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.
Today, nearly 65% of jobs in the U.S. require some post-secondary education. Yet only about half of adults have a four-year degree, two-year degree, or workforce-relevant certificate.
Even people 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.
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.
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?”
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.
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 to create digital products that are radically welcoming to people regardless of their access to and experience with technology.
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.
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
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.
Chief Marketing Office, St. Joseph County Library
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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 YoungSenior 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.
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.
Senior Director, Drucker Institute
05 / Archives
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
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
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:LinkedinInstagram