Learning to listen from ideo.org

Listening is at the heart of the Clarity design process. Like every element of the design process, listening is a learned skill. Here’s a really useful guide to listening to better understand those we serve.

IDEO.org designs products, services, and experiences to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities. They practice human-centered design, a creative approach to problem solving that starts with people and arrives at new solutions tailored to meet their lives.

The cool news for those of us who want to design products, services, and experiences to improve the lives in our own communities, is that they share their processes and procedures very generously on a website called DESIGNKIT.org. A resource that I lean on often is The Field Guide to Human Centered Design. It’s a 200 page how-to manual that is both inspiring and practical.

The book is organized in four sections starting with the Mindsets that underpin how and why the group thinks about design for the social sector. It then offers Methods for Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation. These sections outline 57 clear-to-use design methods for new and experienced practitioners.

It’s a lot of book and I’ve only scratched the surface. But the parts I have used a lot are the chapters that focus on listening and audience engagement. There are profoundly useful chapters on Secondary Research, Interview, Group Interview, Expert Interview, Define Your Audience, Conversation Starters, Extremes and Mainstreams and Immersion.

If you play a role in designing products, services, and experiences in your organization, download this PDF. It’s a step-by-step how-to guide on understanding and learning from those you serve.

From the book:

Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their perspectives. Human- centered design is premised on empathy, on the idea that the people you’re designing for are your roadmap to innovative solutions. All you have to do is empathize, understand them, and bring them along with you in the design process.


Interviews really are the crux of the Inspiration phase. Human-centered design is about getting to the people you’re designing for and hearing from them in their own words. Interviews can be a bit daunting, but by following these steps below you’ll unlock all kinds of insights and understanding that you’ll never get sitting behind your desk. Whenever possible, conduct your Interviews in the person’s space. You can learn so much about a person’s mindset, behavior, and lifestyle by talking with them where they live or work.


Though a Group Interview may not offer the depth of an individual Interview in someone’s home, it can give you a compelling look at how a larger set of the people you’re designing for operates. The best Group Interviews seek to hear everyone’s voice, get diverse opinions, and are strategic about group makeup. For example, an all-female group might give you insight into the role of women in a society whereas a mixed group may not. If you’re looking to learn quickly what is valuable to a community, Group Interviews are a great place to start.



Think about all the different people who might use your solution. Extremes can fall on a number of spectrums and you’ll want variety. Maybe you’ll want to talk to someone who lives alone and someone who lives with a large extended family. Maybe you’ll want to talk to both the elderly and children. Each will offer a take on your project that can spur new thinking.


IDEO.org teams are often led by their intuition to take creative leaps. It may feel silly to visit an Apple store when you’re designing for those living in di cult circumstances, but you may unlock the key to a memorable customer experience or a compelling way to arrange products. Analogous settings can help you isolate elements of an experience, interaction, or product, and then apply them to whatever design challenge you’re working on. Besides, getting out from behind your desk and into a new situation is always a great way to spur creative thinking.


The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design
A step-by-step guide that will get you solving problems like a designer.
By IDEO.org


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