EWB Resources

Human-Centred Design


The EWB Challenge and the EWB Humanitarian Design Summit are centred around a Human-Centered Design process. We believe that engineers are facilitators that respond to community desires and work with them to achieve bold aspirations. To achieve this we always put people at the centre of our design processes. 


What is Human-Centered Design?

As the name suggests, Human-Centered Design is a people-centric design process. We include people and ask for feedback at every stage of the process because we ensure any design, technology or process, inherently meets the needs of its user. The approach has been championed by global design innovator IDEO and The Stanford D.School at Stanford University. According to IDEO, Human-Centered Designers are optimists and makers, experimenters and learners, they empathize and iterate, and look for inspiration in unexpected places (7). They believe that a solution is out there and that by keeping focused on the people they’re designing with and asking the right questions, they’ll get there together. The process is far from linear, requiring multiple iterations that solicit feedback, going backward and forward between stages, and cycling between divergent and convergent thinking.


How does Human-Centered Design apply to my EWB Challenge design?

At EWB, we work through the following 6 stage process to discover, empathise, ideate, screen, prototype and communicate our idea. The following is a useful guide to pinpoint where you and your team are in the design process, and ensures you’re not jumping ahead without the right information. Every EWB Challenge team will progress differently through the process and you may not complete the entire cycle; this is OK. Each stage, and how it could relate to your design, can be summarised briefly as follows:

  • Discover. This stage starts with an invitation to design, involves mapping the context to discover stakeholders, existing strengths, community aspirations and to uncover further design opportunities. We’ve given you a head start for The EWB Challenge by providing Design Areas to investigate.
  • Empathise. This stage involves further scoping from the perspective of the community to understand the problem, context, needs and priorities. You and your team should be able to clearly articulate your specific design opportunity at this stage. For example you might like to start by framing your challenge with a question, “how might we..?”
  • Ideate. This is where your team will move forward from everything you’ve learned so far to explore the possibilities of design as you move towards prototyping. Your team should try and withhold judgement and generate as many ideas as possible. It’s important that you include all team members in this process as we believe the best ideas are generated from diverse teams.
  • Screen. Before moving to prototype, you and your team might like to narrow down ideas generated in the previous stage through systematic screening. You might like to use a matrix method, SWOT or screen against the 'considerations for appropriateness' given in the Appropriate Technology section.
  • Prototype. This is where your team moves into construction mode to make prototypes or models to test components of your idea and to solicit community feedback. We should always be prototyping with a clear intention of what we’d like to learn through the process. A prototype doesn’t always need to be a physical technology, it could be an idea, sketch, storyboard, model, an experience or anything else that helps you to learn more.
  • Communicate. Here your team will present your ideas and models with the community in mind in your final EWB Challenge presentation.  


How can I find out more?

Read the Human-Centred Engineering documentation under the EWB Resources drop-down menu.

For more around Human Centered Design look at the Design Kit by IDEO or consider taking The Course for Human Centered Design with Acumen.

Check out this great blog post on how to ask the right questions during a design process


For me, what I found most interesting during the Design Summit was my initial perception of apparent 'issues' in the local communities from a purely engineering mindset and perspective. I remember going into the community and assuming that I automatically understood the problems they were facing and the solutions that needed to be implemented as a third party observer. What surprised me was that the ideas and solutions I had in mind were not necessarily applicable to the needs of the community at all. We realised this once we really started engaging with the stakeholders, talking to them and figuring out what their true concerns and aspirations were. That was the moment I gained a valuable insight into the [EWB Australia] value of 'human centred design' and how important it is to take a step back from our ingrained technical engineering perspective and focus more on opening up conversations with the people who we were working with in the first place.” - Humanitarian Design Summit Participant, Cambodia February 2016