Design-powered public service

with a big heart,

thoughtful questions,

and an itch to create.

01 / Bio

Hi, I’m Allison Press. I am a designer committed to reimagining how our government works for the people.

A woman takes notes while interviewing another woman, both seated at a table.A woman looks at a young man speaking, both seated at the table with a microphone between them.A woman presents something on an iPad. One woman looks thoughtfully at the screen with three other women around her.

I am a creative strategist, service designer, and advocate for design’s ability to create a prosperous civic life for everyone. Currently, I am the lead product designer on the Biden-Harris campaign. Previously I led project teams at the global innovation and design company, IDEO. My superpowers are carefully studying people’s lives, translating research into new ideas, designing thoughtful customer experiences, and crafting a compassionate team culture.

A team sits in two rows wearing sunglasses and staring excitedly off camera. They are miming behind on a road tripTwo women hang translucent portraits of people across a large indoor garage door with glass windowsA man and two women sit side by side smiling at the camera in the booth of a restaurant

My roots are on stage and in the South. I spent my formative years as a theater kid investigating the nooks and crannies of human behavior to embody a character onstage. I came of voting age during the high season of my state government’s efforts in North Carolina to systematically stifle Black and brown voices from our democracy. These experiences set my trajectory as a designer: As someone with a finely-tuned awareness about people and a committed defender of those being pushed to the margins.

Two actors dressed in colonial attire sit with each other on stage. A man looks on in the background.A young girl smiling at the camera holds a baby goat outsideA woman stares off camera, hands on her hips, in a field of sunflowers under a bright blue sky
  • Since being at IDEO I have:
  • Worked with Pete Buttigieg and the City of South Bend to reimagine public libraries as centers for community learning,
  • Created a first-of-its-kind online community college for the California Community College System that prepares working adults for the future of work,
  • Designed a digital platform for a federal agency to promote on-the-job learning,
  • Organized an accelerator program with the National Science Foundation to transform cutting edge science into desirable public services for Americans.
  • Prior to joining IDEO, I worked within the Smithsonian Institution studying how to design exhibits that better engage learners of all ages, and co-created exhibits with visitors that incorporated emerging technologies in museums across the institution.
A woman and man talk in a booth in a public libraryA woman gives a presentation to a large crowd in an office conference roomA group of four women stand with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg

Most of the other creative projects in my life involve magazine scraps, construction paper, flour, and sugar. I enjoy collaging portraits of friends, making paper-cut postcards, and baking for any and all occasions.

Thanks for dropping by. Let's dive in.

A woman holds four collage cards in front of her face, in front of the T trainA messy table is filled with magazine scraps and six small square collage compositions
02 / Case Study

Creating a library program that helps people learn from their neighbors

How might a culture of learning help communities thrive amid economic disruption? During this seven month project I led the design of Bendable, a new web app that helps residents learn from the real-life experience of their neighbors.

  • My role
  • Co-creative director and strategist
  • Led digital product strategy and design
  • Led two early design sprints
  • Directed Community Researcher Program
  • Co-led design research in South Bend
Bendable is a new app from the St. Joseph County Public Library that helps people in South Bend learn from their neighbors. It aims to help communities thrive by better learning from one another. Video by H.P. Mendoza.

By 2020, 65% of jobs in the U.S. will require some post-secondary education. Yet only about half of adults have a four-year degree, two-year degree, or workforce-relevant certificate.

Even those already in “good jobs” must learn new skills. Studies project that within the next decade, about a third of the tasks performed in 60% of all occupations will change as a result of automation and artificial intelligence.

In 2019 the Drucker Institute— a social enterprise promoting the people-first leadership philosophies of Peter Drucker— approached South Bend, Indiana’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg and the city’s public library system to test the hypothesis that learning keeps communities resilient in the face of rapid economic change.

They came to my IDEO team to figure out how.

A man holds a phone in an blurred out industrial lot. The screen reads, "Learn from your neighbors. Whatever you want to learn, someone here can show you how."
On Bendable, people who have real-life experience doing what you want to learn make recommendations for what to read, watch and listen to.

