Francisco Noguera

Guest Post: Better World by Design Conference

JocelynGuest blogger Jocelyn Wyatt works for the design firm IDEO, leading its base of the pyramid projects. Prior to joining IDEO, Jocelyn was an Acumen Fund Fellow in Kenya. She holds a MBA from Thunderbird. Jocelyn blogs at Design and Reach.

She sent us the following post following her attendance to the Better World by Design Conference last week in Providence, Rhode Island.

By Jocelyn Wyatt

The Better World by Design Conference was hosted last week by Brown University and the Rhode Island Design Institute (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. I attended the conference as a speaker and was impressed that the event was entirely student organized and run. The conference drew about 200 people from the design industry, private sector, social sector, and academia. We heard from a good mix of practitioners, consultants, and researchers.

The conference mapped closely to IDEO’s Design for Social Impact initiative so it was very much in-line with the work we’ve been doing for the past year. Just as way of background, the purpose of IDEO’s design for social impact work is to cause transformational change in communities of need.

One theme that was repeated throughout the conference was the importance of developing empathy. We heard from Ross Evans (founder of Xtracycle and World Bike? and Cameron Sinclair, founder of Architecture for Humanity,? about the need to live and eat in the communities we are designing with. We must work to understand the complexities of the local context and be sure to work closely with local partners. While this seems like an obvious tenant of design, many people at the conference shared market insights but didn’t share stories of people or human insights. We need to make sure that we’re looking not just as what’s for sale at markets and what is being advertised, but that we actually talk to people about what they want and need.

A second theme which was emphasized at this conference as well as at the Design in the Developing World panel at SoCap, was the need to apply design thinking to business models, distribution systems, and marketing. As Emily Pilloton, Founder of Project H said, “design is easy; implementation is tough.” This was reiterated by Paul Polak who spoke about the need to design products and their distribution cheaply enough so companies can be profitable by selling them and multinationals will be enticed to enter base of the pyramid markets.

Finally there was a general sense of excitement at the conference, accompanied by a sense of urgency. There was a feeling that social design, or design for the greater good, was catching on, both within the design industry, as well as within the social sector and low-income markets. There was little discussion about how to run a business by working with clients who are not able to pay (or pay much) for design services.However, the work that IDEO and Rockefeller Foundation engaged in addresses this question to some extent. I am optimistic about the future of design for social impact and saw that the Better World by Design conference was able to convene a number of the leaders of this movement and engage us in 3 days of interesting and inspiring conversations.