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Transformation Design Can Help You Make a Bigger Impact

Amanda Halacy

Digital Strategist, Forum One

You’ve probably heard of user experience design, product design, maybe even service design—but have you heard of transformation design? If the principles of human-centered design excite you, transformation design can help you make a bigger impact. 

What is transformation design?

The term “Transformation Design” was coined in 2004 by RED, a spinoff of the UK’s Design Council. The concept has recently grown in awareness and popularity and is oftentimes referred to as the third wave of user-centered design movements—after design thinking and human-centered design. RED defines transformation design as “a human-centered, interdisciplinary process that seeks to create desirable and sustainable changes in behavior and form‚of individuals, systems, and organizations. It is a multi-stage, iterative process of applying design principles to large and complex systems.” 

While this concept was initially developed by designers, it requires collaboration from a variety of disciplines to be effective. A major tenet of transformation design is the inclusion of non-designer stakeholders and participatory co-design. At its core, transformation design is about  applying design principles to non-design projects, resulting in transformed organizations, systems, roles, environments, and policies.

Because mission-driven organizations, by nature, seek to effect change in the world,  they pose the perfect setting to apply transformation design.  Employees at mission-driven organizations are known for being resourceful, creative, innovative, and passionate and in our experience, tend to think outside the box. Because of the nature of mission-driven work, the six pillars of transformation design will likely sound  familiar to people working toward a social impact – 

  1. Defining and redefining the challenge and solution: Working to solve big problems isn’t always straightforward and more often than not requires lots of course correcting.
  2. Collaboration between disciplines: Mission-driven staff  are used to wearing many hats and using interdisciplinary approaches.
  3. Employing participatory design techniques: Staff working at mission-driven organizations typically  know that it is vital to include their beneficiaries or stakeholders in the development of new solutions.
  4. Building sustainability, not dependency: The goal is to develop sustainable solutions (we sometimes hear clients say they will have succeeded when they no longer have a job!).
  5. Designing beyond traditional solutions: Working at a nonprofit or government  organization often means getting creative with limited resources or external constraints.
  6. Creating fundamental change: Solving big problems requires fundamental change in behavior, systems, and processes.

Transformation design for the mission-driven

Because the end-user perspective is the foundation of transformation design, designers and collaborators need to spend time learning about how audiences currently experience a system and how they want to experience the system. This calls for participatory design or co-design, an approach that entails designing solutions with the end user. Because it focuses on user democratization and empowerment, it is more liable to produce impactful, innovative, and sustainable results. 

Transformation design also democratizes and empowers teams across an organization who don’t consider themselves “designers.” Team members can act as moderators through various design ideation methods and workshops – and ideas from these workshops can be rapidly prototyped and tested to gather further feedback that is translated into development of the next prototype or final product.

Transformation design is the perfect fit for mission-driven organizations looking to make an impact quickly, with limited resources, or both. It allows organizations to go right to the source of the action and quickly make progress toward their goals while measuring and adjusting along the way.

Written By

Amanda Halacy

Digital Strategist, Forum One

Want to learn more about transformation design?

Our team would be happy to explore how you can make sure your platform supports all users. Get in touch today.