Starting with methods like in-context interviews, ethnographic research, and co-design, my team spent weeks in South Bend understanding residents’ lived experience. Talking with people is one of my favorite things. I sat with residents at their kitchen tables, on the floors of their living room, and side-by-side at their factory workstations.

I led my team to uncover several patterns that contributed to people’s resilience in uncertain times, including:

In a small town, learning runs through trusted relationships— like the weekly gathering one man never missed to find new ways to collaboratively address community issues.
With things like job applications being universally online, digital literacy is a gatekeeper to opportunity. For residents who struggle with technology, family members are critical tech support.
Despite its size South Bend isn't lacking in social or public resources, but residents often don't know those services exist.
A woman opens her fridge freezer. Her back is turned to us.
A seated man wearing a Honeywell uniform talks to a person off camera.
A woman sits on a couch slightly smiling off camera.
A man smiles at the camera. He stands in front of a warehouse filled with large cardboard boxes.
South Bend residents share stories of their lived experience in their homes and at work. Photos by Jen Halls and Rachel Young.

Co-designing with South Bend residents

These insights inspired us to test the variety of ways that trust, accessible technology, and local resources might power learning. As the lead digital product designer, I guided my team to develop key questions we made moving into our design phase. I then created dozens of prototypes to individually test these questions— from “How do peer recommendations inform what you want to learn?” to, “How would employers’ access to this product affect your trust in it?”

A man and a woman look face a laptop, smiling. In the office of a local union.A messy pile of sketchesA phone screen showing an article that reads, "Learn what it's like to be a nurse, by Stephanie Ortega, R.N."Three second-story craftsman style homes in South BendA gif of different app prototypes about online learning

We spent three months testing these ideas with residents in South Bend by establishing a Community Researcher Program. As director of the program, I helped train a dozen South Bend residents in research best practices and equipped them with resources to lead research in their own communities while we were in San Francisco.

Each week I created prototypes and discussion questions to send to our researchers. They then convened a group of their peers— in their homes, coffee shop basements, and community college study rooms— to give feedback on our ideas. Each week I reviewed and synthesized their feedback, and incorporated it into next week’s round of design.

A man and a woman are seated at a table. The woman gestures to the man, explaining something. A laptop is open between them.
Three young people are seated in a row at a table, looking at a phone screen in the center of the table. A woman looks over their shoulder, standing behind them.
A group of young people sit around a table in a large basement. One man gestures enthusiastically. Another man at the table looks on.
A young man seated at a table gestures at a man off camera. Two other young people are seated at the table, looking down at a stack of paper in front of them.
An older woman thumbs through a stapled packet of paper. She's seated at a round table.
Community Researchers host design feedback sessions across South Bend. Photos by Kay Westhues.

I heard residents share how much they believe in the people of South Bend— "So many people here are untapped resources." I listened to residents critique a prototype that had tried to game-ify learning— "It disrespects the people who often aren't taken seriously to begin with." I walked residents through how to use the PayPal app on their phone to accept payment from us. They'd never used an app like that before. Their direct and indirect feedback taught me the value of technology as a connector to the trusted relationships people already have in their lives, and my role as a designer in creating digital products that are radically welcoming to people unfamiliar with tech.

Introducing Bendable

This process inspired us to create a digital service to help South Bend residents learn from the already trusted source of knowledge in their life— their neighbor. What emerged was Bendable. On Bendable, people who have real-life experience doing what you want to learn make recommendations for what to read, watch and listen to. 

Users can view recommendations based on their neighbor's real life experience, search for content based on popular topics, save content to their profile, and earn employer-recognized badges by learning about career paths in-demand in the region.
I designed all of Bendable— all of the screens, user flows, visual elements, and interactions. I managed design handoff cycles with our development partners and continuously refined the product to prioritize ease of use for people with limited experience with technology.
A man sitting at a desk holds an iPhone that reads, "our top picks: our team at the library wanted to share our favorite resources with you."
Users can also view library staff recommendations based on what's popular among their patrons.
Bendable is an extension of the library. But instead of having to go to the library to get information, the library gathers information from the community and shares it directly with you. 

