This site shows my humanitarian and social design portfolio. I do process design, so optimisation of social and humanitarian processes, through system design and product design. I strive for Efficiency of humanitarian actors, through a needs based approach. I research, teach and talk about that.
humanitarian, process design, product design, social design, Frankfurt, international, German design, humanitarian Innovation, Germany, Human Centered design, community centered design, Thomas Jäger, design portfolio,
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People who had to leave their homes and home countries, due to catastrophe or conflict, have been deprived of the habitat they are used to. This affects us, humans, intensely. Victor Joseph Papanek describes it in his book “Design for the Real World” as follows “There are tight links in it, it responds to the user, … . The whole of humanity is being integrated into this new ecology without worrying about how a biological mechanism reacts to being ripped out of one habitat and forced into another. We just need to look at our zoos…“

Now, these people’s homes are lost, unreachable if not even physically destroyed. They have to adapt and integrate into a completely new habitat. Doing this after such difficult pasts and journeys isn‘t an easy process. The more important it gets for these people to have a place, where they feel safe, can mentally and physically rest, and call it their homes. Because this is nothing else than a home.

Providing, or at least enabling them to build these spaces for themselves and their family is an important step towards a healthy integration process in a displacement setting or reconstruction efforts. This is Home.Work. 

The belief in one’s own power of creation to create a HOME, by providing training, workspaces, and tools.


The Home.Work project reduces dependence on the aid of organization and gives people an opportunity to improve their situation independently. The foldable workbench with tools serves as a base for creating, repairing, and maintaining. The tools are held by an adaptable grid of round bars and form-fitting cutouts. Smaller tools can be stored in special tool belts. It can be set up in three easy steps. The detachable cross bracing guarantees high stability. By using semi-finished products and a sustainable choice of materials, it is designed to be economically efficient and can be repaired by the user, if necessary. It can be built quickly, manufactured in large numbers, and adapted to any need. 

Through workshops, users learn to trust their own design skills and are equipped to design and implement projects. For each station, tools are chosen according to the needs. Participants are recruited as ambassadors to manage the implementation of the workspaces. They commit to supporting the needs of the community through the use of the workspace. 

Home.Work brings people together and provides them with a way to solve daily life problems independently, decreasing over-reliance on humanitarian actors.

Refugee Camps

The standards are low and the implementation often even worse

This form of camps describe formally planned campsites:

Refugee camps are a temporary but immediate shelter for people who are victims of war, persecution, or violence. These camps are not ideal but provide the most basic needs as food, water, shelter and medical treatment, etc.

The official definition at “unrefugees.org” states the same. This provision, however, may be affected by economical, financial, logistical organisational, and political factors.

Camps thus may get poor and ill-maintained and organisation may fail to get people’s contributions.

refugee shelter

Not planned, not maintained, no services: 

People are left to fend for themselves.

Informal sites or camps are settlements, where people have no legal right to occupy that certain piece of land. People are often forced to move to these places, because there is simply no space in the formal camps, or they don’t even exist. Also the geographical location, like being close to a border, can attract people to settle there.

These sides are firstly not planned or designed to accommodate people. They evolve without the needed infrastructural pillars. Secondly not maintained by humanitarians and thirdly there are no services available.

This leaves the citizens in a constant struggle for survival.

The surrounding
people are facing

No clean water, no hygiene, infectious disease and no protection from the weather…

Humanitarian Standards concerning settlements, like the sphere handbook define standards for the physical surrounding of formally planned camps. These are the minimum standards that people would need to live a life of dignity. Most camps don’t fulfill these, especially informal ones. People find themselves in a surrounding that doesn’t provide hygienic cooking facilities, toilettes, communal and private spaces, light, electricity, or protection from the weather.

In conclusion, camps often don’t even satisfy the most basic biological needs of the citizens.

The picture here shows a self-made toilette in the informal settlement of Samos Island and is an example of how people try to cope.

after catastrophy

From the camps in Greece to the aftermath in Beirut…

Other contexts in which people lost the infrastructure they need are catastrophes, such as the explosion in Beirut 2020:

The 2020 Beirut explosion occurred on 4 August 2020, when a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the Port of Beirut in the capital city of Lebanon exploded, causing at least 218 deaths, 7,000 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.


Many people of the migrant neighbourhood Karantina, lost their homes without support to reconstruct them, so they would be able to move back into their apartments and continue the lives they were used to.

The basic concept of

Enabling communities and individuals to use their power and will of creation…

Based on the understanding that people affected by catastrophe or disaster have knowledge skills and capacities to contribute to improve their situation, Home.Work enables this contribution in the most direct way.

People group up and get trained on managing a community-based project as well as workspaces and tools provided. This way they can fix, create and maintain what is lacking in their lives completely self-determined.

