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Human-centered design? What is it? 


Spring 2018, my second to last quarter as an undergrad, I decided to take DES 166- Human Centered Design taught by Professor Tom Maiorana. We explored the different elements and factors that went into a human-centered approach when solving a design problem


Throughout the 10 weeks, we worked to solve a design challenge presented by the City of Davis: to reimagine the G Street plaza. With a team of 2 other girls, Professor Maiorana guided us through the process of human centered design, working closely to refine our skills in conducting interviews, discovering point of views, research, prototyping, and storytelling. 



With my partners, Katie Kroger and Aiswarya Loganathan, we developed a concept called the Garden Wall, a wall consisting of a terrarium oasis with the simple relaxing sounds of a waterfall. This wall aims to create a sense of peace and secureness in a busy environment. 


Together, my team worked well collaboratively. We delegated roles evenly and were never afraid to speak up with any ideas. I conducted many interviews while making sure to capture the narratives of each individual. I also created the aesthetics and graphics in our proposal presentation to the City of Davis. 


My team was able to conduct a good amount of interviews for research purposes, however, there was one user who we thought had an interesting perspective. 


We first met Liza sitting in front of Peet’s coffee with her adorable dog, sipping her coffee and enjoying the sun. She mentioned that she used to live in Denmark and loves the outdoors which made her nostalgic of her home environment. Surprisingly, she says that her favorite place to hang out is in an area where she has some privacy but can observe people. For example, sitting on top of Natsoulas Gallery overlooking Davis makes her feel at peace.


My team and I realized that among the users were interviewed, most of them felt the same way as Liza. 

So, we thought it would be game changing to create something that makes her feel secure in a public area.

From that, my team came up with three different concepts that we believed would be a good fit for Liza's "criteria". They were:

  1. the sharing wall

  2. the terrarium wall

  3. the privacy waterfall wall


We decided to go further in testing the privacy wall since it met Liza’s need for privacy and observation best.






As you can tell, we took a lot of time to prototype and simulate the experience we wanted the user to have. At first, we thought that water would be a good distraction from the busyness of downtown but after testing it on different people, it wasn't the sight of water that was calming, it was more of the sound of it. Our team got a lot of feedback about how greenery was actually more refreshing to look at than water. 


So we tried a different approach, which later we came to name as The Garden Wall.

Instead of having the sight of water, we simulated a "wall with green leaves" (more so like a garden) and played waterfall sounds in the background. And of course, we tested this at the prime location of the G Street Plaza. This is the feedback we got:


  • “It sounds like hot springs or a bath. I feel like I’m in biblical gardens right now without a care in the world because everyone is alright” 

  • “I feel at peace and centered”

  • “I definitely feel like having water would be peaceful and cool during the summers in Davis. 

  • “Having a plant wall with water would be a great idea for the city of Davis” 

  • “When I close my eyes, I feel very calm and relaxed” 


What we took away from our tests were that for our concept to be successful we needed to test our prototype at the plaza and be able to give users a sense of peace in a busy environment. We were originally focusing on making people feel private but we think it’s really about making people feel calm and secure downtown.


So what's next? 


With the help of Katie's knowledge in Vector Works, our team was able to create a simple overview of what the Garden Wall would look like once implemented in the G Street Plaza. 


Some features of the redesign will include:

  • 3 feet thick plant wall

  • wooden benches set into it for privacy 

  • hidden speakers playing water sounds (most likely located under the benches)

  • a new pathway through the plaza

  • plants and trees

  • bathroom

  • better bike parking area 


Probably one of my favorite design classes at UC Davis so far, I was able to discover what "human-centered design" consisted of.


Throughout these rigorous 10 weeks, I learned that design thinking often times require you to think in a different approach. As an inspired designer, I can proudly say that I am now able to:


  1. conduct ethnographic research

  2. develop ways to reframe design challenges processes

  3. run and participate in effective brainstorms

  4. prototype and simulate experiences in creative ways

  5. formulate/ reformulate challenges based on user insight, idea conceptualization, and storytelling


Special thanks to Professor Tom Maiorana for making this course such a fulfilling experience!


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