Human-Centered Design in Action: #LearnHCD Case Studies 1 & 2 From the Field

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

So far in our #LearnHCD series, we’ve shared an introduction to human-centered design as well as resources and methods to help you master the HCD process. For this installment, we’ve turned to our experteering alumni community to see how these HCD concepts translate to real-world practice.

We sat down with two experteering alumni from our MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship, Danielle and Gabriela, to learn more about the tactics they used in each phase to create lasting social impact during their projects in-the-field. Continue reading for real-life examples of HCD in action:

Case Study #1: Danielle & KadAfrica

Case Study #2: Gabriela & Inyenyeri

As a quick refresher, the human-centered design process includes 3 phases, and there are a range of tactics that you can use in any of these phases:

  1. Inspiration: Learn directly from the people you’re designing for as you immerse yourself in their lives, empathize with them, and truly understand their needs.
  2. Ideation: Make sense of what you’ve learned, define a solvable problem, brainstorm and identify ideas, then prototype possible solutions.
  3. Implementation: Bring your solution to life, test it to ensure it will truly make an impact, and then identify ways to scale it up.
Using Human-Centered Design Thinking with Design Thinking
Human-Centered Design Thinking with Design Thinking

HCD Case Study #1: Danielle & KadAfrica


Danielle Iannotti experteered her marketing skills with KadAfrica, a social enterprise in Uganda working to enable girls to become economic drivers of their communities.

More than 70% of households in Uganda grow food on a subsistence basis only—meaning they are typically able to grow enough food to feed themselves, but generate little to no income to purchase other necessities. For this reason, farming is not seen as a business, but rather a chore delegated to women and girls. To change this, KadAfrica is connecting girls working there with mass market distribution by:

  • Recruiting girls ages 14-20 who have dropped out of school, and providing them with land to form “Girl Co-Ops”
  • Training participants in life skills, business basics, and agriculture practices
  • Supporting participants with mentors and extension support
  • Connecting the Co-Ops with domestic and international customers for their products

The objective of Danielle’s project was to help KadAfrica generate brand awareness and increase fundraising through marketing. We caught up with Danielle to learn how she applied human-centered design to help KadAfrica create impact on an even bigger scale. Here’s what she shared:


“During the Inspiration Phase I didn’t want to make any assumptions about what areas of marketing I should focus on. To understand what KadAfrica needed, I worked with the KadAfrica team to determine the following methods to better understand the perspectives of the following stakeholders:

  • Company leadership:
    • Chosen Method: Interviews
      • I conducted 3 phone and video calls with executive leadership of the organization to understand the background of the company, their mission, their successes, and their challenges.
    • Chosen Method: Questionnaire/Survey
      • I developed a 4-page questionnaire asking leadership to provide answers to a series of questions. It was helpful to give them time to think through their answers and also document the responses for future reference.
  • Local Staff:
    • Chosen Method: Group interview
      • I conducted group interviews to understand the company from the perspective of the local staff in a casual, conversational setting. I was concerned that the “group” format would restrict their comfort level in terms of speaking up, but it sparked quite a lively and informative dialogue where I gleaned information I likely would not have learned had I only stuck to the 1:1 format.

During the Ideation Phase I worked with the local team to distill all the valuable information, and then use that as a way to generate new ideas.  To narrow it down, I did the following:

  • Chosen Method: Bundle Ideas
    • I organized the suggested tactics into marketing categories, then presented them to stakeholders.
  • Chosen Method: Gut Check
    • I gut-checked potential ideas with various stakeholders to determine what was realistic and what we had resources for. For example, certain ideas were not realistic due to lack of equipment (only 1 laptop being shared by several staff) or time constraints.
  • Chosen Method: Create a Concept
    • Once certain bundled ideas seemed to resonate, I documented them in a plan. In this case we decided it was best to focus on:
    • Social media strategy development
    • Content creation and strategy
    • Capacity building on the above for the local staff: Training on social media planning and execution
  • Chosen Method: Get Feedback
    • Once these areas of focus were determined, I reviewed them one last time with all stakeholders for feedback and confirmation.
  • Chosen Method: Integrate feedback and iterate
    • I used feedback at this stage to tweak the plan.

With the previous two phases done, we move to the Implementation Phase:

  • Chosen Method: Keep iterating
    • Throughout implementation, factors came up or changed, so we adjusted accordingly on the fly. For example, organizational leadership determined they would no longer be able to be present on site to provide guidance and support. I met with the team and we adjusted the plan to continue momentum on our own.
  • Chosen Method: Staff Your Project
    • We created a to-do list and assigned staff to each activity.
  • Chosen Method: Roadmap
    • A roadmap was created for local staff so everyone could understand the schedule and expectations.
  • Chosen Method: Measure & Evaluate
    • Periodically throughout, as well as at the culmination of my project, I reviewed the checklist with stakeholders and confirmed items completed and items outstanding. Follow ups were scheduled with stakeholders to determine if and how momentum has continued over time. Director-level staff were very pleased with the progress. The social media and content production driven by staff continues even after my project.

All in all, taking a human-centered approach to my project with KadAfrica helped me to ensure the solutions I assisted with were needed, efficient, and sustainable for the organization and most importantly, their local staff. I really enjoyed giving the local team a voice for their ideas and a platform, equipment, and skills training to bring their ideas to life. It was very exciting and I have since taken this approach with most projects in all aspects of my work and philanthropic endeavors.”

