humanitarian design lab
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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  1. N*1: 2018-2019
  2. N*2: summer semester 2022

Giving designers an understanding of

humanitarian work and 

how they could create benefits from that.

When I started being interested in using my expertise to support the relief of people from their suffering, I first thought that the methodologies would be the same, as working like a classic process designer.

After a while and different experiences in the field, I realized that there are certain differences. Trying to find answers on how to cooperate with humanitarian actors, I realized that there is little literature and research. All I was able to find was literature about humanitarian architecture and emergent projects.

After years of practical and theoretical research, I found those missing answers myself.

The next step was to provide this knowledge to other designers, deepen it with them and discuss it with humanitarians and users.

This is how the Humanitarian Design Lab, as a class at the University of Arts and Design in Offenbach am Main evolved: A series of workshops and talks.


The “Humanitarian Design Lab Offenbach a.M.” was a project Me and a group of HfG students developed in 2019 to open discourse and explore
possiblities of symbiosis between humanitarian work and design. Through
a series of public lectures, expert knowledge was shared with student participants and then critically discussed. In addition, the content of these talks informed workshops where the participants explored the potential roles of designers
in this context, in line with humanitarian principles and
standards. Students gained an insight into how they can generate added value with their design work and gained an understanding of humanitarian design projects.
They then applied the knowledge gained to develop small projects.
The participants will gain a first-hand experience of humanitarian work through a
experiential project in Beirut in the summer of 2021.


a humanitarian

Finding answers is not possible as a single group or individual. It is more about finding the consensus in the opinions of all involved parties.

Dr. Thomas Seibert from medico international did the start. He gave a historical overview, of the political role of design and the fieldwork of medico international.

Discussing future global shifts with the students and looking critically at the potential benefits design can create for humanitarian projects, the view of medico got clear to the participants and public and encouraged a deeper conversation.

The Voice of a

If one just asks the humanitarians to their opinion, the person forgets, that there are other equally important actors, who have valuable insights. Samir Alhaw is a Syrian refugee. His journey to Germany took him years and was, as so many other stories, extremely difficult. But it also allowed him to support others in his situation, by volunteering for different grassroot organisations.  He gave us a chronological tour through his eight-year journey and highlighted what rights have been taken or given to him, by different actors, concluding which approaches give the so-called „beneficiaries“ dignity and secure their rights. Followed by a discussion with the participants and public, this evening gave an understanding of the challenges refugees are facing and how to overcome them.


The Role of designers got taken by the participants of the Humanitarian Design Lab and design affine public joining the events.

In discussion rounds they were able to highlight their point of view on humanitarian design and ask questions, to better understand the diverse field of humanitarianism and social design.

In the design of these events the hurdles to make your voice heard, got explicitly erased, to create a safe space and constructive discussion.


INtroduction to

The occurrence of Humanitarian Innovation can be seen as the starting point of the professional widespread cooperation of designers and humanitarians. It at least is the awareness of the need for innovation and the search for it.

To understand the shifts that are now happening in the humanitarian field and to give the participants an understanding of how they can enter a new humanitarian market, the group examined the innovative humanitarian network, humanitarian innovation principles, and e.g. the actual need for innovation.

Speaking the

How to cooperate, if you don’t understand your partners?

Understanding the partners is key to successful cooperation.

Just this way it is possible to firstly trust in the cooperation and the partners. If there is no understanding cooperation between designers and humanitarians is condemned to be unachievable. If the corporations are happening, Actors need to understand the partners‘ methodologies, to work in line with them.

To enable the participants to work in the future with humanitarian actors and social enterprises, one Topic was the classic humanitarian context with an integral scope.

Knowledge about, vocabulary,  standards, principles, and methodologies got transferred and researched.

The History

The participants also took a short but intensive look at the history of design and the history of humanitarianism. Firstly through that, they understood further why the humanitarian sector is the way it is, understanding why now the advice of designers and innovators is needed. Furthermore, we identified similarities in the aim.

Which is particularly the same: Securing a safe life in dignity.


The approach called white saviorism mainly concerns humanitarianism. The designed solutions are implemented in a top-down way from outside actors.

This affects the credibility and quality of student projects. They cannot be on-site to observe and discuss to find the best solution.

Politics and infrastructure should be considered and used positively in this case. Furthermore, they found that participatory design processes are key to a successful project.


Thinking about future cooperation between designers and humanitarians the first question to be answered, should be, Why?

Evaluating design theory and thinking about their own work, we found certain benefits, that just designers can bring and mirrored them to the needs the humanitarian ecosystem has. This draws a picture that highlights the importance of designers in these projects.

Furthermore, we integrated designers, based on real projects, into the new humanitarian ecosystem.

We found that an innovation cycle is similar to the response cycle and created a methodology out of that.