U.S. flag

Dot gov

This is a test website.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Note that this one ends in .com. It is not official.


A site with https:// is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely. This is not one of those sites.

Purpose of this Guide

The purpose of this Design Guide and its sister Design Phase Operations Guide (available Fall 2019) is not to make an exhaustive list of design processes. There are many other works can do that for you, some of which we cite throughout this work. The purpose of this guide is to provide context and some select methods for designing products, services, and systems that will help solve the problems highlighted from your Discovery phase. While the Operations Guide will focus on the How of the making process, this Concept Guide helps you understand the Why behind the How. After learning the Why, you will be able to cross-apply the contents of these Guides to other situations and expanding your understanding of how to grapple with complex problems. Eventually, you may find yourself able to contribute back to this work with original methods of your own making. That, in fact, would be the author's and sponsors' greatest measure of success: for you to take what you have learned here and create original work from your learnings.


Throughout this Guide, we will refer to the people for whom we’re designing as participants. This is because the people for whom we’re designing are participating in the use of the products, services, and systems we design. They might participate by using our products, services, and systems in different ways than we intended, adapting them to their own needs, or they might use them for a while and abandon them. In this way, the participants have an active role in the life cycle of our work. This approach is sometimes called Participatory Design; you can learn about and practice it in detail in Participatory Design, one of the Lab's open enrollment classes.

In contrast, thinking of participants as "users" or "customers" sidelines them into simply receiving products, services, and systems. This creates either a supplicant (i.e., please give me the thing or service) or an entitled (e.g., I deserve the thing or service without reservation and in the exact way I want it) orientation. This orientation separates and creates a power imbalance between the leadership stakeholders sponsoring the work, the design teams researching and creating the work, and participants contributing their knowledge and voices to the work's development.

In Human-Centered Design, both the designers and the people for whom the designed products, services, and systems are made participate in the design, use, and evaluation processes. Participants are equal to the design team and the leadership stakeholders, and the project as a whole is driven primarily by participants' input. While the designers create the prototypes or models for solutions to participant needs, they can only create and refine these products, services, and systems through continued collaboration with the participants throughout the design process.

A Note on Team Structure

The Design Phase team should include the team members from the Discovery Phase. This team's in-depth understanding of the research as well as their practice in working together will help to ensure a successful Design phase that results in a useful, positive Delivery and Measure phase experience for the participants and stakeholders.

If someone from the Discovery Phase isn't available to join the Design Phase, review the team structure you built based on the guidance on pages 22-31 in the Discovery Phase Operations Guide and evaluate which piece you might be missing. More in-depth guidance on team roles for the Design Phase will be provided in the upcoming Design Phase Operations Guide (available Fall 2019).

If your Design phase will almost certainly require technical expertise that your Discovery team does not have, such as engineering, social work, or graphic design skills, identify and recruit an available and sympathetic expert in that area as soon as possible. By including this person in your core team before you start the design work itself, the team will benefit from their input, and they will be able to invest more deeply in the project than if they were brought in simply to realize your product, service, or system vision.