The content in this section reflects activities from the original Core project, which ran from 2017 to 2020. Terminology and process referenced on these pages may differ from that used in the most recent iteration of the programme, Core Nigeria, which launched in 2020. View the Core Nigeria tab for the most recent project updates and materials.

Human-centered design

Responses to complex multi-causal issues like sexual and reproductive health and well-being require a combination of experience, expertise, data and knowledge to deliver effective interventions at scale.

Human-centered design (HCD) provides a framework that enables different stakeholder perspectives, including that of the communities we serve, to be considered and built upon. It helps stimulate the cross-pollination of ideas and facilitates continuous collaboration across sectors and partnerships. And by placing people at the centre of the problem-solving process, it allows each stage of innovation to be shaped by the needs of those we seek to serve.

When employing HCD in Core, we build on existing research and root our work in evidence. We complement this knowledge with creative, participatory research activities in local contexts. With the life course approach serving as the conceptual bulwark, we seek novel perspectives and entry points into the issue. We validate emerging data against the existing body of evidence, and analyse findings until clear intervention opportunities appear.

Working directly with people affected by the issue at hand and with a range of experts and partners, we ideate and create early representations of interventions to test how they might be experienced, demo-ing these in context to gather feedback. Prototypes are abandoned, adapted, refined and iterated upon as we learn more about what works and what does not.

Employing HCD enables Core to approach challenges boldly and transform them into opportunities for collaboration and design. Involving stakeholders all along the way facilitates and ensures greater ownership of interventions and lays the groundwork for the long-term sustainability of solutions.

Download Core's human-centered design handbook

Useful reading


  • Steen, M. 2012. Human-centered Design as a Fragile Encounter
  • Telier, A., et al. 2012. What is the object of design?
  • Robertson, T., & Simonsen, J. 2012. Challenges and Opportunities in Contemporary Participatory Design
  • Seago, A., & Dunne, A. 1999. New Methodologies in Art and Design Research: The Object as Discourse
  • Buchanan, R. 2001. Human Dignity and Human Rights: Thoughts on the Principles of Human-centered design
  • Ehn, P., & Badham, R. 2002. Participatory Design and the Collective Designer

Core’s human-centered design process

The Discover phase is the very first step in Core’s human-centered design process.


We build on existing knowledge, collate from a range of sources and interview subject matter experts both before and during in-country activities. This entails allotting time upfront to evaluate the issue within context. To understand the sexual and reproductive health scenarios in our focus countries we undertake substantive landscape analyses, validating our output with experts and partners.

We use a range of participatory methods to gain new knowledge and different perspectives on the sexual and reproductive health problems that exist in our target communities. We craft custom strategies for interviews and group discussions with local communities, develop design tools for productive interactions with women around their SRH journeys, and open engagement with in-country partners to immerse in the field.

The tools we co-design to aid engagement with women are informed by background research and expert perspectives. Team members are equipped to conduct fieldwork ethically and are mindful of contextual sensitivities. Importantly, these efforts are geared to provide an enabling environment for women to share their experiences and for the teams to gain credible first-hand insights into the issue.

A snapshot of information streams for Core’s design research approach:

  • Nine geography BMGF segmentation of women
  • Desk research and existing literature review
  • Country data and national strategy review
  • BMGF country goals and grantee priorities
  • Voices and experiences of women participating in Core


♦ Core’s Discover phase process flow



Core’s design research for the Discover phase follows a four-step approach:


We establish a baseline to understand Life Course theory:

  • Adapt Life Course theory to the lives of women and women’s sexual and reproductive health
  • Develop an approach to apply Life Course to Core’s work

We extensively map national health ecosystems and collect existing data for each Core country:

  • Build a data-based foundation of each country and selected region
  • Map national and regional policies, programmes and priorities
  • Identify coordination pathways with global and in-country partners


To learn first-hand about how women themselves define and experience health and well-being across Core countries, we ask several questions:

  • How do women understand their health and wellbeing?
  • What do women mean by “being healthy”? How has this changed over time?
  • How do women prioritise their own health, as well as the health of family members?

Diving deeper in women’s sexual and reproductive health journeys we also ask:

  • What health experiences have women had? How did they perceive and evaluate them?
  • What are women’s experiences of and perspectives on different SRH services or information they are supposed to receive, for example regarding family planning or ANC?
  • How do women make health-related decisions? What factors do they consider?
  • Who influences women’s decision making?
  • How have women been impacted by health-related choices?

