How Might We Use Human Centered Design for Media Innovation

Talking about the crisis “media is facing” is a topic that has been making headlines for quite some time now. Media talking about media… where often we see journalists themselves feeling they are the protagonists of their stories… it’s time to shift the focus point and adapt to the digital reality – we need to start with our readers, they need to be the focus group.

This is the process used when creating a new product. The creative process starts with the users – learning about their actions and observing their behaviors to find their needs. It’s about problem finding rather than jumping straight to problem solving because the problem we chose to address might not be the one in need of a solution. We might be solving the wrong problems, and generating solutions that have no impact.


Photo 19 million project archive

We see some resistance from journalists when faced with design thinking methodology and empathy research. As they (journalists) may face an interview with the idea that the interviewee will tell them what they want to hear, for example, “yes, I am a corrupt”. Rather than exploring and questioning more deeply with questions that reveal more human depth, such as if he is a good person, or what are the things that makes him happy, or sad or afraid!


“I learned through this process – and it has been invaluable to me as a professional and even on the personal level -that my killer feature is field empathy research. At the Baobab Center for refugees, I talked to two girls, and they told me that the only thing they needed were shoes just so they could walk in the winter. Most women refugees at the center only have sandals and it’s November. The next day I came back to the center and I gave them 2 pairs of shoes. I felt I connected with those girls, without knowing each other’s languages, I played music sharing a Daddy Yankee song and we danced. Chile and Eritrea connected through music, the universal language. This is forgetting for a moment the fact that we are journalists and professionals and connect on a human to human basis. This is all thanks to the human centered design approach shared by Sina Mossayeb and Ed White, the designers from IDEO who’ve been part of The 19 Million Project. As a journalist, I took the decision to dive into this methodology, stepping out of my comfort zone, getting so many insights. I am changed and I am happy to be given this opportunity of trying a new approach.”

Carolina Astuya – Chilean journalist and Chicas Poderosas Ambassador in Chile



Carolina Astuya’s picture

The power of human centered design thinking is something not immediately understood by those who are experimenting with this concept for the first time. It is a process – a process that has very defined steps that brings people out of their comfort zone and there is often resistance. In order to create change we must change the way we do things. If we always do things the same way, we will have the same outcomes.



Photo 19 million project archive


The human centered design starts by framing problems as opportunities by observing people and their behaviors. Not just what they say because what people say might be different from what they think, do or feel. This is why observation is so fundamental -we are diving into the human core, and not just a superficial connection, getting what really matters most to people personally, emotionally and immediately. This brings a bigger anthropological approach to the interview process. The interviews are always in groups of three: one asks questions, the second takes notes, and the third observes the interviewee, noting gestures, the face, the reactions. This allows data to be gathered that will serve as insights into How Might We.


The next step is Downloading . This is where the team comes together to write in “post-its” all the insights they gleaned based on the field research. The team then will come up with a limited and focused number of questions they want to brainstorm on. The questions should not lead to solutions or answers but rather be open and inclusive for opportunities and allow for turning the insights inside out and making them into an operable question for brainstorming. For example How Might We create a safer experience for refugees?



Once the team has several How Might We questions then the brainstorm process starts. This is a very fast pace idea generation sprint that avoids self judgment allowing oneself to think big, wild and free, creating a safe space for innovation, and allowing the brain to unblock and generate unexpected ideas. This is where magic happens. In the beginning ideas are pretty raw but a wild idea can lead to the most authentic and meaningful solution to a problem. There is no critique in this phase but rather a spirit of building on the giant’s shoulders. The ideas need to be allowed to exist in this initial phase in order to be able to mature.


Once the idea generation ends it is time to group ideas, merging identical thoughts into big clusters. The team will then select the most salient idea and develop it further. The diversity of the group plays an extra special role here as this brings diversity of thoughts and different points of view. This plays a huge role in the human centered design approach and is more meaningful and insightful.


Photo 19 million project archive


Pitch comes next. The team presents to the “public”, exposing their ideas to get a fresh “set of eyes” on their thought process and receive feedback. This is a kind of small reality check as this examines the question, “is this really addressing the users’ needs.” Feedback is extremely important, that is why there is no space for egos in the human centered design approach. After the pitch, the teams come back together and iterate. The iteration process continues until the prototype phase. At this time, the teams have arrived at a solution that can be implemented.


This methodology is highly used by IDEO, Hyper Island and now recently Heather Chaplin who has been trying this approach with Journalism+Design.


For The 19 Million Project, human centered design thinking is extremely meaningful and a game changer in this huge humanitarian crisis. When faith in humanity is lost it is time to allow space for change. Extreme crisis asks for extreme solutions. When the European Union is the first to admit they have a lack of leadership facing this problem it’s time for an extreme approach.


The 19 Million Project is a collaborative effort between Chicas Poderosas, CILD, Fusion, Univision ,and GEN, bringing together more than 150 journalists, developers, designers, lawyers, humanitarians, and activists from 70+ organizations, across 28 different countries to use human centered design thinking to bring forth change and find solutions to the Mediterranean refugee crisis.



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