This week I started taking an online course from +Acumen on Human Centered Design for Social Innovation. I am joined by three UNICEF colleagues (we represent Global, Regional and Country Office levels) as well as five other people from Nairobi. Our group is pretty diverse, which is cool because we all offer different experiences and perspectives. Each week I will write a blog describing what we learned and the activities we completed to help reinforce the concepts for that week.
Over seven weeks we will be introduced to the building blocks of human centered design (HCD) to help us design more effective, innovative, and sustainable solutions. From my beginners understanding of the concept, HCD requires gaining a deep understanding of the end-user by learning about their needs, hopes, and challenges. It is a continual process of learning from the end-user, ideating solutions, prototyping rapidly, reflecting back to the user for feedback, and then repeating until a good solution is found.
Every week we receive readings and a workshop guide to lead the two hour “class.” Rather than have a teacher, the course embodies the learning by doing and we guide our own learning through various activities and discussions.
Week one was our intro week. We read a couple of articles and learned a few fundamentals of HCD.
It’s important to get to the root of the problem: When designing the car, Henry Ford said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.”
- HCD is empathetic, optimistic, experimental, and collaborative
- It requires that we focus on the “behaviors” of our end-users versus their “demographic”
Design thinking process: inspiration, ideation, implementation (or discover, ideate, prototype)
o Inspiration – observing and researching phase
Identifying the problem or opportunity that motivates people to search for solutions
o Ideation – distill observations into potential solutions/opportunities for change
Divergent thinking is encouraged
o Implementation – the best ideas are turned into an action plan and prototyping begins
Products and services are tested, iterated, and refined
Activity Highlights: Design a better commute for a group member.
Our first class activity was to design a better commute for a group member. We began interviewing Sarah* to understand her daily commute and routine. We asked questions such as, “How do you feel on your commute?” “What do you enjoy?” “What gets in the way?” and “What would you change?”
Right away we learned a lot about Sarah and her work. She works in the largest slum in Nairobi and provides micro-loans to artisans. She takes public transportation to get there, and she can’t enter the slum without a guide. Also, she enjoys the complete unknown about what she’ll experience each day.
We then started focusing on her actual commute. We discovered that she takes many forms of transportation, including, a motorcycle taxi (called boda bodas), a public mini bus (or matatus), and a regular taxi. Since we live in Nairobi, traffic is a perennial issue, but traffic isn’t a huge concern for her because she can always jump on a motorcycle taxi. She doesn’t carry many personal items when commuting, and generally limits herself to her dumbphone and a little bit of money. (It’s helpful to understand that public transportation is not like New York City where there are demarcated stops on the streets, route maps in the buses, or meters in the taxi. At first glance, the transportation system can seem very informal and chaotic.)
As we continued asking questions, our group began to understand that Sarah didn’t need a better commute. In fact, if we continued with the original exercise, we would have been designing a solution to a non-existent problem and that’s a no-no in human centered design. We began to understand that the root of Sarah’s problem was finding trustworthy and reliable drivers.
Therefore, when we transitioned from the inspiration phase to ideation phase, we first articulated a more pressing problem for Sarah – It’s not easy to find trusted and reliable transport operators – and then brainstormed solutions. For five minutes we had a rapid fire brainstorm and some of our ideas were:
|Mini bus route map online/mobile app||Official mini bus and motorcycle taxi stops|
|Designated lanes for mini-buses and motorcycle taxis||Look up MIT study of mini bus routes to know your way|
|Track a mini-bus/taxi/motorcycle taxi app||Standards for security and customer service|
|Mobile lie detector||Years of experience clear from driver’s license|
|“Refer-a-driver” mobile app||SMS based rating of operators|
|Seal of approval on front of mini-buses or motorcycles||Show confidence in your travels to and from destination|
We concluded our first class by briefly discussing the ideas we came up with and listening to feedback from Sarah. We quickly realized that the solutions we generated were all very tech heavy, and while technology offers many opportunities, they might not be the best for Sarah since she carries a simple dumbphone. Therefore, another HCD lesson was reinforced for our group – listen to the end-user requirements and design appropriate solutions based on these.
Even after only the first week of the course, we learned some of the hard and fast principles of human centered design and were able to put them into practice. I look forward to what is in store for us next week and writing up the experience. Stay tuned!
*Name has been changed.
Source: Design Thinking for Social Innovation. Originally appeared in Stanford Social Innovation Review 8, no. 1 (Winter 2010)
Link to Week 1 Readings: http://plusacumen.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Class_1_readings.pdf