Human-centered design isn't just for the affluent

Through, Jocelyn Wyatt helps design improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities

Published September 24, 2018 5:00PM (EDT)


The trajectory of Jocelyn Wyatt’s career changed when she met the CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown. She was in India, working for Vision Spring, taking Tim on a tour of one of their eye-screening camps.  She knew nothing of IDEO or design but she admired the way Tim thought.

“I was intrigued by the type of questions Tim asked and his constant desire to think through how something could be better and more effective,” said Wyatt.

Their paths crossed again after Jocelyn became an Acumen Fellow and Tim led a human-centered design workshop over two days.

“And again I was like this is so interesting, this approach and this way of problem-solving,” she said. “But I sort of thought to myself, that’s fine but totally outside of my world. They work in the private sector, they work with companies, and I do global poverty alleviation work. I was intellectually curious but I didn’t think it had anything to do with me.”

When she finished her Acumen fellowship she reconnected with Tim about a business opportunity. Tim’s time in India left an impression on him, and he realized how much opportunity there is for design in the context of public service. He knew plenty of designers who wanted to do good in the world, but he had had no way of finding such projects. Then he thought Jocelyn could be the bridge to build a business in the non-profit sector.

“He asked me to write my position description, and again I had no experience in design," said Wyatt. "I didn't know what it meant. I didn’t even really know what IDEO did. I read the website again and again to understand what would my job at this place be.”

Her job became to build a business by introducing the social sector and the global development field to human-centered design.

READ MORE: How Paola Antonelli brought fashion into MoMA

“That was ten years ago,” said Wyatt. “From there I did that work within IDEO, and then it became apparent, especially post-recession, that we needed a different model to be able to effectively serve the social sector. We were in a position where it was increasingly challenging to serve non-profit organizations and foundations with the same business model that IDEO had developed for the private sector. We were at this moment where we’d spent the previous year writing 52 proposals and received only two very small pieces of work. It was really challenging in that moment.”

Jocelyn Wyatt is now the co-founder and CEO of, the leading non-profit design organization, where she “believes design can improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities.”

To hear how Wyatt's strategy shifted and led to the success of, listen to Episode 5 of "Design The Life You Love."

"Design The Life You Love" is a podcast series hosted by renowned designer Ayse Birsel that explores the idea and practice of designing your life. Subscribe on RadioPubliciTunesStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

By Ayse Birsel

Ayse Birsel is the Co-founder and Creative Director of Birsel + Seck, the award-winning design and innovation studio working with Herman Miller, GE, Colgate-Palmolive, IKEA and Toyota, among others. The New York-based designer is the creator of "Design the Life You Love," a book and coursework that teaches designers and non-designers how to create a meaningful life using her design process, Deconstruction:Reconstruction™.

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