Internship Reflection

Elana Muldavin at Gobee Group: Learning Human-Centered Design by Designing Human-Centered Design

How can we design a program that will help diverse stakeholders innovate solutions to other complex social challenges?
August 30, 2021
Elana Muldavin

Although there is much buzz about human-centered design, or HCD, in my MPH coursework, my most in-depth introduction came from only a single reading in a single class. This summer, as an intern with Gobee Group, I set out to understand what HCD really is and how it can be used effectively.

A recent example of Gobee’s work is Reimagine Lab, a project that brought together 16 fellows over three years to develop creative solutions to prevent domestic violence using HCD principles. This inspired the question guiding my summer: how can we design a program that will help diverse stakeholders innovate solutions to other complex social challenges? Like Reimagine Lab, this program will offer a rigorous, structured, and immersive design experience that goes beyond buzzwords and basic skills training. However, unlike Reimagine Lab, it will take place over a shorter period of time and can be applied to multiple topics that participants are passionate about, such as sexual and reproductive health or climate change.

To answer the summer’s guiding question, my co-intern and I studied past examples, interviewed Gobee staff, talked to potential program participants, brainstormed dozens of ideas, and revised our ideas based on feedback and new insights. I also helped synthesize user-centered field notes for Gobee’s work with the global immunization project M-RITE, joined a weekly equity and design reading club with other staff, and participated in in-person working days in Los Angeles and Sea Ranch. These enriching experiences offered many new perspectives to inform the program design. 

Eventually we developed Tomorrow Lab, a design experience that will move participants through a journey of understanding a topic with a new perspective, imagining novel solutions, testing out those ideas, and then implementing a final plan. I love the way the lab is grounded in human experience, disrupts assumptions, shifts the definition of “expertise,” encourages empathy and understanding before diving into fixing, and can be applied to any topic. Additionally, by including implementation, Tomorrow Lab fills a gap left by many other HCD programs that stop short of solution development.

Tomorrow Lab is all about designing tomorrow, today. This embodies a concept that we often returned to during our equity reading club meetings: systems of inequality were made by design, and can therefore be redesigned. This summer, I learned tools and perspectives necessary to do just that. I am grateful and excited to see Tomorrow Lab come to fruition.

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