Oxygen is Medicine

The narrow dirt road that leads northwest to Siaya County Hospital gets choppier as we near our destination. The driver slows, changes gears, and charges ahead, completely unfazed by the 12-inch ruts and puddles in the road, or by the workers carrying crops and supplies draped over bicycles along the sides. Roads are more like guidelines in rural East Africa.

Guest Post: Introducing the Goodwill goBIN

In 2014, more San Franciscans will choose to live in apartments than houses and own bikes, not cars. We’ll recycle, compost and seek other ways to reduce landfill waste, including donating to Goodwill – even if that means taking Muni, hailing Uber, or renting a ZipCar to lug our stuff there. Cue Kermit: “It’s not easy being green.”

Chicken, Rice, and a Day

When people ask the Project Bertumbuh team, “What are the top three things you learned in the field?” it can be tempting to respond with a list of about a hundred observations, insights, and opportunity areas. But part of synthesis is determining which learnings should take the highest priority. That comes in a couple of ways: If an insight has volume - if we saw a behavior again and again across contexts, crossing occupational, gender, income and/or geography lines, we highlight it; if there’s relevance - if it is actionable by our client and last but certainly not least there is the size of potential impact.  

The Internet of Things: Keeping it Human

The easy part of building the Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting the infrastructure. Sensors and wireless technology expedite the flow of data from “things” to us and become the source of new products, market opportunities and cost savings. Yet as these connections multiply and generate massive amounts of data, the hard part is remaining mindful of the human motivations that are the foundation of the IoT. As designers helping to shape this new world, we should continually raise questions about the impact of our rapidly evolving connectedness on the individual, the community and on how we live.

The Unexpected Interview Guests

After two hours on curvy mountain roads, and an hour on a stone-cobbled, one-lane track, our team arrived in the village at the top of the tea plantation. Our plan was to interview the new branchless bank agent for the tiny village of 85 households, meet some of his customers, and learn about the lives of tea laborers. We arrived at the house of Maman, the agent and community leader, at the planned time and sat down on his carpet to begin our chat. A few minutes in, two gruff looking men, wearing leather jackets and smoking cigarettes, invited themselves in and sat down among our circle. The local interview participants looked tense and mumbled some words of greeting. As the interviewer, I asked our translators to ask the newcomers to introduce themselves — initially thinking I could explain to them that we were conducting an interview and that perhaps they could come back later if they had business with the Maman or his family. Our translators relayed that one man was the security guard for the tea company, the other was a local policeman. Their business was to know everything that happens in the town and determine if they approve. They were not just interested in the interview, but in the product we were representing and piloting in their village. They explained there had been scams in the village before: Ponzi schemes, payroll embezzlement and false cooperatives -- to name a few. They wanted to know if this branchless bank thing was legitimate. The interview turned from our team being the leaders, to being interrogated.

Internet of Things: Six Key Characteristics


Creating Internet of Things products can place businesses and their product teams in an uncomfortable place by pushing them outside of their comfort zone. In the third installment of our Internet of Things series, we will explore six design characteristics to help guide IoT product teams as they set forth into uncharted territory.

Design Research: A Team Built on Trust

The Bertumbuh Project team has been navigating many different communities in the course of our field research. From fish distributors in North Jakarta to trash resellers in Bogor to tea plantation workers in Cikoneng, we’ve been learning about how people think about money. Their actions -- how they save and spend, search and strive -- are interesting to us. In addition, their mental models are just as fascinating. All of that data, and all of these stories, are important for our synthesis and design process.

Who Knew a Meatball Could Determine Your Destiny?

Prio is a meatball seller in Ciherang, and this morning he invited us in to sit down and chat. His day typically starts at 3:30am when he wakes up. From 4:00am to 6:00am, Prio goes to the market to buy ingredients, returns home, and makes meatballs until 9:30am. From 9:30am to 10:00am he takes a rest. The the real work begins from 10:00am to 10:00pm when Prio sells his product. All of this hard work nets him about 100,000 rupiah a day - or roughly $10. He knows which days he makes more money (Saturdays and Mondays), but he has no idea why.

Backpack PLUS Will Empower Community Health Workers

Most children in the developing world will never see a doctor or visit a clinic, relying instead on Community Health Workers (CHWs) who are a critical link in delivering basic healthcare to underserved populations. Every day this dedicated and largely volunteer network of CHWs visit patients, help screen for life-threatening diseases and dispense medication, often with little training or support.

frog in Indonesia: Looking for the Financial Equivalent of a Motorbike

Our first experience in Jakarta consisted of walking through mud and over broken stones to get to a client meeting. The streets, congested because of severe traffic, meant taking a taxi the 3.6 km would have taken too much time. So, off we went, negotiating the heat in our business attire.