THE LEVELS OF THE DESIGN TO IMPROVE LIFE COMPASS 

The Design to Improve Life compass consists of four phases that can unfold into six layers, where you start by moving from the outer layer, focused on the user and the four phases to the inner layer, where you find concrete techniques that support the actions your students go through in the different phases. The Compass represents a holistic and non-linear process that alternates between repetitions and progressions related to the goal, form and content.

The User
The user is always the center of attention in the Design to Improve Life process. The users are the people you design solutions for, thus the interest in and the study of the user are the starting point and purpose of the collected design process.

The phases
The Design to Improve Life process covers four defined phases (Prepare, Perceive, Prototype and Produce). Each phase is finished off with a Sum Up which summarizes and evaluates the finished phase. Here the students reflect and give each other feedback on their work.

In the Prepare phase, the students are introduced to Design to Improve Life and are divided into resourceful design teams where they distribute responsibility and roles. They then identify possible challenges to work with and concretize the specific challenge, they want to work with. This phase focuses especially on the Impact parameter, which focuses on challenges that have a negative effect on people’s lives.

In the Perceive phase the students are taught to refine and understand their chosen challenge and the potential users and target groups – what their needs and wants are, and which challenges should be solved through the design. This phase focuses on the Context parameter – on the environment the design has to work within, the people who are affected by the challenge and in which way they are affected: How the culture, geography and infrastructure are in the local context.

In the Prototype phase the students should develop ideas on how to solve the chosen challenge, and they should start to develop and visualize their designs using models and sketches. They should test their ideas and solutions on the users, make mistakes and possibly start over, while they evaluate and reflect in their development and learning. The phase focuses on the Form parameter, since the students are now working with developing and shaping their ideas.

In the Produce phase the students gather all the material they have produced in the previous phases in order to gain an overview of the process. Based on the students’ material, they prepare a presentation of their design process and their design solution. The teacher should by this time have communicated the framework of the presentation, based on the overall focus and goal of the process. In the last Sum Up of the process, the individual design teams’ work is evaluated based on all three Design to Improve Life parameters: Form, Impact and Context.

The actions
The Compass includes twelve different actions – three in each phase. The actions are developed to make them as relevant for the work the students have to do, and for the learning goals attached to the individual phase. In the Compass, the actions are visualized using pictograms.

The techniques
Every action is supported by different types of techniques, e.g. Open Space and Idea Poker, which help the students explore, analyze, develop, reassess and improve their designs. In addition, several Joker techniques can be used when/if the students get stuck in the process or need new approaches for their projects.

The Design to Improve Life parameters
Within the process, the students will analyze, assess and choose the challenge they wish to develop a solution for based on the three parameters: Form, Impact and Context. As described in the Produce phase, the students focus on all three parameters to enable evaluation of the process, while focus is on the individual parameters in the three previous phases.

The Jokers
During Design to Improve Life processes the students (or the teacher) will experience, that they get stuck in the process because they lose focus, get set on a single idea or challenge, or disagree and become frustrated with the process. This is completely normal and an inevitable part of the process. The Jokers provide a series of tools and techniques to deal with such situations.

The logbook
While the students complete a Design to Improve Life process, they have to keep a Logbook that includes their reflections and learning. The Logbook could for instance be a notebook, where the teacher has written several questions for the students to think about. The teacher develops the questions, which should focus on the procedural progress the students experience in the design teams, reflections of learning and the quality of the design team.

Examples of questions for the Logbook could be:

  • What have you and your design team learned in this phase?
  • Have you experienced strengths and weaknesses when working in design teams?
  • Can you use what you have already learned in the next phase?


The Logbook is the students’ personal tool, but it is mandatory that they reflect over the questions prior to each phase’s Sum Up. The reflections of the Logbook are actively used in connection with the Sum Ups and the final presentation in the Produce phase. The teacher can choose to collect the logbooks during the process to gain insights into how the students work.