Blog  Design4Impact

In Defense of Design Imperialism

Is the local model the only way to meaningfully engage in social-impact initatives?

Blog  Design4Impact

Social Innovation Step by Step

Have "design thinking" and "social innovation" become permanently intertwined? You'd have to think so based on Tim Brown's book and the prevailing discourse at any major design/innovation conference (SXSW, PICNIC, GEL, GAIN, LIFT). There seems to be a firm belief that you can't establish any cred as a designer these days if you haven't applied design thinking to a major social issue of some sort (health, energy, education...). Similarly, it would seem that social innovation (or social entrepreneurship) is hopeless without a designer at your side.

Blog  Design4Impact

Mobile Impact

I recently participated in a Design Roundtable at Fast Company on the incredible impact of cellphones as well as some thoughts on how they might evolve in the future.

Blog  Design4Impact

Is Innovation at a Crossroads?

Over the last few years the traditional thinking about innovation has been turned on its head. We used to assume that innovation was driven by access to the most advanced tools and resources. But the emphasis has shifted more recently to the role that scarcity plays in driving innovation. This change has inspired a newfound belief that innovation will emerge from the bottom up, out of developing markets, as opposed to being exported by rich nations like the U.S. and Japan. But is that really the case?

Blog  Design4Impact

The Innovator's Dilemma

Nice to be included in Fast Company's (FC) Top Ten list of the “Most Innovative Design Firms.” Some great company there. Not just IDEO, but Pentagram, Rockwell, and Smart, to name a few. That said, the list seemed to emphasize companies that make cool shiny things. Where were Doblin, Stone Yamashita or Jump Associates? Perhaps they don’t fit FC's definition of 'design' any longer. In fact, given that rationale, I was surprised to see Smart at the bottom of the list. The FlipHD has to be the best new shiny object of the year. Just ask my kids.

But you have to ask yourself: what is so 'innovative' about design firms creating great new products (or interfaces or environments)? Isn't that what we have always done? Many of us have made a significant effort to extend our impact beyond the tangible and visible to transforming services and systems. Makes it much harder to get on the next FC hotlist, I guess. The fact is, to most businesses 'innovation' just means 'new': new products, new services, new revenue streams, new markets...which is really nothing NEW at all! Helps to explain why 'innovation' is facing a severe identity crisis right now.

Blog  Design4Impact

Design for Impulse

I strongly believe that interaction design is central to solving the major issues facing our society today (this is probably no surprise coming from an Interaction Designer). Large scale challenges like the environment and healthcare can only be addressed if we can positively influence personal behavior on a large scale in a sustainable way. Our work on Project Masiluleke, for example, is focused on motivating young men in South Africa to test earlier for HIV, before they are symptomatic. According to a recent article in the NYTimes a new  mathematical model developed by the WHO suggests that the AIDS virus could be virtually eliminated if people tested earlier (before they have symptoms) and are immediately put on ARV's: "Whether this could work in practice is problematic. It is not clear how one could persuade people who are not feeling sick to get tested every year."

Behavior change is at the core of good interaction design, particularly when you design for social impact (this has also been referred to as 'Decision Architecture'). If I was starting an Interaction Design program (like Liz Danzico at SVA) or taking one over (like David Malouf at SCAD) the one academic subject I would be sure to cover is Behavioral Economics.

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Open Studios & Network Effects

Perhaps the most remarkable talent that Jan Chipchase showcased in his talk last week (I promise this is my last post on the subject) was his ability to create powerful community-based organizations on the fly in some of the least likely environments - urban slums in Ghana for example. While this started out as a SWAT activity to support rapid immersion and research, with Open Studios he is making his pop-up organizations much more visible in the community (which raising some interesting branding questions which I will cover in a later post).

If you havent checked out Open Studios, the basic idea is that Chipchase and team turn their SWAT ethnography into a  design lab - reaching out to the community in a very visible way to gather ideas as part of a competition. The samples he showed last week centered around a competition to design your dream mobile handset. I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the topic. Seemed like they got alot of cheesy hardware design. Jan was clear the real value was not the designs themselves, but the needs and desires implicit in those designs. But I think he may be missing an even bigger opportunity to create value.