It was a design research project based in Brownsville Brooklyn. During the whole process, we engaged different constituents in the user-centered approach to problem understanding and research. The topic our team wanted to explore was - HOW DO YOUTH AND SENIORS IN BROWNSVILLE EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN PUBLIC SPACE? 

We were interested in this topic because we believed that expressing someone’s thoughts and feelings is an assertion of one’s personality. It is an external observation of a more psychological dynamic. By getting to know the individual expression (self) and group expression (culture), we could figure out how people identify themselves and their community. 

Usually the completed design process should be like the diagram shown above: Research - Analysis - Synthesis - Implication - Concepts - Prototypes & Pilot - Test - Research (Iteration) - ...  And in this project, our main task is to know how to approach design for the needs and belief systems of others, especially marginalized communities whose lives, practices and experiences may be unfamiliar, or familiar but misunderstood. We gathered data by research, analysed data, and synthesized them into insights, which could guide us find the implication or opportunity for the next creative stage. 

- Research -

We spent five weeks to travel to Brownsville to conduct fieldwork. 


At the beginning of the Observation stage, our target group was youth and we wanted to understand how youth in Brownsville spend their time after school or work. By doing so, we could be able to learn where they hang out, meet up with friends, or any other types of activities they do. This was useful for our research to understand how they express themselves in such environment. We went to parks, schools, playgrounds and main streets as well.

We found there were a lot of colorful and huge murals on the streets, people walking around talked to each other loudly, boys liked playing basketball after school, etc.


In the interception session, we used cards to better understand how people view Brownsville though a form of self expression: writing. We prepared many cards with the title - “Brownsville is all about…”, then asked people who are walking in the streets to help us fill in the card in their words. It could be a sentence or a simple word. In the end of this session, we’ve got 28 cards.

Before filling the cards, when we intercepted each person, we also asked few questions around individual expression and their thoughts of the community.


We’ve interviewed two seniors in Brownsville Senior Centre - Mary (76 years old) and Linda (68 years old). Mary is a resident in Brownsville for 42 years. She's been going the senior centre ever since she moved here in 1973. What she felt strongly about was that the community is suffering from a sense of detachments. “Where I came from, the village raised the children, and it stays on top.” For her, these activities happening in brownsville are an opportunity and its up to people to participate or not. She said “Brownsville isn’t suffering from something unique, other communities have the same symptoms but aren’t as exaggerated.” 

Linda did what she can to share knowledge, but there is no initiative from the youth to learn or the stakeholders to provide the tools. Their doors are open, but no one’s coming. It could be that there are many distractions today that keeps these activities from taking place, but she explained it as “babies are having babies.” With that, there is no sense of responsibility or respect.

Behavioral Intervention

We asked the Brownsville community, “What is Brownsville all about?”. From all of the responses, we found five reoccurring perspectives - “Safety”, “Unity”, “Strength and aspiration”, “Oppressions and perseverance”, and “Hope.” Then we chose five phrases from four cards which could represent the five perspectives - “Danger Area”, “Power in Numbers”, “Striving and Surviving”, “Being Underdogs”, and “La esperanza esta en el corazón (Hope is in your heart)”.

We printed them into T-shirts and gave the T-shirts which were printed different words to people for free. They need to choose which one they like and agree with most and we wanted to see how the community would react to them. 

After people choosing the T-shirt, we asked them to fill the same card “Brownsville is all about…” to express why they choose this T-shirt and what is their understanding about the community. And also, we recorded the popularity ranking of T-shirts. 

The first one is “Power in Numbers”, some people wrote “Togetherness & Strength”, “Together, changes can be made to bring up the community”, “The more the people, the more you come together” on their cards. The second one is “Danger Area”, then is “Striving and Surviving”, next is “Being Underdogs”, and the last one is “La esperanza esta en el corazón”

- Analysis -

Stories & Key learning

We shared the stories we got to each other in our group and reviewed data and made notes of each data on individual post-it and put up. We wrote down the quotes, stories, descriptions, body languages, emotions and things in the space. We discussed, clustered some of them as a team and named the clusters.

entities position map

In the analysis process, we used Entities Position Map to analyze how different expressions group together in relation to two intersecting attributes scales. We listed all kinds of expression ways which people mentioned in our research stage. And we selected two attributes that we thought are useful for analysis (Youth-Senior & Public-Private). We plotted entities on map and analyzed the extremes, groupings, gaps and quadrants shown on the map.

- synthesis -

Then we moved to the Synthesis to envision a potential future and inspire action. We printed out photos from field and put up quotes and stories on walls to go over the data we had. We reframed our learning from field work by contrasting them with our “current frame”. Here are some insight we got:

“We used to think that all youth participated in practices of expression for leisure and to be involved in group activities. Now we know that some youth utilise these activities as role play, in preparation for future aspirations.”

“As outsiders, we used to think that Brownsville was not a good place to live because of crime, violence or danger. We perceived it as a temporary place. Now we know that people living here love this place, they believe the power in numbers and they can see hope in Brownsville.”

- Implication -

According to the insights of the problem, we summed up the potential opportunity and suggestion for social innovation -

“We used to think that youth in Brownsville were not interested in participating in community programs. Now we know they have no motivation to go and participate.” Then this has implication for local centres or prospective NGOs, suggesting they would provide programs that give back in the form of learning towards their careers and future as an incentive. 



- Team -