People can view recommendations based on their neighbor's real life experience, search for content based on popular topics, save content to their profile, and earn employer-recognized badges by learning about career paths in-demand in the region.
This is an opportunity to help bridge the social equity gap in terms of education in the area.
Feedback from a Community Researcher on an early Bendable concept
A gallery of six screens featuring six different "collections" by residents in South Bend: Succeeding as an artist in South Bend by Kay Westhues; How to start making films on a budget by Chuck Fry; Learn how to fix your bike- then where to ride it by Zach Vandeman; Navigating school for your child with special needs by Marla Goddette; How to get started with computer coding by Alex Sendinaj; How to buy your first house in South Bend by Anna Kennedy
These South Bend residents were nominated by their peers to be on Bendable. They recommend what people should read, watch, or listen based on their real-life experience. Photos by Jacob Titus and Myriam Nicodemus.
Bendable is currently being piloted by the St. Joseph County Public Library and a select group of South Bend residents. Look for it to launch in South Bend in the summer of 2020. In the coming years it will be scaled as a new library service across the country.
Bendable is a way of telling the story of the library’s relevance to our community. We help patrons find resources, but don’t practice this journalistic act. That’s why libraries aren’t often seen as relevant, because we struggle to tell stories about why we’re relevant.

Last month we got 250 community members to stage a silent protest against a proposed budget cut. Bendable would allow us to do that everyday across the country.

Closing reflection

Told another way, this experience was a look into the hollowing of America’s middle class wrapped in a design project. I designed a new library service, but I also saw the human-level hurt our current economic system wreaks on its people. 70% of people in South Bend make between $8-18 dollars an hour. South Bend's dominant industries operate just like the rest of the country— favoring cheap consumer prices that lower wages, cut benefits, and erase on-the-job learning opportunities for workers. I'm proud of how Bendable reimagines libraries as a way to help people learn from their neighbors, but learning new skills can only get you so far in a system rigged against its people. This experience left me hungry to explore design as a force closer to the center of change in government.

The team

IDEO
Sarah Zaner:
Business relationships lead, Creative guide
Rachel Young: Project lead, Systems, Creative direction
Allison Press: Product design and strategy, design research, creative direction
Richard Enlow: Product manager

Savannah Kunovsky: Tech systems and accessibility
Nadia Surtees: Foundational design research
Jen Halls: Business market research and design research
Brian Pelsoh: Brand and identity

Simo Stolzoff: Writing and editorial strategy
Lia Wesp: Branding, marketing, and production

Carbon Five
Suzanna Smith:
Product management
Rae Bonfanti: Development and relationships management
Dylan Clark: Development

With support from:
Mary Michael Pringle: Copywriting
H.P. Mendoza: Film production

03 / Case Study

Designing a college for employment, not just graduation

How might a community college deliver jobs to its students, not just a degree? During this five month project, we created the learner experience for California’s newest online college that connects working adults to in-demand jobs by involving employers every step of the way.
  • My role
  • Led user experience design and strategy
  • Co-led design research across California
  • Led two early Google Ventures-style design sprints
  • Led off-camera interviews for four short films promoting the college
Calbright College is a new online community college where employment is the ultimate goal, not just graduation. The program does this by not only helping learners build the skills they need to get hired, but taking into account the needs of the people doing the hiring. Video by Free Range Puppies.
In 2018 Governor Jerry Brown, with the support of California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, proposed a new type of educational offering for the state—a fully online community college designed to deliver gainful employment to working Californians.

Currently, there are over 8 million Californians who have graduated from high school but don’t have a postsecondary degree. With the looming threat of AI and automation, Californians without relevant skills will increasingly be left behind.

While workers without a college degree see their career options dwindle, there are also massive opportunities. Sectors like healthcare, IT, and business operations are booming, and only set to grow more in the coming decades. The key is to connect working adults with jobs in growing fields. 

When Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley and his team came to IDEO, they knew the end goal for the new college— employment. What they didn’t know, was how to design a learning experience to deliver on that promise.

Through methods such as in-context interviews, shadowing working adults at home, and co-creation, my team learned that to deliver good jobs to learners we had to design an online experience that not only helped them build the skills they need to get hired, but that took into account the needs of the people doing the hiring.
A man and woman lightly hold hands inside their home. The woman looks jokingly at the camera.
Two men smiling in a fenced in backyard.
Working adults across California shared stories of their lived experience with our team. Photos by Nico Zurcher
Over several months, my team developed a learning experience that aligns the needs of working adults and hiring managers— by focusing on building relationships between students and employers throughout the program.

