Design, development and testing

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The fourth step in people-centred development. The research is now finished, you have analysed and interpreted the results. What now? Unfortunately, you cannot just submit the findings from your studies to designers, developers, and engineers. Instead, you have to tailor them according to their needs and expectations, especially since they should also be considered as people, involved in the co-development processes.

In this part of the process, you might encounter some challenges, as the writing and reporting styles of those educated in social sciences and humanities and those who are skilled and trained in design and engineering, differ significantly. Anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and other students of human habits and behaviours often describe in detail what they discover in the field and during experiments. They know how to interpret their findings for scientific and general audiences. However, they should now distil their interpretation and prepare the development plan, to be understood by those who make the product or service.

This process resembles translation from one language to another. However, the task is a bit more complex, since one “language” is interpretive or descriptive, and the other is normative or prescriptive. You have to explain how a new solution will function and sketch what it should look like. To make this “translation” process effective, it is advisable to use fewer words and more graphical explanations of the design and development process. You have to visualise what people need and expect and how you imagine a solution that is adapted to their lifestyles, habits and practices should look like.

Co-creation, design and development

One of the key principles of people-centred design and development is to involve people (users, customers) in all phases of the product, service, or system development process. This means that as researchers, we not only work with our research participants in the pre-design research phase, observing their everyday lives and mapping their individual experiences to provide insights and data on the basis of which experts can design products and services. We will also use different methods and techniques to involve them in the design and development teams, enabling the shift in their role from informants into active co-creators. Creative teams therefore ideally involve designers, engineers, IT developers, and researchers, as well potential users or customers. People-centred research and design means keeping users engaged in the development process, by working on prototypes and by testing “user experiences”. Although from a manager’s point of view it may seem wiser to work on the user experience angle when there is an actual product (or service) already available to test and improve a lot of time and money is saved if we involve users in the design and development process from scratch. In this way, even though the design and development phase takes longer costly mistakes can be avoided.

Co-creation is similar to the basic premises of participatory design, which is “an approach to design that attempts to actively involve the people who are being served through design in the process to help ensure that the designed product/service meets their needs.” [1] . It has its roots in 1970s Scandinavia and was initiated by academics who cooperated with trade unions. In participatory design, “users are treated as experts. Attempts are made to to bring their (tacit) knowledge and skills into the research and design process. The goal is to let users, researchers, designers and other stakeholders cooperate and engage in ‘mutual learning” [2] . Hanington [3] notes that “participatory methods may include toolkits such as card sorting with images or text, collages, cognitive mapping or other diagramming exercises, experience drawing, and flexible modelling or ‘Velcro’ modelling.” The terms co-design and co-creation are also used to describe an attempt to facilitate users, researchers, designers and others “to cooperate creatively, so that they can jointly explore and envision ideas, make and discuss sketches, and tinker with mock-ups or prototypes” [4] .

The role of the researchers in these processes is therefore crucial: it includes facilitation and translation. The researcher identifies participants and is familiar with them through pre-design research. The researcher identifies methods and techniques that fit best with the individual project to bring all key individuals or groups of people into the creative process, facilitating their cooperation by “translating” between the worlds of business (industry, corporations, technology) and everyday experience (the people). Anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists are uniquely equipped for such roles and will therefore bring an added-value to any design and development team.

Easier said than done, you might say. While certainly not an easy task, there are a number of people-centred design methods and techniques already out there that you can employ or use as guidelines when planning for the design and development phase of your project. We describe some of them below. As in our Step 2 (Research), the best strategy is to combine a number of appropriate methods or techniques (provided you have the time and means to do so) that will enhance our creative process and polish the user experience - ultimately creating a great product or a truly people-centred service.

Important concepts related co-creation, design and development are prototype, lead user, personas, scenarios, generative techniques, card sorting, usability testing, and think aloud


Design your own smartphone app

Smartphone apps have become an indispensable part of our daily lives. We use them to communicate with friends, check the news, plan our weekend, support our health-related habits, and motivate us to follow a home fitness programme. In this exercise, your task is to imagine a new app that will support a health- and/or energy-related habit and motivate people to live a more sustainable life. Take no more than 15 minutes to think about such an app. Afterwards, describe on approximately one page what the app will do (purpose), how it will function (functionalities), who is it designed for (focus audience), and how it should appear (design). Now take another paper and upgrade the development plan. Sketch wireframes of the app, i.e. a schematic blueprint of the phone screen that represents the skeletal framework of the app. (You can use a black pencil or colours.) Furthermore, explain in bullet points the purpose of the app, its functionalities, and who the people are who will use it. If possible, give this development plan to engineers or designers and discuss with them if they understand how the app should appear and what it should do.


Ethnography-based smartphone app

“Why not create something different?” This annoying but important question was asked by a researcher of an interdisciplinary project DriveGreen after the research team conducted a focus group about the influence that smartphone apps have on the habits of car drivers. The main goal of the project was to produce a smartphone app that would show how good – or bad – a driver the user is. It should influence driving habits, and help reduce CO2 emissions on a global scale as well as local levels of harmful microparticles PM10 and PM2.5 . The original idea was to prepare a smartphone app to display how environmentally responsible a driver of a passenger car was. What role could anthropology have in the development? The project team intended to use ethnographic research methods in different locations – Ljubljana, Belgrade, Budapest, Newcastle, and Durham – mainly to identify how to customize the user interface to various locations, people’s needs, culture-specific uses of passenger vehicles, etc.

