Wednesday
March 9
2011

Scott Anderson

Bringing ’Human-Centered Design’ Forward – Insights Into IDEO.org

As we’ve chronicled many times on NextBillion, a great idea can easily fall through the cracks of well-intentioned project addressing poverty. IDEO.org hopes to be the glue bonding disparate groups around “human centered design” for a positive outcomes.

This fall über-design firm IDEO plans to launch IDEO.org. The aim is to spread human-centered design principles (more on that below) by working directly with a wide spectrum of players and a diverse set of project categories to address poverty alleviation and associated factors such as health, financial services, gender equity, water and sanitation, and agriculture. Key to carrying out this ambitious goal is an 11-month fellowship program that will recruit bright minds from design, business and social sector roles.

Of course, IDEO has a long resume of socially focused design projects. In addition to its history of client work in the sector, just this past summer the firm launced OpenIDEO, a platform to encourage collaboration and apply the principles of design thinking to critical social challenges. Jocelyn Watt, IDEO.org co-lead and executive director; and Patrice Martin, co-lead and creative director, took some time this week to ellaborate on the new IDEO.org and its mission.

NextBillion.net: What factors led you to decide IDEO.org and the fellows program were needed now?

Jocelyn Wyatt: IDEO has undertaken social innovation work for the past decade. Through that experience, we saw there was an increasing interest in innovation and human-centered design within the social sector. At the same time, we saw a great deal of enthusiasm from designers to apply their skills to challenges related to poverty. We realized that we had an opportunity to increase our impact in the world by creating a new model which allows us to scale the amount of work we’re doing and make it more accessible to non-profits and social enterprises.

NextBillion.net: What is human-centered design?

Patrice Martin: Human-centered design is based in the needs of people. It’s an approach to problem solving that brings together generating, building, and testing to create more effective solutions.

NextBillion.net: How will IDEO.org function with nonprofits, businesses and other groups working in the social space and what is the criteria for new projects in which IDEO.org would participate?

Wyatt: IDEO.org will attract philanthropic funding and will work with nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprises to address their toughest challenges. We have a set of general criteria for the design projects we’ll take on: The project must focus on improving the lives of people in low-income communities (i.e. the challenges must be related to poverty); the partner organization must be a nonprofit, foundation, or social enterprise; and the design challenge must be tangible, resulting in a product, service, or systems design.

NextBillion.net: In the launch announcement, you mention Ripple Effect and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) as good examples of human-centered design. Please tell us more about these projects and why they’re particularly noteworthy?

Martin: With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Acumen Fund, IDEO’s Ripple Effect project helped improve access to clean water for impoverished people in Kenya and India. The locally based solutions, developed with community organizations, improve access for more than 500,000 people. A key part of the process was working with our partner organizations to understand their customers’ needs and aspirations around clean water to drive behavior change.

The WSUP project is currently prototyping sanitation products, services, and businesses for people in living in urban Ghana to understand the nuances of delivering solutions that are both desirable and convenient for low-income people in those communities. Check out the team’s progress on the project blog here.

NextBillion.net: How will IDEO.org measure progress and success?

Wyatt: Measuring impact and learning through evaluation is extremely important to IDEO.org. We’ll focus on understanding our impact at the level of the end-customer, our partner organizations, and the sector as a whole. We plan to work with university partners to conduct baseline surveys, in-process evaluations and post-project measurement.

NextBillion.net: Who is the ideal candidate for the fellowship?

Martin: The IDEO.org fellowship program will bring together leaders from design, business, and the social sector with senior IDEO designers to learn, apply, and spread human-centered design through the social sector. We’re looking for passionate people that want to impact the lives of people in low-income communities through human-centered design. We seek candidates who bring a global perspective, have experience working in the developing world, and have proven leadership in a design, non-profit or business context. You can find more information about the fellowship program here.

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