T Lab

Using human-centered design to build and test solutions to Bay Area poverty


A lack of affordable, quality child care keeps thousands of low-income parents in the cycle of poverty.

29% of parents nationally experienced child care breakdowns that affected their ability to go to work and be productive while at work.

44.3% of income is spent on child care for a single mother in California with a median income.

Only 1% of child care centers have flexible hours in San Francisco, stranding many low-income parents who work nights and weekends.


Six months of design thinking from start to finish

We did the full design thinking process over six months. The solution could be a product, technology, or service.

Mothers during a research session

Design Research

We did research with 122 parents, providers, and other stakeholders.

Our lack of domain knowledge meant that we needed to quickly and comprehensively understand the child care ecosystem and its players. We started wide, connecting with a breadth of people to first understand the landscape, before digging deeper into processes, pain points, and expert interviews.

Field visits were essential to developing empathy with child care providers' environmental pain points.

Contextual inquiries helped us uncover pain points in service providers' processes.

Participatory design workshops allowed us to make the most from groups in limited time, quickly generating and capturing parents' stories and their feedback on potential solutions.

Many semi-structured interviews helped us dig into people's unique stories and explore the nuances of the system.

Synthesizing insights from hundreds of data points


Uncovering pain points and making them actionable

We affinity diagrammed, focusing on pain points and areas of tension. Insights were thoughtfully worded to communicate ideas succinctly and accurately.

An evolution from insights to action statements to HMWs helped us easily involve stakeholders and set us up for ideation.


We generated eight insights from across the child care ecosystem and shared them back out with the community for feedback.

The child care community was struck by how quickly we achieved a deep and empathetic understanding of the pain points in the space. The community not only validated our insights but also expressed how our process invigorated them.

Three insights in particular informed our final solution:

1. A lack of non-traditional options leaves many parents fending for themselves. Families who are left out of existing support systems rely on ad-hoc solutions for child care.

2. Working and parenting are in conflict, putting parents in a difficult position. Parents want a good future for their children and the chance to develop and spend time with them; rarely is it easy to have both.

3. Non-traditional care is prevalent yet could draw from the benefits of traditional care. Many parents prefer family or friends for child care, yet this means parents miss out on quality assurances and kids miss out on critical learning alongside other kids.

The Research Shareout presentation deck (below) details all eight insights, walking the community through from data and research to insights, actions, and HMWs:


We developed three concrete concepts and refined them with storyboarding and participatory design.

We invited the community to ideate with us, focusing on quantity and eventually filling 10 ceiling-to-floor foam boards. My team and I then took these ideas to develop three concrete, real-world concepts:

Child Care to the People

A co-op model of child care, using underutilized spaces and enabling parents flexible hours.


A central, online portal for parents to comprehensively access and track resources for their children from birth to school-age.


Personalized fundraising kits that enable struggling providers to raise additional funds.

I illustrated and developed storyboards for each of the concepts, which we used for multiple participatory design feedback sessions. They were just enough detail so that participants could give feedback on the feasibility and desirability of our concepts without getting stuck on details.

Concept storyboards

How did we choose which concept to move forward with?

Using feedback and findings, we assessed the following attributes to select our final concept:

  • Feasibility: Will it be possible? Within our timeframe?
  • Viability: Will it be sustainable?
  • Desirability: Will people want it?
  • Potential Impact: How many people would we impact?
Nitebright pilot


NiteBright: A co-op model of affordable, quality child care for nights and weekends

Under the guidance of a certified teacher, parents rotate as teacher assistants to minimize the cost of paid staff. Our concept uses quality child care spaces that are open during the day but closed at night, maximizing use of the space and keeping facility costs affordable.

Using the storyboard and trial materials (below), we ran multiple participatory design feedback sessions to further prototype and refine our concept.

Nitebright storyboard and onboarding materials

Prototyping & Pilot

We tested some critical assumptions with a real-world pilot.

To know if our concept would truly work, we needed to test:
1. Would scheduling would work with parents' busy lives?
2. Would participation be too much for already stretched parents?
3. How would families benefit beyond being able to work?

We began recruiting participants for a trial. Ultimately, we planned, built, and ran a trial with three families at Holy Family Day Home.

Nitebright storyboard and onboarding materials


Parents were thrilled. They reported economic and other gains with NiteBright.

Parents were able to work more shifts, earn more money, spend time on much-needed self-care, and run errands for the family. NiteBright also created a community. Parents told us they felt empowered when given the opportunity to care for each others’ children and were eager to step up and help each other. Scheduling, which we assumed to be a barrier, actually thrived off of this energy.

NiteBright was not just a child care service but an economic, educational, and emotional support, creating a community of families supporting each other towards building better lives.

The child care community at-large responded enthusiastically to NiteBright and expressed interest in developing the program. The next T Lab cohort took our insights and concept and built upon them.

Hear from Nerissa, a NiteBright parent:

When I first heard about [NiteBright], I thought, “What a brilliant idea.” I didn’t think of that and I’ve been thinking of all types of ways.

- Nerissa