Yared Amanuel, originally from Ethiopia and an engineer from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD), taught children in Hawassa (Ethiopia) how to use human-centered design to help them solve problems while he was there on personal travel in March.

By Kelley Stirling (NSWCCD) |

HAWASSA―Yared Amanuel spends his spare time using skills he has learned on the job at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division (NSWCCD) – not his engineering skills, but what he has learned in human-centered design.

Yared Amanuel, an engineer with Carderock’s Naval Architecture and Engineering Department, just spent a couple of weeks in March in his home country of Ethiopia. While there, he gave several human-centered design seminars to local companies. He also extended his human-centered design knowledge to his non-profit organization, EthioAthletics, which has a mission to “advance lifetime wellness through participation in athletics in Ethiopia.”

According to Garth Jensen, Carderock’s director of innovation, human-centered design starts by putting people at the center – observing and understanding human experience: how people’s complex behaviors, mental models and needs (articulated and not) inform the problem and the solution. It blends design, strategy, qualitative research and entrepreneurial thinking.

So, how did Yared use human-centered design? It started with a bunch of kids wanting to play soccer and not liking their jerseys.

As part of EthioAthletics, the soccer club brings about 120 children, ranging in ages 10 to 15, together to play soccer. But Yared said it’s about more than just soccer.

“I’m going to use it to teach leadership, science and technology, working out problems, trying to come up with a solution,” Yared said. “Because the thinking is that the person who is closest to the problem is the one who should be bringing the solution to that problem.”

And that’s where human-centered design comes in. When Yared started this league three years ago, he expected to have a three-fold mission: soccer activity, health and teaching, except the players did not like their jerseys. Yared Amanuel assembled the kids last year and discovered the team felt their uniforms weren’t “cool.” But the cool ones, like the Messi or Barcelona brands, were too expensive. So, the real question became, “Why do you not want to wear the less expensive uniform?”

“The focus on human-centered design is that it forces you to ask the root question, because it’s a process,” Yared said. “You don’t come to the answer because you want to, you come to the answer because you went through the process of asking the why and the how, and then you go back and ask the why again. And more importantly, you’re involving the people who are affected by it.”

Yared Amanuel said the solution with the uniforms was not what he expected. They decided to have a contest, which puts the solution in their hands, a key element of human-centered design.

“Well, it turned out they were very excited,” Yared said. “I think the underlying story is that if they have a say in what they are going to wear, they start to own it.”

Amanuel paired the children up with a fashion designer in Ethiopia, who is helping them with design and color selection, as well as money management.

“We started it in basic terms of how do we get a shirt made in Ethiopia for the kids to wear, and then the kids are wanting to design and wanting to wear,” Yared said.

Continue reading this story at NSWCCD
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