We traveled across California to interview working adults in their homes. I led two, one-week Google Venture-style design sprints to test our value proposition for our two unique audiences. Working with a designer researcher, I helped establish a community-led research program where participants gathered feedback on our designs from their peers. You can learn more about the program in this video (which I make an appearance in at 1:07).

As the lead interaction designer I set and executed the vision for the dual experience, creating a high-level systems map and detailed user journeys. Below are the key moments that define the user experience for both working adults and hiring managers.
These are key moments that define the user experience for both working adults and hiring managers. This experience journey map is intentionally simplified to give a high-level summary of how the product should work.
Key moments for working adults
As an online program designed around employment, the curricula are laser-focused on helping learners develop skills for growing industries and building relationships with potential employers.

Assessments power the system, not classes. Learners can assess their skills whenever they feel ready. If they get a question wrong, it becomes a learning opportunity, rather than a gate to keep them from progressing through the program.

All of the lessons are also bite-sized (30-minutes or less), offered in multiple learning formats, and are built to be consumed on a smartphone.
Moment 1 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults. Discovering a program. Veronica, a 35-year-old administrative assistant at an HVAC company, is worried her time to find a career is running out. Because she doesn’t have a college degree, she feels stuck bouncing from entry-level job to entry-level job.  At night, after her two boys
go to sleep, she researches educational programs online. But for Veronica to use her limited free time to go back
to school, she needs to be sure there will be a clear return on her investment.
Moment 2 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Pathfinding. Veronica needs to find a program that’s right for her. She wants a job that she finds interesting in a growing industry, where she can leverage some of the skills she’s already developed in her career. Veronica uses the college’s pathfinding tools to try different jobs on for size. She appreciates seeing facts like the average starting salaries and number of available jobs in her area. When she enrolls in the medical coding program, she is excited to pursue a career that feels like a good fit.
Moment 3 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Validating prior learning. Veronica isn’t your typical college student. She already has over a decade of work experience under her belt. She’s worried that she’s too experienced to go back to school, and that employers will discriminate against her because of her age. She knows she’s built customer service, administrative support, and interpersonal communication skills over the years, but she’s unsure how she can adequately communicate them to a potential employer in a new industry.
Moment 4 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Selecting a learning mode. Veronica doesn’t have time to sit through an hour-long lesson. Her free time comes in chunks: fifteen minutes after she drops her boys off at school, half-hour lunch breaks. The traditional format of sitting through a lecture—even if viewed online— simply doesn’t work for her. She is, on the other hand, always within arm’s reach of her phone. Her phone is how she stays in touch with friends, how she checks her work emails, and how she figures out logistics with her husband. She’d love to learn on the device that she’s already on all day long.
Moment 5 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Getting support. Veronica is motivated to find a stable career, but sometimes life gets in the way. She never knows when she might have to leave to drive her son to football practice or make a grocery run. Finding time to study with a full-time job and a family is proving to be difficult. She uses technology, but prefers to interact with real people. She wishes she had a coach to help remind her of goals and keep her accountable on days when it feels like completing lessons might be too much. Sometimes, she needs support to keep going.
Moment 6 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Assessing learning. Veronica wants to learn at her own pace. Some weeks she might not have a moment to spare. Others, she’ll have the time to blow through three lessons in a row. She’s not motivated by grades; she’s motivated by learning. Assessments let her gauge her progress. In the past, failing a test has stalled her momentum. It’s been a shot to both her ego and her progress. But now, assessments drive her learning. They allow her to see what she already knows and pinpoint areas where she can improve, without penalty.
Moment 7 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Connecting with employers. Veronica has been around the block, and she knows that it’s almost impossible to get a job without a foot in the door— especially for someone like her without a college degree. Even if she does put in the time to learn a new craft, she needs to know there’s a job waiting for her on the other side. Getting the chance to interact with employers throughout the program gets her excited about entering her new field and gives her confidence that employers are actually looking for candidates like her.
Moment 8 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Gaining real work experience. Veronica doesn’t have time to waste. She doesn’t want to do hypothetical exercises that aren’t reflective of the actual work she’ll be doing on the job. Moreover, she knows that employers are looking for candidates with real work experience. Doing work that will actually see the light of day also motivates Veronica. Part of the reason she was interested in medical coding was that she believed her work could positively impact people’s lives. Doing real work reminds her of why she chose this career.
Moment 9 of 9 in the user experience journey for working adults: Getting an offer. From the start, Veronica was promised this program would lead to a higher paying job in a growing industry. The program helped her develop the skills to earn one. Now that she’s done, a job offer is a fitting diploma. Because Veronica’s skills have been validated through ongoing assessments, employers trust that she has the qualifications to succeed in a new role. Because she has built relationships with hiring managers throughout the program, they feel confident extending her an offer.
These are key moments that define the user experience for working adults. The user story is based on Veronica's lived experience, a mother and administrative assistant at an HVAC company whose contribution was core to our design process.
Key moments for hiring managers
For hiring managers, Calbright College is the place to find qualified talent for hard-to-fill roles. Hiring managers can search for candidates by their competencies, instead of having to infer their skills through past titles or company affiliations.