The first year of the project showed that ethnography could be potentially much more important in the preparation of the development plan and in the design of people-friendly and environmentally responsible technology solutions than we initially anticpated . During the research, the team cast more and more doubt on the original idea, which they had presented in detail in the project application. The people they spoke to in the five cities constantly reminded us of the following:

1. The use of mobile phones in vehicles is extremely dangerous. The research team knew this but they continued to use the phone to measure driving style and modified the user interface so that the driver would be made aware of their driving style using sounds instead of on-screen animations. Using the application in this way might be somewhat safer, but the phone would still disturb the driver with its beeping, jingling, and buzzing.

2. The data on greenhouse gas emissions is not the best way to motivate people. It turns out that the people in the cities where we carried out our surveys are worried about CO2 emissions. However, information about the amount of emissions produced while driving is too abstract for drivers to significantly change their driving style.

3. The cost of fuel is not important to drivers of passenger cars. The fact that we can significantly reduce fuel consumption and annually save a few hundred euros or dollars by driving calmly, without braking or accelerating sharply, does not make us drive differently. The daily financial savings are relatively low, and the driver is often in too much of a hurry to keep track of these minimal savings by properly accelerating, turning, and braking. Drivers are racing against time to finish work, get the kids to and from school as well as dropping them off at their afternoon activity.

In short, the DriveGreen project’s development plan collapsed almost entirely less than a year after the start of the three-year project. The team had to start again and this time target people instead of technology. They had to figure out what motivates people to change their driving habits.
However, every cloud has a silver lining. New horizons started to open up to the team soon after they started conducting the first field research in Ljubljana. The people they spoke to about their daily errands and routes they take with their vehicles described their cars as private-public spaces where it is hard to relax, especially during the morning congestion. But drivers still get into them every day, and then swear, gesture, honk, or express their anger and rage in some other way. What if the IT solution could convince people not to get in their cars at all in the mornings? That would save fuel and reduce emissions, not only by 10 percent but by as much as 100 percent. Furthermore, the users of our application would get angry less often and would move more, which would also affect their health and well-being. With this starting point in mind, the project team prepared a new concept for a smartphone app that shows us how mobile we are on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. Driving a car has thus become of secondary importance, and is as such marked with the colour red, while other, more environmentally responsible ways of movement have more positive connotations.

The app, named 1, 2, 3, uses sensors in the phone to automatically detect whether we are walking, running, cycling, using public transport, or driving a car, with the proportions of the completed activities appearing on the screen. In addition, users can see their personal result and can compare it with the average of all the users in the city – so they can determine whether their day was above or below average. They can also view the total distance and the savings in CO2 emissions achieved by using environmentally friendly journeys – the project team decided to hide this calculation into the background based on the realization that greenhouse gases are quite an abstract motivational factor.

The main innovation of the app is the function that connects users to work together towards a common goal. Since this goal needs to be clear, accessible and concrete, the project team has designed various campaigns – which are the most successful when they are also supported by the media – so that users can compete against a concrete person: for example, against the Mayor of Belgrade, a movie star from Budapest, or the Slovenian President. The chosen celebrity must walk, run, cycle, or use public transport more than the city’s average. If the challenge is not completed, they have to donate a certain amount of their own funds - for example, three thousand euros for the reconstruction of infrastructure or the renewal of bike trails in a city park. These initiatives based on the cooperative-competitive principle can be understood as ‘indirect microdonations’ because every walked or cycled kilometre counts, however, the app users don't have to contribute any funds for the improvement of transport infrastructure. Rather, this falls to someone else, preferably a celebrity or a representative of the city authorities.

When combining data with ethnography, the project team also got answers to questions such as why many people prefer to sit in the car in the mornings than go on foot or by public transport, why we cycle the most on Friday afternoons, and why city buses are empty on Saturday mornings. The combination of quantitative data (big data), obtained by technology, and qualitative data (thick data), which we collect using ethnographic fieldwork, can therefore be important in the transformation of a mobile application into a tool for monitoring and improving the functioning of urban traffic and the promotion of a healthy and environmentally responsible lifestyle.

Ethnography also proved to be important for the development of the mobile application ‘1, 2, 3’ because each city where we carried out the research was quite a tough nut to crack in terms of promoting sustainable mobility due to the deeply rooted habits and practices associated with specific socio-cultural and political-economic factors as well as geographical characteristics, climate conditions, existing infrastructure, state of the rolling stock, etc. Team researchers would not have been able to get to know and understand all of these factors without carrying out research in different locations, talking to people, observing their habits, using public transport, taking the car to the mall, or putting on a helmet and heading to the main square by bike.

An additional important achievement of the DriveGreen project is the realization that engineers and anthropologists can work together efficiently and on equal terms, and that ethnography is not simply a decorative addition to interdisciplinary research and development projects. When presenting the project, however, it has repeatedly turned out that anthropologists have a lot of reservations about updating our own anthropological approaches and that we spasmodically cling to ‘classical ethnography’, which has not changed in any significant way in the past 100 years. This is quite unusual since engineering solutions and new technologies offer a great opportunity for us to polish our rusty ‘tools’ while helping to humanize emerging technologies using our own approaches.


  1. Sanders, Elizabeth B. N. 2006. Design Research in 2006. Design Research Quarterly, 1 (1): 1-8: 7
  2. Steen, Marc. 2011. Tensions in Human-Centred Design. CoDesign 7 (1): 45–60: 49.
  3. Hanington, Bruce M. 2010. Relevant and Rigorous: Human-Centered Research and Design Education. Design Issues 26 (3): 18-26: 23.
  4. Steen, Marc. 2011. Tensions in Human-Centred Design. CoDesign 7 (1): 45–60: 52.