Design Without Borders has more than 14 years’ experience in using the Human Centred Design (HCD) process in development contexts, an area where we believe the tools from the HCD field are especially well suited for designers researching and developing solutions for unfamiliar cultures, regions and contexts. We believe that the people, who live with the challenges in developing countries every day, are the ones who hold the keys to the answers and solutions to the challenges – and as such have the capacity and potential to be innovators and sources of information to the design process to be observed and learned. That is why DwB designs with people and not for people, acting as a facilitator rather than an expert.

In this way the HCD tools don’t offer end solutions per sé, instead give voice to communities and allow their needs and desires to guide the creation and implementation of solutions. Thus we believe our approach has the potential to yield greater results compared to other actors in the field.

Users Roles
vs The Designer’s

Throughout the HCD process, the designer and the user can hold a variety of roles. This affects how the design tools are perceived and used.

The designer can be seen as an expert, such as a doctor. The user becomes the designer’s patient, and their problems may be remedied by design.

However, the designer can also be the user’s student. They study the experience of the user, replacing their preconceived ideas with the user’s personal insights and understanding. This kind of role is needed when designing products for a different culture.

The designer can also include the user as a co-designer. In co-design, the user is regarded as the expert who can produce valuable suggestions for solutions to the issues they know from first hand experience.

Throughout the DwB process, we prioritize participatory design. Not only do we learn directly from the lived experiences of the user, we invite them into the design process so that we can stand side by side until we find the solution together.

User journey

The user journey is a visual representation of the path a person will take through their interaction with the a service, organisation or product. The user journey maps out touchpoints, the points of interaction with the service. These can involve the connected life activities, channels of communication, methods of distribution, or even the emotional states of the user.

User journeys are constructed from the user’s perspective and allow us to better understand their daily life patterns. This tool has become an important part of research and design.


GIGA­-mapping is an additional method we use. This consists of visually gathering all insights in one visual space, allowing our team to maintain a reference of the big picture, while exploring the relationships between the data points. The designers, client and stakeholders share the GIGA-map, using it as a reference for constructive discussion and common understanding of the subject at hand.



Cultural probes are one way that we access environments that are difficult to observe directly. Based on our participatory scheme, this process requires users to document their lives, allowing them to engage in the human centered design process. Probes are a collection of assignments (often using physical objects) that help the users to think of their experiences from different perspectives. This allows users to express their thoughts and ideas, which are important resources for the project at hand.



Participant observation is a qualitative research tool for collecting data about people, processes, and cultures. Researchers conduct interviews and visit the communities they work with, taking notes on their observations throughout the process.

By observing situations informants have described in interviews, researchers can also become aware of any inaccuracies in the descriptions previously provided.  It also helps the researcher to check definitions of terms that participants use in interviews, observe events that informants may be unable or unwilling to share because doing so would be inappropriate.



Tangible dialogue is a practice in which physical, three-dimensional objects are incorporated into interactions with participants. Conversations using these tangible mock-ups provide an opportunity for clients to reflect on our project. Providing “things-to-think with” serves as a way to span the gap between the different competencies and interests of all participants within the design process.

This is essential in a co-creating and user centred design process, since the concepts in the designer’s imagination may seem too abstract to participants. The tangible elements can also be more advanced props for enactment, gamification or visual storytelling.

For example, the AKI Planning tool, or the AKI board game that was designed by Design without Borders for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Uganda and the Bank of Uganda (BOU) with the aim to develop the participants’ understanding and response to financial issues connected to both household and business decisions. By enacting their household scenarios in a risk free environment, the participants were able to reflect on and develop their experience through both guided play and peer feedback.


This term refers to any act of collective creativity, i.e., creativity that is shared by two or more people. In our work, diverse actors such as researchers, designers, and users, come together to cooperate creatively. Co-creation allows our projects to genuinely reflect the desires and needs of the communities we work with.