Human-Centered Design Research & Strategy

Institute for Creative Integration (ICI) is a design research and strategy consultancy. Through a human‑centered lens, we co-create design concepts and strategies with clients striving to innovate.

We take a creative approach to the problem space by integrating multi-disciplinary views under the broader societal and organizational context, balancing clients' needs and user insights. Through close collaborations, we provide solutions that empower clients to gain stakeholder buy‑in and steer the organization towards embracing human‑centered design.


Discovery Research

Through ethnographic research, expert interviews, and literature surveys, we investigate clients' problem space in depth. Along with examining client's businesses capability and existing strengths, we help them identify the root causes, untapped needs, gaps, and opportunities.

User Research

We offer an end‑to‑end user research process to uncover user needs, preferences, behaviors, and motivations. We recruit quality participants and prepare prototypes, stimuli, and discussion guides tailored to the client's needs. Our data-driven analyses yield actionable insights and design recommendations for projects moving forward.

Concept Development

ICI helps clients in creating and communicating compelling design concepts effectively. We challenge the status quo and make sense of seemingly counterintuitive ideas liberated by our multi-disciplinary approach. We are "multilingual" in mediating communications between stakeholders in the client's organization, such as engineers, strategists, marketers, and c‑suites.

Design Strategy

ICI supports clients in implementing the design concepts in a way tailored to their business processes and organizational dynamics. We support them in planning and communicating new design initiatives and obtaining leadership support by providing human‑centered design principles, guidelines, strategic narratives, and roadmaps.

Our Work

Design Strategy

Inclusive Design Advocacy

Steering a large and traditional organization toward a more inclusive product development process and working environment

User Research

Trust between Humans and AI

Verifying UX ideas contributing to a better human-AI collaboration for future vehicle design

Concept Development

Toyota LQ & Yui

Bridging the gap between concept and reality to develop a multimodal AI agent experience

User Research

Future Shared Mobility in North America

Conducting deep investigation to inform and inspire future vehicle design and mobility services



Composing Mood Board with User Feedback in Concept Space

arXiv Preprint


What Makes An Apology More Effective? Exploring Anthropomorphism, Individual Differences, And Emotion In Human-Automation Trust Repair


AI-Assisted Design Concept Exploration Through Character Space Construction

Frontiers in Psychology


Anthropomorphic AI Agent Mediated Multimodal Interactions in Vehicles

Proceedings of the 9th international conference on automotive user interfaces and interactive vehicular applications adjunct


Facial Expressions in Car Design

Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Design and Emotion

Read on ResearchGate

about ICI

"Design is making sense of things"
(Krippendorff 1969)
— most importantly, making sense of human behavior, which is incredibly diverse by nature. Therefore, design should always include diverse perspectives. True human‑centered design practice is best fostered in multi-disciplinary and multicultural individuals, that we are.
Owner / Principle Researcher

Shin Sano, Ph.D.

Having started his career as an in‑house industrial designer in a corporate Japan, he relocated and naturalized to the U.S. and lived in three different cities in various capacities: an expatriate design strategist in New York City, a research faculty at a university in Chicago, and the founder of the ICI in San Francisco. Sano was originally trained in industrial design in Tokyo (BA) and in New York (AAS).  After 15 years of professional work, he built on human‑centered design methods in the graduate program in Chicago (MDM).  He has finished his doctoral program in informatics in Tokyo, inquiring about computational methods for supporting human creativity. Being a father of three boys, Sano enjoys traveling (over 25 countries), photography / videography, DIY projects, tennis, and singing in a choir.