The Design Loft

The Design Loft Experience is back for another year at the 2019 American Evaluation Association conference in Minneapolis on Friday November 15th!

The Design Loft Experience @ AEA 2019

This year’s AEA is focusing on creating paths to the future. As the saying goes: the best way to predict the future is to create it.

Design is all about creating that future.

The Design Loft is unlike any other learning space at AEA 2019. It is an experimental space that provides conference attendees with an opportunity to learn specific tools and strategies from the field of service design to apply to their work as evaluators. We’ve brought in some new workshops and are bringing back some crowd favourites to this year’s Design Loft Experience.

Whether you are an experienced professional evaluator, a newcomer to the field, or an evaluation consumer, the Design Loft will provide you with practical strategies you can apply immediately to support evaluation and program planning.

2019 Design Loft Space @ Minneapolis Convention Centre


Design Loft features 40-minute workshops delivered every hour on the hour throughout entire Friday of the conference. Workshops are short, intimate and practice-based led by Cameron Norman, who is both an experienced evaluator and a professional designer. It’s first-come-first-served and space is limited to allow attendees an opportunity to engage deeply with the material, ask questions and come away with a new skill. Workshops are designed to allow attendees to take an ‘active learning break’ between sessions during the conference program, meet new people, and have a little fun along the way.

Design Loft 2016: Atlanta


Like many good evaluations, the Design Loft is guided by a set of principles:

  • Embrace whimsy. Relax your assumptions and constraints about the usual way of working and approach problems playfully, with imagination.  
  • Bias toward action.  Prioritize creating artifacts over talking about what you’re doing.
  • Prototype and test.  Build and evaluate as you go – often and quickly.
  • Focus on Connections. Apply systems thinking to envision how ideas, products, services, and actions connect to one another.
  • Cultivate empathy. See the world through the lens of others — how they think, feel, and what they prefer, desire, and need.
  • Consider Accessibility. Put what you make within reach of most people, most often.
  • Prize Possibility. Explore how might something work – even if seemingly impossible.

Schedule of Events

Design Loft 2018: Cleveland (courtesy of Grace Lee)

The Design Loft runs on the Friday of the AEA conference. This year the Design Loft will be in a designated area in the foyer on the 200 Level of the Convention Center. Come join us for one or as many workshops as you would like starting at 9:00 am.

9:00 am: User Personas: A persona is a tool in design that envisions a typical program user by constructing a profile of their behaviors, perspectives, and lifestyle relevant to the topic drawing on user research. These fictional characters are based on evidence and user-data collected by the design team and can help program designers and evaluators understand and anticipate the issues associated with how a new program will function when put into the world.

10:00 am Program Flipping!This is not about dolphins or birds :). Program designers often consider what people want, but what happens if you flipped a program on its head and designed for what people don’t want? This technique will show you how to ‘design for the negative’ to reveal the often hidden barriers, annoyances, and ‘repellers’ that we unconsciously put INTO our programs so we can better design them OUT.

11:00 am A Day in the Life: What does the typical user of a program go through in their day? How might the reality of a user’s day-to-day experience influence the design of a program and what might it mean for evaluators seeking to understand that experience and its relationship to program outcomes better? This session will show how a simple walk-through of a program using visual tools, acting out, and hypothesis generation might enable program planners, evaluators and collaborators to see new possibilities and insights. It’s not just a Beatles song!

12:00 pm Empathy Mapping. What might your program look like through the eyes of someone else? In this workshop, we introduce the Empathy Map Canvas, a tool that helps designers walk through some of the ways a prospective program user might see, hear, say, think, and feel about a program. Through the use of this tool, we can start to better understand someone’s goals, journeys, and the barriers and facilitators that might contribute to a program’s delivery and effectiveness.

1:00 pm 5 Whys:Channel your inner 5-year old and unlock the power of a simple set of questions based on Why? This technique can get us to understand why something is happening on the surface and reveal layers of causation and relationships. By getting closer to the root of an issue, we are better equipped to design programs that make transformational shifts, not cosmetic ones and evaluations that have the power to transform people and programs alike. We’ll walk through how to use this approach in your practice.

2:00 pm Journey Mapping: This method helps tell the story of a program user’s experience with a program by tracking the encounters that a person might go through along the program. This allows evaluators and designers to analyze the various touch-point an individual might have with a program and create the right kind of program and data collection opportunity. This allows the evaluator to see where problems and opportunities might lay before implementing a program or looking retrospectively at an existing program.

3:00 pm Space Travelling:While we might not be going out of the orbit of the earth, the space around us shapes a great deal of how a program runs and the service that is delivered. Space travelling is an approach to understanding the spatial constraints and physical barriers and facilitators (even in digital form) of our designs. We might be looking at social programs, but they exist somewhere and this approach will help you to understand what can make your program accessible and more effective.

4:00 pm Storyboarding:Movies and plays get made by taking creative ideas, mapping them out visually, and using that to guide how things get shot and what is needed to make it come alive. We can take the same idea and apply that to evaluations.Visualizing an activity or program through simple drawings — no matter how simply done — can be an engaging way to gain insight into attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, and relationships between concepts, project components and people. This technique will show you how a simple drawing can yield enormous information to guide program design and the evaluation questions that follow from it.


The Design Loft was first launched in 2016 as an experimental ‘pop-up’ conference within the main annual AEA convention as a means of introducing design to professional evaluators. The aim was to provide hands-on, practical opportunities for evaluators to learn about design methods and tools that can benefit their work and advance innovation within the field. This year the focus of the Design Loft will be applied to the conference theme of Paths to the Future of Evaluation.

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