Depository of Existing Design Toolboxes

A collection of toolboxes with user research methods to inform and inspire the development of a new toolbox for Inclusive Design.

Designing With People: a very complete toolkit developed at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and RCA. The method section is based on the IDEO cards. It has a focus on people with sensory, physical or cognitive impairments.


  • Clear structure and overview of contents
  • Very complete: example personas, contexts and projects, user research methods, guidelines about user groups, and a guide on ethics.
  • Literature references are given
  • Comfortable balance between amount of pictures and text
  • There are tips for choosing the right methods, but no selection is made for you

See more toolboxes >>>.

HCD Connect, a toolkit originally designed to work with people in developing countries. Sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and made by IDEO.


  • Immediate overview of the basic structure: Hear, Create, Deliver.
  • Easy to interpret pictograms that give an idea of what the methods are about.
  • Step-by-step descriptions of how the methods work, what you need, how long they take.
  • No help in choosing which method is most suitable
  • Cross references are not hyperlinked which makes it difficult to find information
  • Easy to miss the foldout bits of the page that hold even more methods

Verify, an application that lets you test and, yes, verify the usability of interface design. Specifically geared towards IT companies. It is the only toolbox that I tested, that is not free to use.


  • Easy on the eye
  • Contains services and methods to evaluate and verify design decisions, even if a prototype is not yet working.
  • Screen-based UI only

Usability Planner is a guided toolbox that lets you specify a number of options before you get a tailored list of methods. Unfortunately, the content is not complete.


  • Filtering starts simple but ambiguous: Are you a student or a developer?
  • Structured by experience level of researcher
  • Many clicks necessary to get to the content of the methods
  • Also aiming for developer/ UI designer

55plusToolbox, developed by Saxion, is more of a guidebook than an actual method collection, but contains a lot of high-quality documents with useful information gathered over several projects.


  • Very broad scope: includes inspirational techniques as well as business plan generators.
  • Not possible to compare methods
  • Routing is quite complex with many options at each point
  • Thoroughly researched projects and methods

The UCD Toolbox is another work in progress that gives a good overview of several methods, that can be filtered to a degree. The toolbox is accessible after you subscribe as a Beta tester only.


  • Filtering possible with a checkbox-menu
  • Overview of methods and clear pictures
  • No explanation available for the items that you can filter with

The Inclusive Design Toolkit is another kit that is very complete and full of useful information and tools. In this case, there are actual, physical tools accompanying the research presented.


  • Simple layout, does not detract from main message
  • Background information on Inclusive Design
  • Works also with physical attributes
  • One rather extensive ‘Inclusive Design method’, explained under ‘How do I get started’, rather than multiple existing methods.
  • Broad scope: includes inspirational techniques as well as business plans.

Added May 23, 2013

UX Toolbox – Better Web for Citizens is a very thorough toolbox made by the British Columbia government. In contrast to the other toolboxes, this one is completely focused on non-profit organizations  and IT, and is feels more modern due to terms like UX (User eXperience).


  • Includes a section on recruiting participants
  • IT-specific
  • Step-by-step structure
  • Email-help by a UX team
  • No filtering or overview, you have to open each method separately
  • Explanation of the methods is quite dry but thorough.
  • Long routing

Book: Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions. A pretty great book with a one-page description for each method. Not only design methods, it basically covers all kinds of methods to structure conversations and help develop empathy. It being a book provides the user with an idea of overview and not too much to see at once. The tone is quite academic with decent references, but also very crisp short descriptions and clear pictures.

  • Structured by design phase and alphabetically by name
  • A little table provides categorisation of each method
  • Photos and short descriptions
  • Great visuals but no guide as to how to make these yourself
  • Links to alternative methods
  • References

Of course I cannot not mention the IDEO method cards: a nice way to sample is through their free app which contains 8 cards.


  • Really short but clear description of a method
  • Descriptive photos
  • Includes reasons for using each method
  • Short example of a project where the method was used
  • The app is clearly based on the cards, without much interaction (i.e. non-clickable menus), but does include a possibility to sort the cards into groups

DSD Cards, Developmentally Situated Design of products for children, are cards that give insight into the capabilities and interests of children in various age groups. The cards give information on what to expect in a certain context of each age group, and ask questions to check suitability.

