Putting People at the Centre of Design w/ OACC


With Marveh Farhoodi, Program Director at the Open Architecture Collaborative Canada (OACC), we uncovered insights into leveraging human-centred design for architectural and community projects.

About Open Architecture Collaborative Canada

OACC is a collaborative of socially-minded people with the mission to advocate for positive changes in the building of under-served communities' neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area.

For instance, OACC organised a community session to revisit the planning of a neighbourhood that was heavily impacted by gentrification. A motion has then been started to ensure that this neighbourhood's cultural identity will be preserved in the community.

For the past one-and-a-half year, OACC have been transitioning from an exclusively volunteer-run organisation and project-based mindset to a mission-centric startup. In a couple of years, they are hoping to be a social hub to incubate ideas for more resilient cities and neighbourhoods in Canada.

OACC always welcome volunteers that are aligned with their purpose. They are also looking for funding and sponsoring. Finally, if you are interested in learning about what they do through their workshops, they would be more than happy to provide that service to you.

Insights Into Human-Centred Design

The human-centred design is an approach that OACC uses to understand social challenges. It is already commonly used in various industries, but not yet in this space.

It tries to come to a collective solution by engaging with the people it will serve to understand their needs properly. They should be at the centre of creating and not just providing inputs.

The Five Steps of the Human-Centred Design

The human-centred design process contains five steps: Framing, Empathising, Synthesising, Concepting and Prototyping.

OACC's HCD Framework

The two first steps are those involving primary and secondary data collection.

  • Framing is about understanding the team's capacity based on the available resources as well as defining assets, budget and time. This step's inputs include the project's broad definition and secondary data.
  • Empathising is about collecting primary data and further learning from your context.

Collecting Data

To collect primary data, OACC uses one-on-one or small group interviews, while putting co-creation at the centre of their research. For instance, they organise community meetings and workshops to envision what they want to work on visually and creatively. These interactions provide insights into people's point of view and desires.

OACC also uses surveys, focus groups, and collaboration between focus and research groups to go further.

In summary, they leverage diverse techniques and tools based on live interactions between local stakeholders and specialists.

Inspiration to Go!

What we do can create momentum for changes. These small interventions let communities share their ideas for their neighbourhoods and create collaborative momentum for more systemic changes, creating a more equitable quality of public spaces.


Thanks so much for reading this post!

If you are a social entrepreneur and would like to share your story, reach out to me via LinkedIn. I am looking forward to it!


This article was updated on May 10, 2021

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Nadia Humbert-Labeaumaz

Entrepreneur, consultant, biosciences and software engineer, working on projects enabling positive impact.