They can connect with candidates in tailored ways throughout the program, increasing the chances that the candidate truly understands and is prepared for the role. They can opt into the connections they find valuable at an appropriate time in the candidate’s journey.
Moment 1 of 5 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Discovering the platform. Beth, a hiring manager at Optum360, is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, she’s having a hard time finding qualified candidates for the medical coding positions she’s trying to fill. One the other, she doesn’t have the time to do much proactive recruitment. A friend told her about a new education-to-employment platform that trains working adults for growing industries like hers. Beth is intrigued, but she needs to make sure that if she invests time into this platform, it’ll be worth her while.
Moment 2 of 5 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Searching candidates by competencies. Beth doesn’t care about the degrees candidates hold or where they went to school. She cares about whether they can get the job done. She’s used to resumes with empty credentials and exaggerated experience. She needs to know what candidates can do. She knows the specific competencies candidates need to succeed as a medical coder. Certain qualifications—like knowledge of medical terminology —are table stakes for everyone she hires. She wants to be able to filter candidates by their actual skills.
Moment 2.5 of 5 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Searching candidates by competencies. Beth doesn’t care about the degrees candidates hold or where they went to school. She cares about whether they can get the job done. She’s used to resumes with empty credentials and exaggerated experience. She needs to know what candidates can do. She knows the specific competencies candidates need to succeed as a medical coder. Certain qualifications—like knowledge of medical terminology —are table stakes for everyone she hires. She wants to be able to filter candidates by their actual skills.
Moment 3 of 6 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Generating a job posting. Beth knows that a good job posting is as useful for the hiring manager as it is for the candidate. She’s had people who are both under- and overqualified for her open positions. Taking the time to write quality job postings can save her time in the long run. By communicating the specific qualifications she’s looking for up front, it saves her from sifting through irrelevant applicants later on.
Moment 4 of 6 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Connecting with candidates. Beth understands that the hiring process is broken. If she’s lucky, she gets an hour to get to know a candidate and test their abilities before she’s forced to make a high-stakes hiring decision. Rather than distill the entire hiring process into a short interview, she wishes she had the chance to get to know candidates earlier on in the hiring process. Even if she doesn’t hire someone this time around, connecting with candidates early helps her build a talent pipeline for the future.
Moment 4 of 6 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Connecting with candidates. Beth understands that the hiring process is broken. If she’s lucky, she gets an hour to get to know a candidate and test their abilities before she’s forced to make a high-stakes hiring decision. Rather than distill the entire hiring process into a short interview, she wishes she had the chance to get to know candidates earlier on in the hiring process. Even if she doesn’t hire someone this time around, connecting with candidates early helps her build a talent pipeline for the future.
Moment 4 of 6 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Connecting with candidates. Beth understands that the hiring process is broken. If she’s lucky, she gets an hour to get to know a candidate and test their abilities before she’s forced to make a high-stakes hiring decision. Rather than distill the entire hiring process into a short interview, she wishes she had the chance to get to know candidates earlier on in the hiring process. Even if she doesn’t hire someone this time around, connecting with candidates early helps her build a talent pipeline for the future.
Moment 5 of 5 in the user experience journey for hiring managers: Making an offer. Because Beth was able to get to know candidates throughout the program, she feels confident in their ability to succeed on the job. She’s created a shortlist of candidates who meet her criteria, and is ready to make offers for her open roles. Hiring is an important decision for Beth, but getting a fuller picture of candidates’ abilities eases some of the anxiety of making the right call. She can use the platform’s easy-to-use tools to extend offers she feels good about.
These are key moments that define the user experience for hiring managers. The user story is based on Beth's lived experience, a hiring manager at Optum360 whose contribution was core to our design process.
Calbright College, est. 2019
Calbright College enrolled its first pilot class in 2019. As long as they continue to serve their users' needs, their approach models a new, radically human-centered approach to higher education. You can check them out, here. (This site is not managed by IDEO.)

