter as its platform. With an initial funding goal of $30,000 and a great video, they promoted the campaign and received a wave of positive responses.

“I wish I could say that we unlocked some magic formula for success on Kickstarter,” Patrice says. “But honestly, we tried to make a short, sweet video and then promote the campaign to our awesome community. They really responded, and we were both humbled and amazed that we nearly tripled our goal.”

The campaign ended with over $85,000 in funding. It’s a clear indication that there’s a real hunger for tools for creative problem solving, and that this approach changes lives.

“We believe that our human-centered approach to design is uniquely poised to effect real change because we keep the desires, needs and voices of the communities we’re looking to serve at the center of everything we do,” Patrice explains. “We think that the social sector needs more creativity, to build empathy with the people it looks to benefit and to embrace design techniques like rapid prototyping. Hopefully the ‘Field Guide’ will spur more people to roll up their sleeves, get human-centered and create solutions to some of the world’s toughest problems.”

Keep on Making

For Patrice, the biggest lesson from a big project like the “Field Guide” is that nothing is ever absolute, that everything must continue to iterate.

“It’s so easy to look at the published book and think, ‘Oh man, we should have changed that or come up with a better way to talk about this method or that method,’” she says. “But I think what’s so important here is to remember that it’s all fluid.”

She continues: “There’s no point at which you’re finished. We’re part of a movement here. Which is why we’ll keep iterating. I think that keeping the core principles of human-centered design close actually helps you keep learning, keep refining and keep the voices of our community at the heart of our teaching tools.”

Patrice suggests picking up “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in economics. “This a great book on why what we say, do, think and feel are not always aligned,” Patrice says. “A must-read for the design thinker!”

Want to be a part of this movement? Buy “The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design” or download the free PDF to learn how to use human-centered design to create the change you want to make. Share your stories over and check out Design Kit’s LinkedIn page for a robust conversation about human-centered design in the social sector.