The American Heart Association

Helping The American Heart Association refine their vision, build capacity for design, and explore new domains for innovation.

Design Strategy

Since 1924, the American Heart Association (AHA) has been working to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide critical resources to save and improve lives. Today the AHA generates $1 billion of annual revenue. Their professional membership includes 32,000 people from 110 countries, representing 71 specialties. The AHA’s treatment guidelines reach hospitals that provide care for more than 75% of all hospitalizations for certain diseases. Headquartered in Dallas, this mission-driven nonprofit organization includes 156 local offices, 3,600 employees, and 32.5 million volunteers and supporters.

The AHA faces multi-faceted opportunities and challenges as scientific discovery and healthcare are being impacted by technology, consumerism, demographic and economic changes. With these changes, the scope of roles the AHA can serve and the possibilities for mission impact in the categories of cardiovascular health and diseases has grown. Throughout this transitional phase, verynice has worked on over a dozen initiatives with the AHA since 2015.

“Our partnership with the American Heart Association over the years has provided verynice with unique opportunities to deploy nearly all of our services centered around design strategy in order to help this amazing organization refine their vision, build capacity for design, and explore new domains for innovation.”


Each project has involved extensive collaboration and has had incredible depth. The following case study provides highlights from these various initiatives, showcasing the way our engagements have helped shape the organization today and in the future.

Business Planning & Goal Setting

In order to help guide the AHA through its evolving nature as an organization, verynice worked with the AHA team members on developing clear and strategic organizational goals. Through projects focused on business planning and goal setting, the AHA learned to understand and anticipate change in order to seize advantageous future opportunities. A brief run-through of these projects are highlighted below.

1: Establishing the AHA’s 2030 Goals

verynice facilitated a 2-day workshop in NYC to set the stage for the organization’s 2030 goals. The workshop explored the consequences and opportunity of various goal concepts, then extended into an in-depth exploration of each concept. Day-1 of the workshop focused on divergence, as each group explored the organization’s identity and worked through a series of scenario analysis activities. For day-2, verynice focused on convergence as participants worked together in small groups in order to populate a model that could drive each scenario forward. Over a series of working “sprints”, the AHA was able to explore the logical implications of the goal for the strategies and scenarios discussed.

2: Crafting a Strategic Value Proposition

Starting in January of 2016, the AHA sought to define and articulate an overall strategic value proposition, a statement that identifies the most advantageous space to forward the mission, generate supporting revenue, maintain relevance, and grow infrastructure sustainably, for the organization through the year 2030. In order to accomplish these goals, verynice worked with the AHA to develop a 15-year outlook report and strategic value proposition statement over a 9-month period.

To kick-off this project, our team leveraged our value proposition design methodology to gain an understanding of the AHA’s current “perceived” and “projected” value. The “Projected” value investigation studied the way the AHA presents its value to consumers through an audit of all marketing materials. Simultaneously, to investigate the “perceived” value of the AHA, verynice conducted a series of interviews with various employees and partners of the AHA. In addition, we conducted 40+ interviews with complete strangers from across the globe through guerrilla-style street intercepts. The results of our investigation into the “perceived” and “projected” value proposition was a very holistic view of the AHA’s current value proposition. After collecting data points about the AHA’s current value propositions, we worked collaboratively to synthesize the information and draw out the most inspiring and rich insights and develop solutions.

Next, verynice facilitated a 2-day convening that focused on future trends and strategic planning methods. The first day gathered expert panelists from various backgrounds to discuss the implications relevant future trends may have on the AHA. Next, on the second day, the AHA leveraged our Models of Impact methodology to explore new business opportunities and set goals. Following the 2-day convening, verynice continued to host a series of collaborative ideation and planning sessions with senior advisors in order to co-author a new value proposition statement that clearly defines the organization’s vision and unique offering for years to come.

3: Facilitating a 2017-2020 Strategic Planning Workshop

verynice facilitated a 1-day workshop with the AHA’s development team to help the AHA ideate around the trends, opportunities, and big ideas that can guide the AHA as the organization develops its three-year strategic plan. The groundwork formed throughout the workshop gave our team the information needed to assist the organization in structuring the strategic plan’s format and design. At the end of the workshop, verynice provided a report of recommendations for the AHA moving forward.

