Thoughtful Design

Exygy’s Thoughtful Design

In our 20 years of designing mission-aligned products, we’ve released solutions that continue to impact the lives of thousands of people today. Like many other design and technology companies, we based much of our creative process in what is known as human-centered design.

According to Stanford, human-centered design (HCD) is “a process, mindset, and approach to identify meaningful challenges and creatively solve complex problems.” In order to do that, we conduct research with real people (or users, as we refer to them), ideate design solutions, and validate those ideas through testing and feedback.

For a long time, this approach worked, and felt comfortable. We believed that as long as we talked to users and catered our design to their needs, we were doing right.

However, Human Centered Design had lulled us into a false sense of security. In reality, we were unaware of the shortcomings that Human Centered Design failed to address.

The truth is, it’s impossible to talk to all users. It’s impossible to design for every need. Unfortunately, this means we left some users and needs behind in our process. By choosing who was involved and who was not, we were exercising the power to decide whose voice was being heard and whose wasn’t. And we weren’t doing it intentionally.

Looking back, it seemed adopting human-centered design without being thoughtful wasn’t serving our mission to create impactful solutions in an inclusive and equitable way.

Our team recognized we needed to rethink our design process. We paused, questioned our status quo, and educated ourselves. We learned from many trailblazers in the design industry (links below), and we went back to the drawing board to really map out what our specific needs were and how we might redesign our processes to better serve them.

In that journey, we learned that designing for social impact, for the causes we design for and the solutions we envision, requires a different, more thoughtful approach. We realized there were a couple of reasons for that:

The consequences of failure are more serious

We design for underrepresented populations

There are different cognitive and emotional states to consider

How might we modify human-centered design to better align with the needs of designing for social impact?

The design team at Exygy started imagining a design process that uses human-centered design as a foundation, but borrows elements and activities from other design processes, such as Equity-centered Design, Inclusive Design, and Trauma-informed Design to better serve the needs of the populations we design for.

We call it Thoughtful Design

Thoughtful Design has 4 new principles:

Recognize Exclusion
Center the Margins
Invite people with lived experience to co-create
Design for users’ cognitive and emotional states

How we have brought some of these principles to life in our projects:

  • CROP Organization:
    In Phase 1 of CROP’s partnership with Exygy, we engineered a flexible digital infrastructure for the next evolution of Ready 4 Life, a reentry program designed to equip justice-involved individuals with tools for flourishing in their communities.

    Case Study
  • Bloom Housing:
    To understand the needs of all stakeholders in each affordable housing ecosystem, Exygy supports local jurisdiction staff to develop a Steering Committee to convene stakeholders throughout the region to inform the web portal and advise the rollout of the system’s features.

    Case Study
  • City of Oakland:
    The Exygy Design Team conducted extensive accessibility research and audits of the Oakland website. We also partnered with The Center for Accessible Technology and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired as they are subject matter experts.

    Case Study

In Conclusion

These principles and activities, borrowed from movements like Equity-centered Design, Participatory Design, and Trauma-Informed Design, allow us to take Human-centered design to the next level and create experiences that are truly equitable, accessible, and inclusive. That is the utmost importance when it comes to designing for social impact, where leaving someone behind might mean leaving them without services that could be a deciding factor for the success of their lives.

We are still in the beginning of our journey of incorporating these principles into our processes. We still have a lot to learn and to experiment with. If you have experience exploring equitable design research processes and systems in your own work, we would love to connect and share learnings, knowledge, and failures. Our lines are open.

Interested in talking more about Thoughtful Design with the Exygy team?

Let's Chat

Additional Resources

Creative Reaction Lab
Creative Reaction Lab is a youth-led, community-centered movement of a new type of Civic Leader: Redesigners for Justice.

Design Justice
A free, online introductory course by Equity Meets Design.

A free, online introductory course by Equity Meets Design.

Equity Design Collaborative
The Equity Design Collaborative was formed in 2017 by organizations and individuals from across the U.S. practicing Equity Design.

Inclusive Design Framework
A set of toolkits and resources about incluse design created by Microsoft

Microsoft Inclusive Design Principles
A free, online introductory course by Equity Meets Design.

Equity-Centered Design Framework
Stanford out together a framework that captures the design thinking process re-imagined to promote equity. 

Equity-Centered Community Design Field Guide
A Method for Co-Creating Equitable Outcomes.