Designing for People

At GLP we use the word “design” to describe what we do when we create learning events. I’ve always loved that term (Thank you, Jane). It has to do not only with how a learning process “looks” on the outside – but how it FEELS on the inside.

I think of it like this…

The outline of a learning event is like the sketch of a building’s façade — it indicates what’s on the first floor, what comes next, and what’s after that. It shows where people enter and where they exit.

A solid learning design is much more than that. It is like a three-dimensional artistic rendition of a building. It is less about the building’s walls and more about the people inside them. It indicates who the structure is for and how they will flow through it. It suggests the feeling of each space and how the distinct spaces work together to ultimately accomplish the building’s purpose.

Last fall I slept out on the streets of the French Quarter with 218 other people. We came together to show our solidarity for the young people of New Orleans who sleep there because they have nowhere else. The learning program designed for us by the Covenant House ran from 7 pm until nearly midnight and it was beautiful.

  • We set up our cardboard and sleeping bag any place we wanted on the square block.
  • We were offered food and a chance to mingle.
  • We sat shoulder-to-shoulder to hear from the program founder and then to hear him interview a girl who found her way to the program.
  • We broke into groups of 12 and sat with more young people whose stories were both distressing and inspiring. In our small groups we got to know each other (two truths and a lie), talked about our childhoods, and connected with the young people in our circle. At the end we each shared one thing we would say to your younger selves (a superbly respectful way to share advice with the young people, and showing that we are all learning as we live).
  • Next we watched video clips and heard live stories from young people who had been abused, trafficked, ignored, and challenged. But it was always approached with a touch of levity and a lot of love.
  • Nearing midnight, we stood in the courtyard to enjoy the brave singing of one young resident, and to join in a closing song.

Even on paper at the start of the night I could see this was a beautifully constructed design. The power of it came from the care designers took to imagine what I would learn and how I would feel as I moved through it.

How might the image of a design as a building serve you?


Valerie Uccellani is a co-owner and Senior Partner of GLP, the coordinator of our certified network, and the lead of our consulting team. She loves to design.