At New Story, we know there is always room for improvement. One of our values, “improve through learning,” reminds us to crave and seek feedback in each step of our human centered design process. One way we do this in practice is asking for feedback from families who live in the homes we have built.

Systematically, we collect feedback from these families through impact surveys conducted at 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years after the families have moved in. Informally, we learn from families in casual conversation during community visits.

Through both of these methods, we consider a range of factors including health, employment, and safety. We have found, however, that some of the most valuable feedback comes from unanticipated discoveries. For example, we recently completed the 6-month impact survey for a 91 family community in Ahuachapan, El Salvador. Through analyzing this initial dataset, we learned that approximately 16% of families had started a small business in their home. During our next visit, we set out to learn more.

We met Ana Patricia, single-mother to José Misael, who started a small tienda in the front of her home.

Ana Patricia sells everything — from crackers, to flour, to rubber flip flops. She leaves her front door open open while she sits right behind a short counter, waiting for her customers to stop by. As a single mother, she closes her sales at sunset. Although she feels safe in the neighborhood, she prefers to leave her doors closed while she cooks and cleans in the evening. “What is one thing that would improve your business?” we asked. She said she wished she had a larger window to leave her front door closed, while still running her shop from inside her home.

We also spoke with Misael and Rebecca. Misael has been a welder and woodworker for 16 years, his work exemplified in the beautifully designed and crafted doors at the front of his new home. He also builds pupusa grills, benches, and a seemingly endless number of metal and wood items. When we asked the couple what they imagine their home to look like in 5 years, they explained their vision to extend the roof in order to make a backyard patio. They imagine their children playing on the patio while mom cooks, and them sharing meals in the shade on hot summer days. They also have plans to build a second floor where the couple would share their bedroom upstairs. “Poco a poco vamos mejorando,” Misael said. Little by little, we are improving.

With Ana Patricia and Misael and Rebecca, we listened attentively, took many notes, and then went back to simmer on their ideas.

What if we designed a window large enough to use for a shop so entrepreneurs like Ana Patricia would not have to close their stores at sunset? What if families could convert their street-facing “bedroom” into a store instead of using the living room space? What if every family could wash their clothes and dishes under a covered roof on rainy days? As we mulled over these learnings, we went to the drawing board and began sketching new ideas for the design of the next community.

Informed by the thoughts of residents, we came up with a few ideas and quickly asked for feedback from more families and local community leaders. We brought these ideas to our construction contractors to gauge feasibility on how we could incorporate these human centered design ideas in the next community.

For example, we brainstormed around the idea of adding an extended roof and concrete pavement in the back of each home. The local community leaders shared that it would increase the quality of life for every family because families spend a large percentage of their day outdoors. Although it seemed to be an obvious positive human centered design addition, we were unsure if the cost increase would be feasible. However, by working together with engineers and contractors, we were able to identify ways to lower costs in certain areas without sacrificing structural integrity and increase costs in other areas to improve the home design.

For the next community of 55 homes in Ahuachapán, in addition to a back patio, each home will now include:

    • a front window twice as large as that of the previous design to allow for a shop window if families prefer,
    • two different home designs for families to choose from — 2 larger bedrooms or 3 medium-sized bedrooms,
    • and ceramic tiles to cover the entire interior.

At New Story, we know we don’t get it right every time. We acknowledge, rather than hide from, this fact. To improve our impact we must crave feedback from families and implement design based on this feedback.

We believe that the families who live in these communities are the experts who are best-equipped to make suggestions for improvement. They, after all, have the lived experience in the community. We take the data, observations and direct feedback from them seriously and constantly strive to improve our human centered design process. The 55 families in this forthcoming community will be moving into their new homes in the Spring of 2019. We are eager to learn the successes and pitfalls of these new designs, and we will continue to improve for communities to come.