Design as an ingredient


We think of design as an ingredient when it is used in combination with other approaches across the program cycle. In such programs design might be brought in to de-risk the solution development process by ensuring that early prototypes are put into the hands of users. Or a thorough design research process may enable you to reach populations whom you might not have reached before, or in a deeper and more immersive way, thus enabling a stronger focus on equity.

Design can de-risk a process through its iterative nature of taking learning, making it tangible, putting it into people's hands, and continuously refining from feedback. It helps us to get out of a situation where we invest in the design of a solution, devoid of user feedback, and pilot it, only to find out after the fact that it wasn't what people needed or wanted. Including a design partner in your investment will ensure that you successfully put into place an iterative learning and prototyping process.

This will also have an effect on the partners you choose and how they work together. In these projects it is common to default to contracting to an implementing partner, given their deeper familiarity with a geography or common issues in public health. However, when the contracting mechanism assumes the implementing partner will sub contract to a design firm, it is not always the case that they have the requisite experience with design to know when and how design should be integrated to be most effective.

Common outputs or deliverables

Tips and tricks

  • When thinking about design as an ingredient you will likely have to spend more time thinking through what is the right way to integrate different approaches, methodologies, and processes in a way that they truly speak to and build off of one another.
  • You will want to think about how to build flexibility into your time frame. For example, design research can lead to the inclusion of different types of questions in a quantitative survey, and co-creation and iterative prototyping may facilitate a deeper understanding or clarity to what is learned from the deployment of a large survey instrument. These types of changes will take time and partner flexibility.
  • Building more points to come together to integrate findings or clarify any issues between partners will make for a more realistic timeline.
  • The "secret sauce" for successful partnerships it to start working together collaboratively and effectively during the proposal development.
  • Look for these types of skillsets in whomever will be fulfilling the design role: Go to Expertise and Skillsets


  • Be wary of the challenges of "inviting" different partners to work together, without a prior existing relationship. You ill want them to determine how to best work together but you may have an important role to play in facilitating those discussions.
  • Be judicious in selecting and thinking about which organizations are good at collaborating and then understand what it means to actually do good work.

Questions for potential partners

  • What is your collaboration strategy for the different partners coming together?
  • What is the role you see design playing in the investment, and the role that it will play in reaching the program objectives?
  • How have you managed projects where you are following the lead of another partner who is leading the investment?
  • What has been your experiencing with integrating findings from other types of research and other types of disciplines?