Answers to questions about human-centered design

Here is a series of eight essays, written in 2020 in correspondence with my friend Shinohara Toshikazu in Japan. As he wrote his new book on managing human-centered design, we went back and forth on his questions. In the end, my responses became a chapter in his book.

The questions came from a man with the heart of a symphony-loving humanist, who chooses to work in the center of techno-business and government. My responses come from someone with a foot in two worlds—corporate design and mission-driven community development and multi-stakeholder collaboration.

The first three essays are quoted and linked below. You’ll find the full set of eight essays on the main page for the publication on

Browse all eight essays on
  1. Why these essays?
  2. Understanding of HCD
  3. The idea of “HCD Management”
  4. What does “human-centered” mean?
  1. Design maturity
  2. Design leadership
  3. Design’s relationship with nature
  4. A new focus

Introduction: why these essays?

“I entered the field of design with excitement in about 1996, after fifteen years in software development and ‘systems architecture.’ I sought more humanity in my work. …In the years that followed I don’t believe I ever encountered truly human-centered design. Meanwhile old structures are failing, new ones are unclear, and the forces of belonging and oppression are both in bloom. Design practice and education are part of all that. Design is full of possibility for better ways for us to live together, or for continuing the harms of the old.”

Why these essays? on

Understanding of “HCD”

Attention to the world, reflection and making, open to being changed by the process.

“In my experience the work of ‘problem-finding’ tends to over-simplify reality. Under-trained in the basics of human behavior, teams make shallow assumptions about people. Under-trained in the basics of social relationships, teams accept shallow explanations. (“Haru is a bad child” vs. “This family system has unhealthy dynamics” or, “there is a negative pattern among children Haru’s age in this community.”)”

Understanding of 'HCD' on

The idea of “HCD Management”

“Even in complexity we need management. In the wild, we need management. The drive to control is natural and helpful. And/but, we are on the sometimes-frightening edge of learning to manage in complexity and uncertainty. Some resist this. Some grip tightly onto control. Others are excited to expand their management toolkit with approaches for working with emergence.

Sonja Blignaut, a consultant in social complexity, sometimes says this: “It’s hard to survive in the jungle when you’ve been raised in the zoo.” In my experience many managers handle that difficulty by continuing to insist on better zoo management processes, despite the wildness all around.”

The idea of "HCD Management" on

Browse all eight essays on