Participatory Design

Future Problems Require Human-centered Design

The complex issues of the future will require human-centered design that is also grounded in technology. 

Design Thinking: Participatory Design

The Challenge

Design for the whole person.


The Outcome

Human-centered design for our shared futures.


We spend a lot of time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people crossing it.

Prabhjot Singh, Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute

The future is both human-centered and grounded in technology. We need data-driven designs, improved machine learning, and AI like algorithms. But we also need to design for our humanity and our shared planet. We need to encourage collaboration across cultures and between diverse communities. We need to take into account the entirety of our lived experience. And our modern sense of self does not cut it. We need to come up with new stories if we are going to face our shared challenges in the coming century and beyond.

My answer

We need a simple model that can help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us.

Participatory Design

Grounded in Science

We need to align the way we think about design with the best that science has to offer. The participatory design model is grounded in cognitive science, linguistics, and ethnography.​ 


Design for the

Whole Person

The Problem.

We tend to design for the mind instead of the whole person.

What do software engineers, priests, and scientists traditionally have in common? 

They tend to be dudes wearing uniforms staring at screens, walls, and things. If we are going to design for the 21st-century we need to change this. We need design thinking that takes into account the whole person.


A Solution.

Participatory design. 

For the whole person.

Reflection. Participatory design requires objectivity and global perspectives. We need quantitative methods, rigorous science, machine learning, and data to test our products and designs. But data is not enough. Reflection requires us to step back and see the bigger picture. For this, the humanities are key.

Storytelling. Participatory design is born out of shared stories, community, and connection. It makes us feel part of something larger than ourselves and teaches us to listen to others. We need our social sciences, our qualitative methods, as well as art and humanities to if we are really going to learn to listen well.

Feeling. Participatory design is high touch. We want our products to feel good. We want them to bring more excitement and meaning into our lives. For this, we need design thinking that emphasizes empathy, creativity, and intimate connection. We need tactile methods that reinforce our connections to the living world.

Collaboration.  Participatory design is a call-and-response. Our 21st-century self is made up of many different parts. We are deeply connected and enlivened by the world around. Our problems are complex, global, and ambiguous, No one person can do it all. If we are going to face our shared challenges we will have to find ways to do it together.

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© 2019 by Zayin Cabot, Ph.D.