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Design approach

Design stages at the British Red Cross and examples of how we do them in practice

Scope the work

Get a shared understanding of what success is. Narrow down the problem space to focus on and set up a team with the skills to explore it.

Why Supporter Celebration Week? (Camille St-Omer Donaldson, 10 min read)

Introducing cash-based assistance discovery (Afsa Akbar, 3 min read)

Successful teams at this stage:

  • Know what it's successful outcomes are
  • Have a real problem space to explore
  • Know what decisions research should inform
  • Have the right mix skills to get stuff delivered
  • Work full-time together and can focus
  • Have a senior person to sponsor the work
  • Budget for potentially all the stages.


Listen to the people you are designing for, to understand their wants, needs and constraints. Gain a detailed understanding of the problem to test ideas for.

What we learnt from people who responded at Grenfell (Mieka Webber, 6 min read)

Wrapping up discovery (Vicky Houghton-Price, 6 min read)

Mapping unmet needs (Harry Trimble, 3 min read)

Successful teams at this stage:

  • Are all comfortable with uncertainty
  • Agree what decisions research is trying to inform
  • Interview people with no experience of the Red Cross
  • Regularly share what they're learning
  • Talk regularly with senior sponsors
  • Are allowed to decide what to focus on next
  • Stop the work if research suggests.

Test different options

Test ideas with people you are designing for, to find what best solves the problem. Iterate ideas that show promise and discard ones that don’t.

Testing an emergency call centre and a proactive letter (Jo Straw, 6 min read)

Testing a rota prototype with Emergency Response volunteers (Laura Basegmezer, 6 min read)

Successful teams at this stage:

  • Can explain what ideas they're testing and why
  • Have a process to generate and pick ideas to test
  • Know how to quickly test ideas
  • Test more than one idea
  • Discard ideas that test badly
  • Iterate and further test promising ideas
  • Learn enough to plan the next stage in detail.

Start small and scale

Test one promising solution in the ‘real world’. Start small and learn quickly to reduce risk. Iterate or pivot based on what you learn from running a solution with real users.

Creating a scaleable rota system for emergencies (Shefna Baldwin, 3 min read)

Making a manual for support line volunteers (Harry Trimble, 4 min read)

Successful teams at this stage:

  • Can explain who will use the real solution first
  • Have the skills to build the solution for real
  • Plans for when things go wrong (they will)
  • Know when and why progress is slow
  • Measure how their solution is being used
  • Continue to test and iterate the solution
  • Learn enough to safely scale up the solution.

Improve continuously

Now proved, embed the solution in the dedicated organisation area. Continuously improve based on people's wants, needs and behaviours.

It’s time to Level Up (Adrien Barbusse, 2 min read)

Successful teams at this stage:

  • Stay in place after first release
  • Keep improving its solutions
  • Continue test with and learn from their users
  • Plan to improve the solution in cycles
  • Know if their solution is having intended impact
  • Are financially sustainable
  • Know if people still using its solution
  • Know when it’s time to retire the solution.