I recently read an article titled “Design is more than perfume, aesthetics and trends” written by Richard van der Laken, founder of What Design Can Do. I was surprised not only by his honesty on the potential impact of design but the real need for new ideas from designers in addressing the growing refugee crisis.

His feature also highlights the increasing role of general civilians who are improving the dignity of refugees in their host countries.  These people may not have a typical “design for good background” but they’re making a difference. Van der Laken refers to this as the “Do It Yourself or Do It Together approach.”

And if you follow IDEO‘s methdology, they champion the idea that anyone can be a “designer” or “creative” with the right type of thinking.

Looking at the article as a whole, one passage particularly stuck with me after reading it. In light of the Syria crisis van der Laken explains, “words like “social”, “humanity” and “engagement” no longer concern just a few international relief agencies. They concern all of us. The refugee problem is too large and too urgent to leave to just a few.”

And who could argue against him? This isn’t one person’s or one sector’s job. There is a role for everyone in helping to solve one of the most heartbreaking situations our world has faced.

The role of external partners in finding human-centered solutions for humanitarian crises can often be overlooked. We need the world to come to the realization that the current state of the refugee crisis is a human problem. A global, human problem that needs solutions focused on the end-users – ie. refugees and persons of concern- so we can gather their voices and improve their quality of life.

To help inspire the many would-be designers out there, I’ve rounded up ten quotes (you’re welcome) on the role of user-centered solutions, innovation, and empathy.

I’ll start you off with a quote from Richard van der Laken’s article. I encourage you to read the whole piece and to give a thought on how you could help shape the lives of others through design.

1. “Every self-respecting designer should do something. Come up with new ideas, dust down old ideas and place them in a new context. Silence the cynics. Let the politicians know that wheeling and dealing achieves little. Prove that actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate the power of design. Designers can do more than make things pretty. Design is more than perfume, aesthetics and trends.”

– Richard van der Laken, founder of What Design Can Do

2. “The people who need design ingenuity the most, the poorest 90% of the global population, have historically been deprived of it.”

– Alice Rawsthorn, Design critic

3. “It’s not ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them.’ For a design thinker it has to be ‘us with them'”

– Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO

4. “We spend a lot time designing the bridge, but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it.”

– Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Director of Systems Design at the Earth Institute

5. “The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for. Leadership is exactly the same thing – building empathy for the people that you’re entrusted to help.

– David Kelley, Founder of IDEO

6. “User-centered design means understanding what your users need, how they think, and how they behave – and incorporating that understanding into every aspect of your process.”

– Jesse James Garrett, User experience designer

7. “Human-centered design is a philosophy, not a precise set of methods, but one that assumes that innovation should start by getting close to users and observing their activities.”

– Donald A. Norman, Co – founder of Nielsen Norman Group

8. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

– Albert Einstein, Former refugee

9. “It is about them and for them. The closer the end-users’ needs are analyzed and answered, the more successful the adoption or purchase of a solution. You iterate until you get it right from a customer perspective. This the power of HCD.”

– Olivier Delarue, UNHCR

And don’t forget along your journey to:

“Fail often so you can succeed sooner”

– Tom Kelley, Author and General Manager, IDEO

Do you have any ideas for human-centered solutions? Or did we miss a great quote? Tell us in the comments below.

Photo credit: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images


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