Building Design Research Methods

1: Developing Design Research Methods for Rural America

Despite the AHA’s undeniable national and global impact, the organization needed to improve the way rural communities accessed and understood the AHA’s work. verynice teamed up with the AHA to develop a unique design methodology that the organization could use to learn about health equity issues in rural communities. This methodology helped the AHA move away from traditional research methods and toward a more experimental human-centered design approach. To pilot this method, verynice hosted a workshop session with local community members in Salinas, CA. The pilot, hosted entirely in Spanish, allowed us to gather user-insight and test the methodology. At the end of this project, verynice provided the AHA with a custom toolkit, a deliverable designed to help guide the AHA as the organization continues to use this methodology across the United States.

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2: Building Capacity for Active Listening

As designers, we are constantly leveraging empathy exercises that help us enhance our listening skills and better understand people, communities, and organizations through design-thinking. The AHA looked to understand and adopt design research methods to build capacity for listening skills. To accomplish this, we produced a video in which experts in the field shared insights and tactical advice on the topic of listening. In addition to the video, verynice produced a half-day event on listening that included a panel discussion and interactive workshop on “applied listening”. Featured panelists at the workshop included community organizers, journalists, social workers, and filmmakers who shared their unique perspective on cultivating listening as a skill. The second half of the workshop involved participating in hands-on activities that empowered the group to put design research into action. Through this workshop the AHA learned the benefits of listening in informing any organization’s programs and services.

3: Creating Educational Tools for Santa Monica College

In a three-way partnership between verynice, the AHA, and Santa Monica College (SMC), SMC was able to incorporate the AHA and verynice’s “Listening Toolkit” into a design-thinking class. SMC students leveraged this toolkit in class with projects directed at tackling food deserts.

Research & Development for New Experiences and Opportunities

1: Revitalizing the Heart Walk Experience

Our 2015 initiative to revitalize the AHA’s famous Heart Walk was an experience design project that tackled possible future opportunities of improving the Heart Walk experience.  At the center of our engagement was a 2-day workshop that focused on the landscape of change in the charity and fundraising space.

In addition, verynice generated insights on how the AHA can increase participation, satisfaction, and engagement for the Heart Walk participants. Our team put together strategic recommendations that served as documentation of this collaborative session as well as an actionable set of insights and concepts that the AHA could implement in the upcoming suite of 2016 Heart Walks to retain current walkers, capture new audiences, and generate more revenue. With an emphasis on moving the Heart Walk from being known as an event to being known as a lifestyle brand, verynice’s deliverable mapped out a revised experience design including new swag, concepts for on-site events and attractions, marketing strategies and content, and alternative forms of registration and ongoing engagement. Revenue generated from 2016 Heart Walk experiences grew by 5% from the previous year, resulting in over $130,000,000.00 in funding for the organization.



2: Exploring Use Cases for Virtual Reality

verynice helped the AHA imagine how the organization could leverage virtual reality (VR) to promote awareness around its expanding initiatives and as an educational tool, specifically with CPR. This experimental project explored use cases for virtual reality, where traditional storytelling elements merged with 21st-century modes of communication and entertainment through the use of VR. verynice worked to create storylines that could capture the AHA’s mission and programs in a fully immersive virtual reality experience.

3: Mapping Opportunities in Social Enterprise

verynice conducted a research project for the AHA addressing the state of social entrepreneurship. This research report introduced the history, best practices, trends, and potential futures of social enterprise. More specifically, the report explored the types of programs the AHA could deploy around existing opportunities for facilitating, collaborating with, or launching social enterprises. In addition to emerging trends and best practices, verynice examined potential obstacles and opportunities that could potentially influence the scope of social enterprise within the AHA.

It’s been an exciting journey working with the AHA on this collection of curated projects and other collaborations that extend beyond this list. Additional project highlights include illustration work, facilitation of events, as well as our Founder, Matthew Manos and verynice’s Advisor, Strategic Foresight, Jake Dunagan, delivering various presentations for the AHA team.

To learn more about our unique approaches to business planning, goal setting, and research & development get in touch at





Strategic Direction:
Matthew Manos

Strategic Foresight Lead:
Jake Dunagan

Project Management:
Kraig Tytus, Florencia Di Sarli

Design Strategy:
Shane Chase, Marlon Fuentes, Megan Tremelling

Marketing Strategy:
Andrew Gottlieb, Brittani Uberti, Danny McElhinny, Michelina Camparella

Visual Design:
Alisa Olinova, Kate Manos, Olivia Sy

Research Assistance:
Anne Boyson, Bergur Ebbi, Ryan Hogan, Greg Ruben




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