We then narrow our focus to 3-5 transitions and begin intergenerational interviews in each country:

  • Transitions are identified through dialogue and by examining national priorities, BMGF strategy and health data
  • Intergenerational groups of women are asked to reflect on their and their families’ health experiences, changing experiences between generations and exploring aspirations for their children’s health and wellbeing across generations


We focus desk research to the key transitions identified for each country or region. The narrowed focus seeks to answer several questions:

  • What past solutions and interventions related to identified transitions have been implemented and what are their results?
  • Who are the main implementing organisations working on these transitions?
  • What is the social and cultural context surrounding the selected transitions?
  • What ethical implications do the social and cultural contexts surrounding these transitions have on field research?


Researchers go back into the field with a more specific focus for each country to:

  • Recruit participants based on the segmentation review
  • Specifically explore selected sexual and reproductive health transitions with custom tools


These following are the design research methods used in Core:

1. Ethnographic Interviews

These tend to last 3-4 hours and are divided between speaking to different female generations (at least two) within the same family. The conversations are intimate discussions and happen independent of each other, often organically or cued by us through specifically designed dialogue tools.

2. Intergenerational Workshops

These last about 2 hours and involve 6-8 participants. We use this platform to explore shared socio-cultural, psychological and ecological definitions, to build a collective view of the life course and intergenerational personas for key moments on the life course.

3. Key Informant Interviews

We attempt at least two of the following in every location –local doctor/ health practitioner, community health volunteers, community health workers, country experts (in the cities), experts working on gender & health

4. Observation of Spaces and Services

We observe local facilities and local clinics for insights into spaces, services and systems.

Useful reading

  • Sanders, E.B.N., & Stappers, J.P. 2014. Probes, toolkits and prototypes: three approaches to making in codesigning
  • Cross, N. 2001. Designerly ways of knowing: design discipline versus design science
  • Fallman, D. 2008. The Interaction Design Research Triangle of Design Practice, Design Studies, and Design Exploration
  • Bayazit, N. 2004. Investigating Design: A Review of Forty Years of Design Research
  • Friedman, K. 2003. Theory construction in design research: criteria: approaches, and methods
  • Zimmerman, J., et al. 2010. An Analysis and Critique of Research through Design: towards a formalization of a research approach

Core’s human-centered design process

The Understand phase is the second stage of Core’s human-centered design process.

This phase defines and sets the focus for our work. We jointly make sense of the research and outline the frameworks we will follow.

We run innovation labs to bring together different stakeholders who can validate discoveries, add to it and start to look at how findings translate into opportunities for improvement.

The output from this phase is a set of early solutions ideas, ranging from behaviour and communication strategies to service, space and product concepts as well as user requirements for each. All of these still need to be tested, refined and validated.



Core’s human-centered design process

The Create phase is the third stage of Core’s human-centered design process.

In this phase, our interdisciplinary team drafts and tests ideas, iterates and co-designs multiple concepts, and develops early representations of interventions. We then test solutions with stakeholders and end-users through experimentation.

It is common in this phase of the process to discard several prototypes as others are taken to the next level of development. As the intervention concepts improve and we gain proof of the viability of the concept, we pilot these concepts with larger stakeholder communities. This also involves assessing the effectiveness of the concepts against the project’s defined set of criteria as agreed by subject experts.

We also develop strategies with partners for larger population-level uptake of the interventions and their sustainability.



Core’s human-centered design process

The Implement phase is the final stage of Core’s human-centered design process.

By developing and testing the solutions with end users and partners, we gain feedback and build the evidence needed for high fidelity development and piloting.

Impact at scale requires replicable process models, localisation strategies and national and global partnerships that lead the way forward.

The interventions and solution areas that emerge from the human-centred design process can be any of the following, or any combination of them:

  • New knowledge, for example qualitative findings that better explain existing data
  • Innovative service models, perhaps inspired by micro-finance or crowdfunding
  • System-strengthening strategies, such as new economic models that better support an existing system
  • Digital and physical products, like improved hospital equipment or mobile applications
  • Behaviour-change initiatives through media campaigns and other solutions
  • Capacity-building and training with local institutions, community groups, or support agencies
  • Organisational change that can make more effective use of available resources
  • Revised business cases, thus enhancing the competitiveness of new or existing interventions for increased update
  • Creative campaigns and advocacy, often raising public awareness or amplifying the voices of underserved communities
  • Communication strategies within organisations and governments or across wider populations