Rob Katz

Guest Post: Design for Social Impact – What Does It Mean and Why Should We Care?

Jocelyn WyattGuest 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.

By Jocelyn Wyatt

As mentioned last week, The Rockefeller Foundation and IDEO recently presented their research on how design firms can get more involved in social sector work. We presented this work in the form of a how-to guide and a workbook on how to use design to intentionally create positive social impacts and have posted the deliverables online.Before I joined IDEO, I wondered (like most of you probably do) what application design could have to addressing some of the world’s largest problems. Tim Brown does a great job laying out the basics on design thinking in a recent article in Harvard Business Review entitled Design Thinking.

During the course of our work with Rockefeller, we had 142 conversations with social entrepreneurs, foundations, management consultants, academics, writers, and designers. What we heard over and over again was frustration with the progress in addressing the problems that we all care about and excitement about the potential of design thinking as a new approach.

Three aspects of design thinking that are particularly salient for social enterprises are empathy, prototyping, and storytelling. Empathy is about connecting with people and seeing the world from their perspective, not yours. For us, this could mean spending the night in a village in Ethiopia and plowing a field alongside a farmer, which our team recently did with IDE for a Gates-funded project. When many development workers are flying into capital cities, staying at five-star international hotels, and driving through villages without ever stopping to talk to a farmer, this approach may actually seem novel.

Prototyping is about building to think and helps us get to answers faster. Instead of putting together five year plans where it is difficult to change activities as we go along, we make a series of rough prototypes and figure things out along the way. During a recent project with KickStart, the team constructed 75 prototypes out of Legos, plastic, paper, foam, and steel. Each prototype taught them something new and will enable the team to radically reduce the cost of production of the irrigation pump.

Design thinking can also be used when storytelling. Long reports are boring and frequently don’t get read. Instead, we present information in a variety of more compelling ways. For the Ripple Effect project, which we worked on with Acumen Fund, we presented storyboards and a short video to demonstrate our concepts around transportation and storage of drinking water in rural India.

At IDEO, we see huge opportunities for design to make a difference and we are thrilled to see our work with social enterprises become a core part of what we do.