In a recent project my team worked on to improve public housing, we saw the benefits of listening to residents—and the limitations of not listening enough. With support from our partners at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), our team came together to address resident quality of life concerns arising from improper disposal of household trash, litter, and dog waste on NYCHA grounds.

For anyone interested in project design in familiar and unfamiliar communities, these three insights showcase how highlighting and neglecting lived experience in design matters for the success of the overall project, and its impact on people’s lives:

Contextualize language choices

When our team began drafting communications poster designs, we tailored each poster to the specific community where it would land. However, the signage included the formal, technical names of the NYCHA complexes that were used by NYCHA administration. What we needed instead were the informal, everyday names that residents used to refer to their specific NYCHA community.

Be intentional about product placement

Because of my lived experiences with moving through NYCHA buildings and interacting with their many nooks and crannies, I was able to suggest a variety of locations to place our materials in order to capture resident attention. More importantly, my lived experience in NYCHA communities gave me an understanding of where not to place those materials.

Value lived experience as legitimate knowledge

A key aspect of our team approach to problem solving is our emphasis on the insights we can gain from listening to stakeholder perspectives on their own community. Over the course of this project, we were able to leverage resident perspectives, including my own, to inform project design and implementation.

Read the full article about public housing projects by Nuha Saho at Ideas42.