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Social Design for CPL

A joint social innovation design project for the Chicago Public Library focused on children and their caretakers. Our approach focused on human-centered design—a problem-solving process grounded in empathy and iteration. 

This is a collaboration with Amber Cao, Teagan Chatterley, Patrice Barnes, Jackie Stelzer, Kyuho Kim, and Dani Reis.


social design for cpl

System/Product Design

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the goal

The mission of this project is to utilize the human-centered design method on the Chicago Public Library system, identify a user inconvenience and design for that opportunity. As a group, we chose to focus on the needs of children and their caretakers due to the many complaints we have seen online concerning children at the library.


my role

My role in the group entailed working with my teammates every step of the process from research, interview, synthesis, to prototyping. I worked with 5 other team members who each had different knowledge and specialties (Industrial Design, Social Sector, Visual Design). 



On top of primary research and analysis of the library system, we conducted 6 interviews in total to observe and understand how children and their caretakers interact with the space at different branches of the library.


With people's consent, we would shadow them on the side to record our observations and findings, then ask them about their experiences at the library without leading them on.



We made our qualitative data tangible by filling the walls with photos, quotes and stories, while keeping the team thought processes grounded in concrete examples. We found themes and insights based on patterns of behavior, then make them generative with frameworks and “how might we” statements to better identify our design opportunity.

From our findings we realized that our 1 first-time visitor, 3 frequent visitors, and 2 unplanned visitors all shared something in common. These are observations that we grouped into themes, and to understand what each of these themes mean in further detail you can find a real life example for each as shown below:


We found several insights that were surprising: 

  1. Despite wanting to spend more time with their kids, caregivers tend to leave due to the stress inducing environment of the library. (Having to take care of multiple things all at once.)
  2. The current adult-oriented organization of materials in the children's section of the library is incomprehensible to the kids. (Yet, they're the ones picking the books and returning them to where they belong.)

And  from these insights, we developed "how might we" statements to prompt our brainstorming session.


concept generation

Our ideation sessions were facilitated to engage the whole group and bring out our creative confidence, so everyone could take an active role in designing other groups' solutions. To keep the session as productive and focused as possible, we were prompted to dish out as many ideas as we could on pieces of papers. We deferred judgment and went for quantity, as you can see below.


After that,  we gathered with our own group members to assess the viability of each idea to better envision the effects of the finished project. This vision is then conveyed by a story, a demonstration of how our ideas would help meet our users' needs.

We decided that we would focus on designing a visual system that aids children with identifying the different categories. We found during our research phase that many of the parents' stress come from not being able to locate certain materials at the library due to the lack of proper re-shelving. And by making one task on their list a lot easier, we hope to help alleviate their stressful experience at the libraries.



As we moved into the prototyping phase, we first conducted testing using smaller-scaled models with adults, then developed a full-scale model and a more easily comprehensible organizational system for the children to play with.

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We were ecstatic to find out that, with a little incentive, the children were more than willing to take on the challenge of reorganizing the books and making sure they were returned to the right return shelf. We also realized that without the voice of a caretaker, the children are less likely to cooperate with the system.

As a group, we then discussed the possibility of drawing out a cartoon character for each main category in the Dewey decimal system to make this process more engaging even without the voice of a caretaker.


next steps

Knowing that children can grasp the concept behind our organizational system, we developed a more refined prototype set including our shelf and labeling system.

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