The team

IDEO
Isabela Sa Glaister:
Business relationships lead, Creative guide
Jamila Janakiram: Project lead, Business design
Allison Press: User experience design and strategy, design research, creative direction
Nadia Surtees: Design research
Willie Franklin: User experience design

Simo Stolzoff: Writing
Leah Koransky: Branding, marketing, and production

With support from:
Francisco Guijarro (Free Range Puppies): Film production

04 / Voices

Voices

Enough of me talking about myself. Here's what other people had to say.
Allison is a rare designer because she is as thoughtful as she is creative. Her excellent work in designing for the public good is born from an incredibly high bar for design, for herself, and for democracy itself. Allison grows and develops at an accelerated pace — she outdoes herself each time we work together.
Rachel Young
Senior Design Lead, IDEO
Allison's deep care for others underpins her talent as a designer. She forges lasting relationships by making others feel honored, respected, and understood in every conversation. She knows what she stands for and believes in and always brings her full genuine self to all contexts. Her superpower is identifying moments - big and small - to delight with design.
Jen Halls
Business Design Lead, IDEO
Allison is a talented, committed, empathetic designer who has helped lead some of our most important mission-driven, edge-pushing, inspirational projects. She is passionate, creative, rigorous, and a delight to work with. I’ve seen first-hand what amazing results are produced when her talent and creativity is coupled with her commitment to equity, her strong moral compass, and her hope and belief in a brighter tomorrow. I worked with Allison on projects tackling some of the toughest challenges our society is facing today and I count myself, and all those touched by her designs - from the residents of South Bend, Indiana to the working adults of California’s Community Colleges - very lucky.
Sarah Zaner
Senior Director, Drucker Institute

05 / Archives

More making

Outside of my day job, I keep my artistic senses sharp by collaging and exploring side projects around civic engagement.

Highlights below include a poster series promoting Stockton's Universal Basic Income pilot, guerilla posters for Pete Buttigieg's campaign, handmade holiday cards, and a series of commissioned collages. See my latest creative projects on Instagram.
Three posters are taped to a white wooden slat door. The posters say, "Prototyping universal basic income"
A sign that says, "justice for the next generation" is held up in front of a wooden slat fence
A woman tapes of a series of nine signs to a cement wall, in different color combinations. The posters all read "justice for the next generation."
A collage on a white background. Legs from different eras are cut out and arrange on a pink line with arrows on either end.
Someone holds four cards with collage artwork. A couple of them have small text that reads, "the muse," and "the mystery"
A collage on a light brown background. Parts of a human face are cut out and reassembled. An eye stares at the viewer.
Sheets of circular stickers are spread across a table. The stickers are brightly colored. Each sticker says either voter, future voter, supporter, activist, volunteer
A series of square holiday cards made out of different colored papercut snowflakes.
Highlights from my side hobbies: including a poster series promoting Stockton's Universal Basic Income pilot, guerilla posters for Pete Buttigieg's campaign, handmade holiday cards, and a series of commissioned collages.

06 / Connect

Let's connect

Want to discuss public service design, North Carolina politics, a freelance opportunity, or just say hello? I'd love to hear from you. Email me at: allison.n.press[at]gmail.com

You can also find me in the usual places online:
Linkedin
Instagram