[Editor’s Note: Check out KadAfrica’s Facebook page to see the results of Danielle’s project!]

HCD Case Study #2: Gabriela & Inyenyeri


Gabriela experteered her Quality & Regulatory skills with Inyenyeri, a Rwandan social enterprise building a cleaner world one kitchen at a time.

In the developing world, over three billion people cook every day using unhealthy fuels, like charcoal, because they are inexpensive and available. Sourcing and burning these dirty fuels has devastating effects on people and the planet, like deforestation, erosion, and death by toxic smoke inhalation. In fact, more people die annually from toxic smoke intoxication than from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV combined.

Inyenyeri offers a clean cooking alternative, offering a bundle of products and services that meet customer needs at every stage, including: the cooking stove, the wood pellets used with the stoves, stove installation, and training services to use the stove. With this bundle, customers in urban areas, rural areas, and even refugee camps can safely use the Inyenyeri system without needing additional resources.

The objective of Gabriela’s project was to help build a consistent quality management system across all business units so that Inyenyeri’s operations could be replicated more easily on a bigger scale.

We caught up with Gabriela to learn how she applied human-centered design to help Inyenyeri create impact on an even bigger scale, and here’s what she shared:


“During the Inspiration Phase, in order to build a quality management system that would meet Inyenyeri’s needs, I started by learning its’ business inside and out. Before I arrived on-site in Rwanda, this involved:

  • Chosen Method: Secondary Research
    • Rationale: This secondary research allowed me to better understand the context, decision making approach, and guiding principles of the business. This helped us define the knowns, the unknowns, and to review the constraints and barriers. This allowed me to ask the right questions to fill in the gaps.
    • Execution: Reading and reviewing the documents provided by Inyenyeri, including business plan, KPI reports, Operations manuals, media press releases, website updates etc.

When I arrived in Rwanda, I familiarized myself with their supply chain by doing:

  • Chosen Method: Interviews and Group Interviews
    • Rationale: Interviews and Group interviews helped us better understand the challenges and the opportunities existing around the creation of a proper quality management system for the company. We used the interviews to gain more insight into the existing/missing information related to policies/manuals and standard operating procedures.
    • Execution: Work together with the organization representatives to develop questionnaires for different departments and plan site visits to complete the interviews. We then organized site visits in the field, including:
      • Plant visits
      • Warehouses visits
      • Retail shops visits
      • Households visits

During the Ideation Phase, I used the following to work with the local team to decide on potential solutions.

  • Chosen method: Journey Map
    • Rationale: We selected this method to help us in visualizing and identifying key moments in the end-to-end process. A journey map is a good starting point for understanding the interconnection of a complex system, such as the whole supply chain.
    • Execution: Working with organization staff for support walking through the end-to-end process starting from the customer back to the suppliers in the chain in order to understand the whole experience from beginning to end.
  • Chosen method: Brainstorming and Creating frameworks
    • Rationale: Brainstorming can be used to unlock different perspectives on existing processes and to gather ideas related to the QMS structure. Frameworks are a visual representation of a system and a great way to make sense of data. Using different process frameworks (such as swimlane diagrams, SIPOC maps or value stream maps) we were able to highlight key relationships between different departments in the company. Time permitting, we also wanted to try to do a systems map. This is another way of discovering all the connections and the relationships between all the stakeholders
    • Execution: I provided trainings related to process mapping and organized practical workshops for value stream mapping. The leaders of the local organization confirmed which people/departments could be interested. I also shared materials and guidance for the people who are interested to read more about these topics.

In the Implementation Phase, I worked with the local team to conduct the following:

  • Chosen method: Live prototyping and Keep Iterating
    • Rationale: QMS is a framework for good practices, including policies, procedures, work instructions, and records. The existing documents needed to be reviewed, discussed with the impacted departments and with people who do the actual work. Live prototyping is important to get an insight on the experiences people have in relation to the existing procedures. It also helped us understand user stories and iterate better version of the system that will be in place. Continuously iterating improved communication by soliciting feedback and building new learnings into future iterations.
    • Execution: I created the first draft of the QMS structure and the main policies that will need to be taken into account. Then, I shared it with the team for input and feedback. I then worked closely with Philbert to build the QMS structure, integrating different elements such as: policies, SOP etc. while evaluating the effectiveness of the existing documents
  • Chosen method: Measure and evaluate
    • Rationale: In order to build an effective QMS system that can be replicated to different locations, it is important to understand why the work needs to be measured and evaluated and then act accordingly: is it to demonstrate impact, get more funding, improve business practices or generate more revenue? Define ways to measure and evaluate if people are following guidelines, procedures or using work instructions, records, reports etc.
    • Execution: Work together with the local leaders to incorporate internal audits that can be used as a first step to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of the QMS.”

[Editor’s note: You can read Gabriela’s full experteering story here.]

As you can see, human-centered design can take many forms, and the key is tailoring your tactics to the situation at hand. We appreciate Danielle and Gabriela for taking us behind the scenes of their experteering projects, and make sure to follow our #LearnHCD series for resources, methods, and more case studies to help you leverage HCD for impact.

If you’re ready to follow in their footsteps and use your human-centered design skills to create real impact, apply to our MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship!