I lead design research grounded in community.

Doing thoughtful, human-centered design research from across the U.S. is possible, when you empower residents as researchers in their community. That’s what my IDEO team and I found when we asked residents to collect feedback from their peers to inform our design of a placed-based learning platform.

When a team from the public library system in South Bend, Indiana, supported by the Drucker Institute, came to IDEO to find new ways to connect working class residents to learning opportunities that help prepare them for the changing nature of work, they knew there were already a wealth of educational resources in the area. What they didn’t know, was why no one seemed to use them.

Our IDEO team designed a digital product, Bendable, that takes a community-led approach to connecting residents to learning opportunities— by nominating respected residents to curate a learning playlist based on their career path and life experience, to share on the platform.

A screenshot gallery of Bendable, currently being built by our Carbon Five development partners.

A screenshot gallery of Bendable, currently being built by our Carbon Five development partners.

This was created through months of feedback sessions led by South Bend residents. With the IDEO team mostly in San Francisco, here’s what we did with residents in three months:

  1. Recruited 14 residents on the ground in South Bend.

  2. Hired and trained a research coordinator based in South Bend to coordinate payment with our community researchers, observe their feedback sessions, and share her observations.

  3. Asked our community researchers to host bimonthly feedback sessions with their peers, and trained them on best design research practices.

  4. The IDEO team created a PDF for each feedback session that included a new design concept, related discussion questions, and a tutorial for the researchers to reference.

  5. Community researchers submitted written and video feedback for each feedback session through dscout, a remote research tool.

  6. Reviewed the feedback entries and remotely synthesized our findings with our South Bend research coordinator.

  7. Provided ongoing troubleshooting help to residents, from everything from how to accept a PayPal payment, to how to provide more specific feedback.

Here are our community researchers leading feedback sessions with their peers. Documented by our South Bend-based coordinator, Kay Westhues:


This process led us to a key insight about the learning needs in South Bend— that social connection enables learning. This led us to create a digital product that enables social connection, by elevating the expertise of South Bend residents through community-curated learning playlists.

Learn more about this developing work from our clients at the Drucker Institute, here.