MEDA’s initial foray into the world of human-centered design was when a grant was won in 2016 to work with IDEO.org, a global design and innovation company. The project was the revamping of MEDA’s financial-coaching package used at the community-based organization’s weekly Welcome Orientations for new clients.
Watching IDEO.org’s process definitely offered a fresh perspective. This wasn’t just about making something look pretty: It was about making sure a product best meets the needs of users. IDEO.org took a holistic approach, which included bilingual focus groups with existing MEDA clients, and even walks up and down the Mission Street commercial corridor to ask community members their thoughts on language and product design. It’s all about garnering design inspiration from real people.
There is synergy to collaboration, which is why six players joined forces to present “Co-Creating in Community, With Community” on Monday at California College of the Arts. The group had been meeting over the last two months to develop an in-depth presentation.
This presentation was part of “San Francisco Design Week,” which convenes renowned designers, entrepreneurs and thought leaders from across the Bay Area, with multiple studio tours and events throughout the week.
The “Co-Creating in Community, With Community” interdisciplinary practitioners’ work shows overlap by asking the same question: How do we honor the realities of community members’ daily experiences when holding space for and facilitating co-creation?
The group together offers a breadth of experience in the realm of human-centered design:
- Shalini Agrawal, Associate Professor, California College of the Arts, Center for Art + Public Life (LinkedIn)
Successful architect and teacher.
- Lucy Arellano, Director of Asset Building Programs, MEDA (LinkedIn)
Overseeing direct-services coordination at a nonprofit primarily serving Latinos, with two-thirds immigrants.
- Laura Blumenthal, Innovation Program Manager, Center for Care Innovations (LinkedIn)
Working on design at health clinics.
- Julia Kong, Partner, Reflex Design Collective (LinkedIn)
Human-centered design approach to social justice.
- Julia Kramer, Co-founder, Reflex Design Collective (LinkedIn)
Community-program delivery as the goal.
- Roel Mangiliman, Senior Manager of Innovation and Learning, OneJustice (LinkedIn)
Design in the legal space.
“Co-Creating in Community, with Community” was offered for a mixed audience of designers, practitioners and other interested community members.
The presentation was designed to prompt thought and discussion. An example is: “Since design is political, how do you design with community members so it is not you coming in and imposing your ideas on that community?” This is true even if you are part of that community.
The panel discussion that had panelists offer equity frameworks and language, share experiences about lesson learned, and discuss the norms and practices that impact disenfranchised communities.
MEDA’s Arellano spoke to the importance of not leading with financial education, but having that topic be part of a client’s overall life goals. That concept represented a shift in the nonprofit’s approach to delivering direct services the past 45 years.
The session featured break-out groups to brainstorm how to reclaim disempowering power dynamics in designing in communities. Some of the key takeaways were: continuous engagement of community voice; reducing barriers to community engagement; and information sharing and capacity building.
To design in community, with community, we must name, decentralize and own power.
“Co-Creating in Community, with Community” was a definite success, with much to ponder for attendees and a call to action for further the conversation across our networks.