Tag Archives: business models

human centered design


Apparently it’s been around for a few months, but this is the first I’ve seen of IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit. Intended to help NGO’s working with smallholder farmers apply human-centered thinking to their work, the HCD Toolkit breaks down the innovation process into 3 distinct phases: Hear, Create, and Deliver. Each of the three phases has a unique workbook, with separate sections for the Design Team and the Facilitator.

IDEO has done a few Design for Social Impact projects, but it seems as though they’ve recently chosen to move their Social Impact work towards education, rather than invention. It’s good to see them open up their process to the public, and I’m excited to see how it is received by the development community. So far only IDE has tested it, but some successful case-studies would surely make it more valuable…


c’mon, gimme some credit!


Obama announced today, as he’s been alluding for several weeks now, that serious, immediate action is necessary if we’re to repair our economy. And with an interface that owes a bit to the Obama campaign, Uncrunch America is taking matters into their own hands, and trying to do just that.

Uncrunch allows visitors to “invest in america,” by investing in credit-worthy borrowers that have been turned down for loans because of the credit crunch. To be honest, there’s not enough information on the site to assure me of it’s legitimacy, but it’s an interesting idea nevertheless. Reminds me of Virgin Money , but with a timely recession theme.

dean kamen’s water purifier making a splash


Well, actually, it hasn’t made a splash yet, and it’s got a long way to go before it may. Demonstrated last week on the Colbert Report, Kamen’s Slingshot is a vapor compression distillation water purifier, capable of filtering absolutely anything (according to Kamen) out of water without filters, charcoal, or other replaceable parts. Operating at 2% of the energy that similar technologies require, the Slinghot is targeted at providing clean water to the developing world.

And herein is the challenge. According to CNN, each unit will cost an expected $1000-$2000, which may prove to be out of the reach of the people who need it most. Unique business models, such as microfinance-assisted remote water kiosks may gain some traction, but it’s hard for me to believe that entrepreneurs will be able to gain returns on their investments fast enough. And, of course, even though there are no filters to replace, techy solutions like this prove to be challenging to maintain and repair, which makes it all the more challenging.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Kamen and his team are planning to market these, and I hope they bring as much innovation to the distribution and maintenance plans as they do to their engineering.

design for social impact

Design for social impact. It’s a topic that’s always on my mind, and the more I talk about it, the more I realize I’m not alone. Most (if not all) designers want to make the world a better place with their work, but it’s hard to know how. Thousands of altruistic designers graduate every year, but with no clear path to a successful, impactful and meaningful career, most are forced to accept whatever design position they can find- regardless of the social implications. Designers and design firms alike have the same struggle: how to do meaningful work in a financially viable way.

The Design for Social Impact Workshop, hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation in their Bellagio, Italy estate, was a meeting of minds to discuss this very issue. With representatives from Continuum, Index, Design Observer, Jump Associates, Emerging Market Strategy, and a few other groups, the workshop facilitated 2 days of brainstorming ways to link the abilities of designers and design firms with the needs of the social sector. Although I was initially skeptical of the content (meeting at an Italian estate to discuss problems in the developing world seems somewhat dubious, doesn’t it?), the attendees came up with some interesting, albeit abstract, ideas for change. Here are some notes:

  • There is a huge information gap between the social sector and the design world, and it’s a two-sided problem. The social sector doesn’t yet understand the value of design thinking, and designers don’t understand the needs of the social sector. The workshop attendees came up with a Social Impact Operating System concept which would archive and make accessible relevant information for both sides of this equation and create a collective action network bridging the gap between design and the social sector.
  • Culturally relevant work is essential to designing for social impact, and the group proposed a network of in-the-field design labs, equipped with “advanced design tools” (ethnographic research and efficient prototyping, for example).
  • Clearly there are several sides to the problem, but perhaps the largest is the financial viability of designing for social impact. Historically, such work would have been pro-bono or close to it, but it’s clear that for such work to continue and grow, new business models must be explored for both the social sector and design firms.
  • Although this workshop focused on connecting design firms with the social sector, independent designers with altruistic intentions also need access to this kind of information sharing network. Having been thrown into the design world not too long ago, with years of idealistic and altruistic schooling behind me, I had little idea of what path would lead me to the most impactful work. (i guess I still don’t, but I’ll figure it out someday…) independent designers need more clearly defined paths to such opportunities.
  • This workshop focused, as I mentioned, on design firms and the social sector. I’m interested to see, though, what potential lies in embedding these altruistic intentions in the formation of private-sector businesses. Social Businesses, as Muhammad Yunus calls them, represent an ideal scenario in which financial incentives are in line with social and environmental benefits. I’d like to see some design thinking put into the development of social businesses…

Continuum’s summary can be found here.