top of page

Innovating for Equitable Outcomes: Applying Human-Centered Design to Address the Needs of Urban Univ

Human Centered Design is an approach that focuses on creating solutions to identified issues by focusing on and designing with the end user in mind. Used successfully in corporate settings for decades, universities are now adopting human-centered design principles to develop equitable student success initiatives and community-engaged partnerships.

Delving into the myriad tools and resources about human-centered design can be admittedly, daunting. In Week 3 of our summer series, Stef Koehler and Katie Tucker of Werk_Strategies, guided USU members by focusing on a framework (Challenge-Problem Definition-Solution), and tools (Personas, and Creative Matrices) that can help universities create and/or adjust student and community-centered initiatives. See the slides here.

To exemplify the use of human-centered design in higher education, two USU institutions shared their approach to ensuring their stakeholders were at the center of and focus of their initiatives. Portland State University created and used a persona – a fictional individual that is a representation of the student population – in their design of a transfer student center. The design team considered how the persona’s assets, barriers, and opportunities might impact transfer student experiences on campus. Mapping this process through the lens of a persona brought to light the overwhelming number of steps needed for an individual to navigate campus procedures and policies, and sparked a redesign of the transfer process, in order to transform the student experience.

When the University of North Texas noticed their mental health services were being underutilized by students of color and LGBTQ, they sought to understand this trend by examining disaggregated data, and looking for links between social determinants of health and suicide ideation among students. After speaking with students and using a cross-departmental, team-based approach, UNT centered their outreach on pre-existing offices in the university which had already gained the trust of the students in their target population. Rather than asking these students to come to health centers, the UNT team took the services directly to students via these partner organizations where students already felt supported (e.g. Pride Center, Campus Recovery Program). The UNT team hopes that this simple shift in service provision will increase access to care when needed.

The session concluded in a Creative Matrix exercise, which asked participants to quickly brainstorm solutions that address a persona’s challenges using questions such as “how might we integrate childcare needs into student service provision?”. The activity placed some parameters on the solutions, such as “must be easy to implement,” or “must be cost-neutral”. This allowed participants to create some unique and feasible options for addressing the needs of single parent students. See the results of the exercise here.

As universities prepare for Day 2, it is valuable for its administrators and faculty to first understand the experiences, assets and challenges of its students and community members. By using human-centered design principles, university professionals can capitalize on a set of resources and approaches that will help them gain a deeper understanding of “the problem”, while including stakeholders directly in the process of problem solving.

Header Image Istock Credit: Raul_Mellado


bottom of page