Our Story

We started in the world of business, research, and design

Our story started in 2005, when Fit’s founders got together and said, “We could be a design research firm, or we could be a design outsourcing firm. But we want to be a make-a-difference firm.

For years we pursued that aspiration by helping the design and strategy function in (mostly large) companies to “get outside,” and connect their products and services to a deep, authentic, first-hand experience with the lives of the people who they affect.

We brought our clients into homes, streets, offices, institutions and systems all over the world. By moving their center of attention and reflecting on what they had seen and experienced, they also moved their center of intention.

Thrilling.

We shifted from product questions to social questions.

In 2010, we began shifting our own intention. We were determined to seat the starting point of our work in the burning human and societal issue of our day — our collective move toward a sustainable and equitable future.

…but that was difficult!

We quickly realized that the complexities of such work were beyond the reach of the tools we had in our hand. The ways of seeing, working and being that had made us leaders in serving the needs of strategic design were inadequate for helping new patterns emerge from the gravity well of the status quo. We had little preparation for encounters with the human journey of change, or situations stuck in conflict or held immobile by unresolved hurts.

And so we “went to school.”

For the last seven years, we have studied, applied, and synthesized the insights and practices of anyone we could find who had credible, repeatable, potent experience in any aspect of this challenge. We learned from the worlds of complexity and social systems theory, family therapy, social theater and applied improv, human development, coaching and counseling, organizational development, dialog facilitation, participatory design and decision-making, and so on and on.

Now we teach the fundamentals of creating our way forward together

We learned, we practiced, and we did our best to pass our learning on to others. That is the source of what we are now offering to you: the fundamentals of creating together across difference, in a way that affects your system, organization, or community.  


We've worked in a lot of situations (the better to help with yours)

We've helped...

  • a neighborhood, divided around a new development, to align on their common care. The result was newfound understanding of each other and guidelines for the new development.
  • …a team of internal consultants to step back from their over-scheduled lives and redesign their way of collaborating and communicating. The result: new management practices based on purpose and principles.
  • …an IT department shift from “requirements gathering” at a distance to co-creating with their customers. As a result, they now have a program of cross-departmental immersion for all of their staff.
  • …a global healthcare company see diabetes through they eyes of the whole network of care. The result was a shift from “focus on the patient” to “support communities of care.”
  • …a national advocacy organization really listen to the people whose behavior they are trying to influence. The result was a change in how they see and work.
  • …. a leadership group of 30 people who oversee public health development to listen to each other and have difficult but necessary conversations. The result was deepened trust and alignment.
  • …senior design leaders from twenty firms retreat to reflect on the challenges of creative culture. The result was new relationships and shared understanding of creating design cultures inside large companies.

We've taught...

  • …over 200 students the “Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation.” In partnership with The School of Visual Arts in New York and Carnegie Mellon School of Design.
  • …a day-long workshop exposing 80 designers to methods and tools they could use to shift patterns in their organization, in partnership with the Midwest UX Conference.
  • … theatre-based workshops to help individuals practice having difficult conversations without closing down. In partnership with The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival .
  • … an advocacy group to integrate “Design Thinking” and “Collective Story Harvests” into their work.
  • …the design research group in a large insurance company to shift how they communicate. The result was a shift from "reporting research results" to fostering conversation across the organization.
  • …software engineers at NASA JPL to include people in their process.
  • …120 corporate and government design professionals to include stories from the people whose lives they affect into the early stage of their work.
  • …our kids to tie their shoes and ride a bike.

Principals

Marc Rettig

Marc’s 35-year career has been guided by an interest in people, systems, communication, anthropology and the power of design. His current work is defined by a question — “How can we advance the practice of creating resilient health in social systems?” — a question which puts him on the frontier of applying design methods to social and strategic questions.

A masterful teacher and facilitator, Marc brings a tremendous kit of tools to any gathering. He takes a gardening or conversational approach to leadership, believing that groups of people who are aligned to a common purpose hold more possibility of innovation and transformation than any individual, and that tending to the essential conversations is more potent than any single method or process.

Marc has been a leading figure in interaction design, user experience, and the use of ethnographic methods for strategic design. So far as he knows, he was the first person to hold the job title, “Chief Experience Officer.” His early writings on paper prototypes influenced a generation of design students.

Marc is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Formerly a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Practice in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design, where he was the 2002 Nierenberg Chair of Design, he now serves there as a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Practice. Marc is also one of the 50 global Rosenfeld Experts in user experience.

Marc pursues interests in cultural immersion, cooking, and photography. You can read more about Marc on his LinkedIn profile. He is @mrettig on Twitter.

Hannah du Plessis

Hannah’s work blends business, design, community and the arts. This blend developed through eight years experience in community leadership in South Africa, ten years of design leadership (including partnership in an architecture firm), and consulting experience in the U.S., Europe and Africa.

Hannah’s first career as interior architect spanned a decade and three continents, and includes 18 built projects. Her love for the creative process has taken her drawings into publications and art galleries and herself onto stage as presenter, actor, improviser and dancer.

Hannah is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. And she is a Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Practice in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design. She has taught internationally in the field of design and innovation at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, at Cedim in Mexico and at the University of Pretoria. She holds a Masters in Design Methodology from IIT, a degree in interior design from the University of Pretoria and a diploma in fine arts.

You can learn more about Hannah on her LinkedIn profile. She is @hannahdup on Twitter.


Key Relationships

SVA Masters in Design for Social Innovation

Fit Associates’ principals are both founding faculty members of the groundbreaking Masters in Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts. Together they teach the Fundamentals of Design for Social Innovation course. The program and the course give us a community and the time to extend the theoretical underpinnings of our work, and New York City as a lab for exploring the edge of practice with our students.


Carnegie Mellon School of Design

Carnegie Mellon has redesigned its design masters program to include questions of social complexity and organizational and societal transition. Fit is proud to be part of their exploration into this new practice, and the practice of preparing students for such groundbreaking work.


Commonwise

Commonwise is our partner in working with leaders on difficult challenges of great impact. From their site: “CommonWise is a consortium of partners with diverse expertise in research, strategy, communication design, interaction design, prototyping and implementation. We work with visionary leaders to imagine and co-create new ideas for what is possible, then engage all stakeholders in making them reality. We believe that the most effective design works at a systems level, transforming human behavior and capacity. From inspired, aligned and capable stakeholders come innovative and enlightened ideas and behavior.”


Reach Global Design Research Network

We are pleased to be members of the REACH Global Design Research Network, because it means we can quickly organize local fieldwork anywhere in the world on behalf of our clients, and because it puts us in the distinguished company of an amazing network of design research firms. The Reach Network helps its clients develop holistic global insights from connected local studies, conducted by people who combine deep local expertise with a global perspective. Fit is the U.S. partner. Other partners are in Brazil, France, Netherlands, Denmark, UK, Spain, Hungary, Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, and India.


Rosenfeld Experts

Marc Rettig is one of the “Rosenfeld Experts.” Rosenfeld Media has assembled an amazing group of experts in the work of designing and developing great products and services. Their expertise includes a wide range of seminars, courses, and consulting services. For Fit and its clients this means we can quickly draw on a pool of known experts in many specialties to serve as pre-vetted answers to our clients’ needs.