Social Design Co-Design Practice 🤝

In this project, I partnered with two Carnegie Mellon-MHCI students to design a solution to a social problem for the Carnegie Mellon community through a co-design session.


UX Researcher

My Contribution

I investigated the problem and conducted the co-design session.


User-Centered Research Methodologies, Co-Design Methodologies

The problem — the annoying corner

The annoying corner at the corner of Forbes Ave. and South Craig St. next to the Starbucks near Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh campus.

Why is the annoying corner so annoying?

The corner is annoying to faculties and students because it is unsafe and time-consuming to get through:

  • Trash cans hinder the path
  • Too little space for people waiting to cross the street and people passing by


Why social design & co-design sessions?

Because it is a social problem, not a product/service-oriented problem. The corner is annoying to various groups of people, and many of them want to solve the problem. So why not let them do it? They just need a little help from us 😉

The solution — alternative routes

Motivate Carnegie Mellon community to inform their classmates and co-workers about alternative routes by making a discussion post on Canvas forum.

Canvas is a learning management tool used by Carnegie Mellon University populations, so this would be the most convenient and effective solution for stakeholders. To facilitate spreading discussion posts on Canvas, we created these deliverables:

  • A poster that would be posted at the door of 407 S Craig St. to prompt stakeholders to use the discussion. It includes a template that they could easily take a picture of or download as an image via the provided QR code.

  • A guide on how to use canvas discussions to post the information

  • Some stickers to help highlight the routes

How does the solution help? Read this scenario and you'll get it.

You had a final exam of User-Centered Design & Evaluation (UCRE) today at 4:00 pm. You left from Hunt library, went along Forbes Ave., and went through the corner. The corner was crowded with people waiting for the bus, waiting for the traffic light, and heading to other places. You had to wait for nearly 100 seconds and squeezed yourself to walk through the crowds. 😫

When you arrived, you saw a poster on the door of the classroom.

The poster provided an instruction map of an alternative route from the CMU main campus to South Craig St. and prompted you ways of letting your classmates be aware of this route when the Starbucks corner is crowded.

It was already 3:50 pm, 10 mins before the exam started. It was likely that your classmates would have to be late because of the human traffic at the annoying corner, so you decided to notify them about the alternate route. Since you have already made a discussion post called Corner Alert on the UCRE page on Canvas, all you needed to do at that moment was to scan the QR code on the poster and share it on Corner Alert.

20 classmates who subscribed to the discussion Corner Alert receive your post, including Jamie.

Jamie just departed for South Craig St. from Gate at 3:52 pm, 8 mins to the beginning of the exam. He received a notification indicating an update from Corner Alert and decided to take the alternate route suggested by the update. Since it was his first time taking that route, he worried about being lost. Fortunately, there were stickers on the route pointing out the correct direction for him and his worry did not become true.

Because of your post and the stickers on the route, Jamie made it to the UCRE final exam classroom exactly on time! 😁

Not only Jamie, but several other classmates were also benefited from your post as well. Your post received 10+ likes indicating that it was really helpful. 👏

How did we conduct the co-design session?

1️⃣ Session Plan → 2️⃣ Warm-Up → 3️⃣ Ideation → 4️⃣ Reflection → 5️⃣ Elaboration

To prepare for our co-design session with participants who are new to design, we carefully selected design methods that are novice-friendly and promote innovation and collaborative design thinking. The design methods we selected are:

  • body-storming
  • point of view (POV)
  • how might we (HMW) questions
  • scenarios

To ensure that participants get to know each other, understand the problem from different perspectives, and become comfortable during the work session, we prepared a warm-up session during which participants were asked to discuss and identify problems. Then we assign them with different scenarios to act out as body-storming.

After body-storming, participants ideated problems with solutions based on point of views (POV) and how might we (HMW) questions. After ideating and discussing about 10 minutes, they narrowed down their ideas to 1 specific problem with 1 innovative and feasible solution. They then wrote down a scenario to embody the solution as required by us.

Team member is introducing the problem during co-design session.
2️⃣ WARM-UP (10 MINS)

Ensure all participants become comfortable in the co-design session, share experiences about the corner, and identify problems from different perspectives.

  • Introduced the problem statement
  • Played video taken at the corner to provide context
  • Prompted participants to discuss their prior experience and identified problems
  • Asked participants to write down problems on the post-its and stuck them on the whiteboard

Participants generated 8 problems from various perspectives:

  • Hard to get around the corner
  • Hard to get into Starbucks
  • Not enough room for people to stand/wait
  • Too crowded to people trying to turn the corner
  • A lot of people waiting to cross the street
  • The waiting people make bus drivers confused
  • Unsafe when people walk on the lane to get through the corner

Help all participants understand problems from different views with an immersive experience and help them identify new problems.

  • Introduced the technique
  • Gave participants 2 scenarios to act out (in scenarios they were assigned to different roles, like student heading to the classroom or customer who wanted to get into Starbucks, so they could better understand different views)

Participants pointed out a new problem; the trash cans obstructed the way. They did not notice this earlier (we put trash cans on the position as they were in the real world).


Help participants brainstorm solutions for each problem with design thinking.

  • Introduced to Point of View (POV) and how might we questions
  • Asked participants to pick up one major problem and write down a POV
  • Asked participants to generate 5 how might we questions based on the POV
  • Asked participants to brainstorm 1~2 solutions for each HMW question focusing on “amp up the good” or “minimizing the bad”

Participants were confused about which problem to pick up at first. We prompted them to choose one specific user group. Then they considered the population they could easily affect, as the people trying to round the corner.

POV generated by participants

A person is trying to round the corner to go to class in a hurry because he has a quiz that he has to be on time for.

HMW Questions generated by participants
  • HMW squish people together to create more space
  • HMW make him faster/smaller to get through
  • HMW rearrange layout of corner (bus stop or Starbucks)
  • HMW create more space around intersection
  • HMW find an alternate path
  • HMW help him leave earlier so he has the time to wait
  • HMW alter the course he is taking? • HMW help students to get through the people on the corner?
  • HMW reduce the number of people?

Participants looked back to all HMW questions they generated and picked four which they thought have potential. For solutions, they were not allowed to change the position of buildings or bus stop.

For HMW create more space around the intersection, they were thinking about setting up some norms but then gave it up because it was hard to inform pedestrians and motivate them to follow the rules.

Finally they brainstormed solutions for the followings questions:

1. HMW find an alternate path

  • Advertise wean path

2. HMW alter the course he is taking?

  • take classes closer (so don’t need to round the corner)
  • take classes with droppable quizzes

3. HMW help students to get through the people on the corner?

  • divide sidewalk
  • change traffic light patterns
  • have lights change more often

4. HMW create more space around intersection

  • move standard weighted pole
  • move bins

To ensure that participants are able to narrow down the scope, bring up one specific solution for one specific problem, and elaborating and embodying the solution.

  • Introduced to scenarios and storyboards (context, problem, solution, and resolution)
  • Asked participants to pick up one solution and present it into details (either narratives or visuals)

We prompted participants to do something they could flesh out more and that has the most attractive resolution, rather than only moving the bins. In their decision processing, they thought changing class schedules were not feasible for all students, and they wanted to help students avoid the corner. So they picked up the alternate path solution.


Mike is trying to catch the morning class in Gates because he has a quiz. He wants to get to the class on time, but he knows go through the corner would run out of time. He sees a sign, notifying there is a pass way to the Gates. He chooses the passageway and gets to the class on time. And other people get across the corner easily, because there are fewer people.

The scenario generated by participants