The two pillars of this project are a tailormade, portable workspace, and an implementation system that is adaptable to the local needs.

Why, empowering people, through carftmanship ?


A portable, low cost, on-demand workspace

Enabling people to use crafts to adjust their surroundings to their needs self-determined means providing them tools and workspaces to work focused,  whenever and they need them. 

Home.Work provides this through foldable and portable workspaces. These are designed, to be adaptable to shifts in the local needs, to be cheaply on-site producible.

It’s simply just two modified boards!

A flat box can be quickly transformed into a working area that consists of tool storage as well as a working surface. This way it can be stored easily, when not needed, and brought to the site of need immediately.

It creates a space, out of nowhere, where people can work focused and organised on their projects, in a surrounding where spaces like this are missing. As a matter of fact, it enables the creation of better objects and affects the mental state of mind while working.

An adaptable pattern
that secures a variety
of tools

In the inner part of each box is a pattern consisting of round sticks and pockets, inspired by supermarket shelves. It allows you to secure a variety of tools. The round sticks can be rearranged at any time to make other tools fit. This way the box is adaptable to different tool needs during and after the implementation.

It consists out of around 270 computer navigated cut pockets. In the lower board, these pockets are 15mm deep and hold the round sticks, made from broomsticks secured, but removable. The distances between the pockets are well-chosen to secure all the tools safely. The usage of Din-normed broomsticks makes their production as cheap as possible and secures global availability.

portable but also stabil

Despite its portability, the workspaces are designed to provide a stable and secure working surface. Making compromises in its stability would cause the workspace to shake, the tools to fall down, and also hinder focused and efficient use.

The main component giving the workspaces its stability is a cross, made from 60mm square beams, that is located under the working surface.

a 3 minute setup

To keep the cross and the boards tightly attached, the straps used to secure the closed workspaces, now get wrapped around the two boards and quickly pulled tight.

Furthermore, there are two structural inlays, which get screwed between the beams and the working surface. These are the only screws needed to set the workspace up. This way it transforms from a box to a fully functioning workspace in under three minutes.

Fitting through
Doors and under

Designing an on-demand system, also means having

the moments, when its unused in mind.

When the workspaces are not needed, their dimensions allow efficient storage, by a compact design.

The workspace fits with its dimensions of 200cmx75cmx20cm under the containers in a formally set up camp in Greece and through every door.

The width also enables the person to comfortably pull the workspace behind him, as a single person, using its wheels.

In times, when there is no need for the workspace, but people want to use tools, users can take out those, by lifting the lit, or using the storage function by entirely taking it off and bringing the shelf board in an upright position.


A diverse set of tools included in the workspaces means a diverse usage, which equals a product that enables people to use it for what they want.

The needs to transform a refugee camp or catastrophe aftermath to a habitable space, are diverse and depend on the citizens.

The needs can also shift in a timely manner according to changes in the crisis.

The Home.Work workspaces can be implemented for diverse use, by incorporating, basic tools. They can also be adapted and classified for a certain usage like electronics maintenance. They can also be adapted to different users. One organisation uses it to deliver informal education, through crafts for children, by packing the workspace with tools and crafts material for this purpose.

All in all the possibilities are endless and certain is only that during the implementation the tools get picked based on the users‘ needs.


Expanding the possible scenarios of use by focusing on the interaction of humans while working together…

The workspaces are modular. They can be quickly strapped together to stay fixed in place as a group of two, three, four, and so on.

This gives users the ability to create working islands, that can fulfill one certain task, or embodies, space by space a different step of the projects being built.

Especially in Workshop scenarios, this creates advantages. The workspaces can be but together however preferred and based on whatever parameter the user decides to base it on.

A place to gather and

What is she building there?

One of Home.Work’s focuses as a project is to foster agency and community between the local users.

This is mainly possible through the implementation system. But also the workspace itself is a focal point to gather, to wonder what someone is doing and jump in, advice and help.

We all know the moment passing by someone, building something thinking about what the person is doing and why this way.

Home.Work utilises that as a starting point of human, positive interaction.


Working on equal footing

Overcoming Top-Down and Bottom-Up approaches…

Producers, stakeholders, users, researchers, facilitators and NGO’s and GO’s, should all be involved in the process of innovation. Hearing their concerns and hopes and creating a consent out of that enables to find solutions that benefit all, and therefore are sustainable.

The Home.Work project is based on the belief of working with all parties by overcoming power imbalances. This is especially important in a humanitarian setting concerning the users. I work with them on equal footing. Everybody has responsibilities, but also rights. The users‘ role in this project is huge. They manage the workspaces, design the implementation and the workspaces and completely take ownership over them.

