A short story behind why we practice human-centered design, asking for feedback before we help with housing for homeless families.
Our east coast office is located on the west side of Atlanta, a growing city not known for its abundant parking options. While coffee shop patrons 100 yards away circle the tiny lot over and over looking for a spot, we’ve always had abundant, free parking on our little side street — like a secret oasis in the chaos of Atlanta morning traffic.
It was an average Tuesday afternoon last week when it happened: our team walked outside to see city workers installing a meter and signs all over our secret oasis. No more free parking, and in some areas, no more parking at all.
Needless to say, we were mildly outraged. How could they come in and change everything about our street, without asking to see what we wanted, or how we already use the area in question? A 4 hour parking meter makes no sense for a street mostly occupied by office-goers — but they’ll never know, because they never asked.
And as I was contemplating my frustration over this small inconvenience, it occurred to me: how would I respond if this had been not my parking space, but my home, or my entire community?
The thought arrested me. Here at New Story, we practice human-centered design, asking for feedback from families before we build their homes. Sometimes, in the design workshops, you can sense reticence from the participants: they don’t want to be too opinionated, and thus risk losing the chance to get a home. It’s a heartbreaking thought.
We’re inundated with opinions in our modern world. Anywhere you look or listen, someone is ready to tell you exactly what they think — and probably what you should think, too. We all know that how we respond to someone’s opinion is relational currency. Listening and empathy can breed healthy community, while dismissal sends the message, “my voice is more important than yours.”
Losing my free parking was a small thing that reminded me of a big truth: we do participatory design not just so families can have the homes they want, but because we want them to know their voices matter. Not just so the community can be built more intelligently, but so the children can grow up with parents who have felt what it means to be heard. We do human-centered design not just because it works, but because it’s simply the kindest, most human way to do this work.