DSD cards

  • Filtering through characteristics of the end-user
  • Short description of abilities and restrictions of users
  • Promotes awareness and empathy without too much direction

Added June 6, 2013:

The Methods Lab – Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. Another very thorough toolbox that lists other methods that are not included as well. There are different ways to select a method and check that it has the right characteristics: a scatterplot where the methods are arranged on user-centredness and design focus (aesthetic-functional); a table based on categorization, output type and resources needed. The description of each individual method is quite general with examples and tips, but not a manual on to how to perform the method.

Methods Lab Methods Complete

Added July 1st, 2013:

Design with Intent Toolkit – Wiki, downloadable workshop sheets and card set by Dan Lockton, who is also associated with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design.

The cards contain examples of ways to influence the behaviour of people through design, summarizing several well known behavioral strategies such as ones by Cialdini, in the form of questions that are sorted into categories. The examples are aimed towards usability and product design, but the questions themselves useful for interaction design too.



The Product Design Sprint by Google’s Design Staff is not so much a toolbox as it is a super-fast product development manual, but it incorporates many interesting techniques and underlines the importance of user research. Iterative design sprints like these are also part of an Agile process.


Added July 4, 2013

UX Process Tool by NSpyre is a nice card set outlining several methods for designing the user experience, categorised in different project phases. The unique thing about these cards (also online) is that they are more a business tool than a research guide. This is great because with businesses in IT, the first thing is to convince the client about the advantages of UX, before you are able to start work for that client.

The printed card set includes a step-by-step plan on how to use the cards, and each card details the amount of time, money and people the method will cost.

UX-Process-ToolNspyre UX cards

Added July 5, 2013:

These two toolboxes by the School of Life are not actually design tools, but I still find them very inspirational. I love the fact that they are actual boxes, and are beautifully designed.

Toolkit for Life – A box of six ‘how to’ books by influential authors and edited by philosopher Alain de Botton. Includes the following, essential sounding titles: How to Find Fulfilling Work, How to Stay Sane, How to Worry Less about Money, How to Think More about SexHow to Thrive in the Digital Age, How to Change the World.

100 Questions – A pretty slider box with a 100 cards inside that contain discussion provoking questions. There is no hint as to how to use the cards, except that they will ‘get a group of people into exceptionally entertaining and meaningful conversations’. Sounds very useful for user research as well, especially if you want to understand more about the person’s mindset and way of thinking.

(See more nice things from the School of Life Shop in this post)

Added Sept 19, 2013:

Envisioning Cards, a card set of different methods to envision the long-term influence of new technology – as it spans across time, becomes pervasive throughout society, affects the lives of different stakeholders, and raises issues that touch human values. Based on nearly two decades of work in Value Sensitive Design, the Envisioning Cards are designed to evoke consideration and discussion of such concerns within the context of design practice. Download 5 sample cards here.


75 Tools for Creative Thinking is a boxed card set created by studio Booreiland, that stimulates creative thinking in various stages of any process or situation where new ideas are desired. The box consists of five card decks: 1. Get Started 2. Check Around 3. Break It Down 4. Break Free 5. Evaluate & Select. Each card describes a tool and suggests step by step how to use it. Next to that, each card shows the amount of people needed and how much time it takes to execute. Although there are some methods for user involvement included, this is not the main focus. The methods are closely related Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards.

Oblique Strategies – By Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. The function of the Oblique Strategies was to serve as a series of prompts which said, “Don’t forget that you could adopt *this* attitude,” or  “Don’t forget you could adopt *that* attitude.” It seems that the deck was not conceived of as a set of “fixed” instructions, but rather a group of ideas to be added to or modified over time; each of the three decks included 4 or 5 blank cards, intended to be filled and used as needed. The cards can be consulted here.

Added Jan. 08, 2014:

Mapping Social Design Practice: Beyond the Toolkit is, ironically,  a blog post by Lucy Kimbell, questioning the use of so many toolkits on social design. It has the benefit of listing all the toolkits and related articles she has worked on.


Have you got any tips? A toolbox you love to use? Tell me about it!

Also check out my Analysis of Toolbox Characteristics for more insight in how these toolboxes compare.

1 thought on “Depository of Existing Design Toolboxes

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