Educating community volunteers

Increasing the ownership taken by the users, by making them really own the project…

Within training delivering everything needed to take over the responsibility and the project, Home.Work educates community volunteers. The training is participated by all interested community members. In the end, five Home.Work ambassadors get chosen by the group, based on their commitment, crafts and management skills, and with ethnic diversity as much as possible. 

These then continue the training to design the workspaces and the final implementation system. Afterward, they share the workspaces in intervals and to conditions defined by them. This way the responsibility towards the community is shared and it’s possible to reach a huge amount of people belonging to different social groups.

vocational and
management training

Adding to already existing skills people have…

It isn’t surprising that people coming from other countries or are simply affected by disaster have skills and knowledge.

They can be carpenters, air surveillance managers, designers and so on. Activating these skills is the aim of Home.Work. But furthermore securing a sustainable and fair implementation the workshops are delivered to give the basic knowledge on how to manage a project like this in a humanitarian setting and how to support people actively with tools and knowledge without losing the educational component of this process.

The project also aims to give the wider community a basic understanding of what power DIY solutions can have in especially their context and how to use the workspaces to create that.

Workshops with communities

a co-hosted workshop…

Through a diversity of methods and different styles of teaching, these topics get examined by the participants.

Through multi-sensory experiences and communicators, everybody gets enabled to understand the content and to express their opinion. Parts of the workshops are held by community members, who then for example guide a user journey mapping to see if the workspace fits in their setting.

Another component of these workshops is to foster community. This gets combined with the teaching of the basic usage of tools. In every session, there is a part, where the participants decide on something that could be built and benefit the entire community. They ideate, design it together and finally build it supporting each other.

Workshops with organisations

Using Home.Work to deliver more impactful programs and positive experiences for the users…

There are big opportunities in incorporating crafts in humanitarian programs. This is the most direct way to enable the beneficiaries‘ participation in the humanitarian response.

Also, psycho-social support, based on the creative and fulfilling process of crafts can be utilised by organisations.

This is why Home.Work also trains organisations in implementing these workspaces and giving training similar to the original Home.Work ones. Home.Work also trains organisations if the local context of implementation is too complex and difficult to directly implement the workspaces in the community, without any harm.

A constant participatory

It gets better with every implementation.

The project equals a constant participatory redesign process. With every implementation, the project gets improved by the users and adapted to the local needs. Entering a new context, the approved improvements of the last implementation become part of the suggested workspace, which then again gets adapted and improved. This way Home.Work is improving itself continuously and lowers the need for adaptation over time gradually and finally allows a direct implementation with a high chance of context fit.

Redesign of their own workspace and Usage system

An integral adaptation of the project to th elocal needs…

Both pillars of the project: The workspaces and the implementation system get proposed to the users. They then enter a guided process, redesigning the dimensions, tools incorporated, wheels amount of ambassadors e.g. the target group adequate to their context.

This allows them to take ownership of the project, it is simply theirs. But also assures a fit of the delivered training and workspaces to their ideas and needs.


Home.Work creates a multidimensional impact with the smallest intervention possible. The freedom of the users in the usage of the workspaces allows creating all kinds of practical solutions. But furthermore, it also creates impacts on the community concerning their mental economic and educational stage:

  • providing psycho-social support
  • encouraging creativity
  • enabling self-determined change
  • addressing urgent needs
  • providing employment
  • creating community
  • building skills
  • saving costs
  • fostering agency
  • making a home a HOME



Witnessing what awesome skills people have identifying the simple lack of the opportunity to use them self determined…

Working in  Habibi.Works as a workshop manager, I witnessed how much power people have themselves to improve their living condition, mental health and skill knowledge using crafts.

While Habibi.Works is an awesome project that equals a space with support to do so in divers working areas, I was wondering if something like that would be also possible scalable to be more spread and managed by the users, to allow complete independence.

Interviewing the citizens of camp Katsikas in Greece, the idea of small scale workspaces managed by the community developed, being seemingly the most simple and adequate solution.

Building prototypes, machinery and Friendships

There was a lot to do, but we managed all together…

Building prototypes, small scale models and the machinery to produce workspaces on-site; The users where engaged in each step of the initial design, allowing the pilot in 2019, in other Greek camps.  Many different persons where able to contribute with their skills and opinions, making sure that what we had in mind would be also practical and applicable. But it wasn’t just the users. A lot of input also came from the awesome team of Habibi.Works and other local and international NGO’s concerning a well designed implementation, and the workspaces and finally accumulated to a set of information, that allowed to develop the project to the stage needed for the pilot.


"Technolgy should be small scale, but scalable, cost efficient, but not cheap, serving humans mental and physical needs and be self sufficient"

Dipl. Des. Thomas Jäger