October 2021
The Power of Design Thinking to Advance Communities
<a href="https://sundbergferar.com/author/lynnaea-haggard/" target="_self">Lynnaea Haggard</a>
Lynnaea Haggard

Marketing Manger

The Power of Design Thinking to  Advance Communities

Throughout our history here at Sundberg-Ferar (nearly 90 years), we’ve had the opportunity to work on many projects that have deeply impacted communities for good. However, even in the past few years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with more socially conscious organizations and companies than ever before, addressing problems for some of the most at-risk and marginalized communities in the world today through exceptional design.

The “EEE” principles of ecology, economy, and equity are issues that the corporate community, entrepreneurs, and gov’t organizations are becoming increasingly loath to ignore – and with good reason! We hardly need rehash the urgency of broadening the focus of business, industry, and the way we design products and services for our world to values beyond a single bottom line. Consumers themselves are increasingly demanding that companies develop a sustainable strategy for their products and practices in order to receive their loyalty. The emerging generation of business leaders, for their part, are becoming more focused on how their businesses and products can make the world a better place, and are putting social responsibility and other sustainable values at the center of their business mission.

Inherent in all of this is a growing belief in the power of the products and services we create to have a positive and sustainable effect on not just our environment and economy but on the social fabric of our communities – a belief that we share here at Sundberg-Ferar, and a belief that is also leading many of the clients we work with to take action on behalf of communities.

Our point? The process and tools of Industrial Design and Innovation Strategy, when applied with skill and experience to the products and offerings of companies, can have a deep and lasting impact for the social sustainability of communities. We know that 80% of all sustainability impact of a product, or lack thereof, is determined in the design phase. If you’re an innovation leader who is serious about establishing the sustainable impact of your company – listen up! You need to make sure that you’re also leveraging the power of the design process and strategy in your social sustainability roadmap.  Let us show you through 4 examples.

The Power of Design Thinking to Advance Communities

StoryPoint Senior Living

As the boomer generation continues to require more care, safeguarding dignity and delight for their aging experience is a key sector where the principles of equitable and accessible design must play a role.

Our client, StoryPoint was looking to grow, not only in the number of their communities across the Midwest, but in the depth of their understanding of the motivations, beliefs and values of their target residents. With the size of the U.S. senior population expanding, and competitive pressures increasing, StoryPoint, one of the top 25 largest senior residence operators in the country, came to Sundberg-Ferar for help in  creating new and compelling service offerings to further differentiate themselves and become the preferred experience for current and future  residents, and related stakeholders.

In our work with StoryPoint, we embraced the unique pain points, dreams, aspirations, and lifestyles of these users, leveraging our Genesis™ process to tackle this challenge, with an extensive research component that included numerous facility visits, staff interviews, in-home interviews and Circle of Friends sessions with current and prospective Senior Living community residents, focus groups with Senior Living decision influencers and collaborative team workshops.  This project resulted in the development of 11 evidence-based innovation themes, and 12 individual and couple-centric Personas, a new roadmap for the decision-making experience of those who are considering joining a senior community, and those already residing there. StoryPoint immediately adopted these themes into their sales and marketing strategies.


Read more about his project and its outcomes.

An Asian automotive OEM

The automotive market where our client manufactures and sells their products has seen little to no variation or updates in small and mid-size work vehicles for generations. This OEM identified the need for disruption in the market, and targeted the everyday work vehicle segment with a view to bringing modern global sensibilities and human centricity to the forefront.

The SF team began with global in-depth primary research, traveling to Asia and Africa to understand first-hand how this kind of work vehicle was currently being used. Through observational research, user intercepts in the field, and evaluating the vehicle’s ergonomics, the team uncovered that many users had difficulties with lack of space in the vehicle, compensating by arranging their load and themselves in precarious and often unsafe positions. The team also realized that while many of the vehicles in the field looked like they must have been 10 years old or more based on the degree of dilapidation, these models were no more than 3 years old. Armed with these insights, the SF team redesigned the vehicle from the ground up keeping only the wheelbase.

Until this project, existing owners of work vehicles in this market were forced to accept their vehicles reaching the end of their useful lives after 2-3 years. The vehicles were cramped, unsafe, and conducive to mishaps. The market provided no other alternatives. The new vehilce that Sundberg-Ferar helped develop gives users better safety, durability, longevity, and reliability, with an innovative suspension system providing a spacious, ergonomic, and intuitive cabin experience. This product is now helping farmers and skilled trade workers of all kinds continue their essential work with reliable and safe transportation.

Michigan Virtual:

Michigan Voices

Between March and June 2020, statewide school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions in both learning and daily life for students, parents, teachers, and school leaders alike. Desiring to learn from this moment in educational history, Michigan Virtual collaborated with Sundberg-Ferar to conduct qualitative research focused on capturing authentic stories and experiences from administrators, teachers, parents, and students. 

The ultimate goal was to influence actionable plans to make the future of education, whether face-to-face, blended, or virtual, more impactful for students.
Throughout the research, participants often came to tears, thanking the SF research team for simply listening to them and giving them a much desired voice. Teachers and parents felt isolated and frustrated that their ideas and experiences would fall to the wayside. Knowing that an organization like Michigan Virtual wanted to learn from them and use their humble insights to better the future of education meant so much to the participants who appreciated any moment of hope during the early days of the pandemic.

SF and Michigan Virtual used these new stakeholder insights to hypothesize future remote and hybrid learning challenges, identify education models in need of innovation, and create Next Step recommendations. This full report was made available to the public on the Michigan Virtual website and used to help educators learn from each other and gain perspective on remote learning challenges statewide. SF and Michigan Virtual continue to work together to design better learning experiences regardless of whether students are learning in a face-to-face, remote or blended learning environment.


See the infographic detailing study results!

Hyundai : Paraklete

“When you know that someone is going to come help you when you’re in trouble, that knowledge gives you hope. That hope can help you hang on and live,” said John Suh, Director of Hyundai’s New Horizons Studio that has been partnering with Sundberg-Ferar for the last 5 years on developing walking car technology.

In natural disasters, or in places where there are no roads, even the most capable off-road vehicles can get stuck. The design, research, and technology that Sundberg-Ferar has developed with Hyundai have lead to multiple concept vehicles that can go where no vehicle has ever gone before through blending robotics with vehicle technology. These vehicles are paving the way to create a future where vehicles can bring help to people who are the least accessible and most vulnerable.


Watch the video below to learn more, or read about it here.

Whether it’s innovating the education experience for students to teachers, parents, and administrators, or improving the aging experience of the boomer generation, or providing a safe space for kids to develop their mental and physical abilities along with their confidence, or building vehicles that will in turn build resilience for our communities in the future, the tools of industrial design and design thinking are a mighty force in the creation of an ecologically, economically, and equitably sustainable future.


Want to learn more about where you can start to leverage the power of design for your company’s sustainability roadmap? We’d love to chat! Hit us up at hello@sundbergferar.com


Lynnaea Haggard

Marketing Manager

Lynnaea has a natural passion for storytelling and building relationships. She started her college education in Journalism, but soon found her passion in switching and completing her degree in Industrial Design. Now she uses her industrial design skills and enthusiasm for communication to support studio projects as well as design and develop Sundberg-Ferar’s marketing and communications materials. In her spare time, she is a freelance musician, reads, does anything outdoors, and works with her husband on updating their 1924 Detroit home.

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