I recently got a chance to attend the IxDA Interaction 17 Conference in New York City (interaction17.ixda.org). It was my first time attending a large international design conference and I'm glad I was able to attend, even if for just a few sessions.
Since I was working during the conference, I was only able to attend a few sessions on the last two days. All the sessions I attended were in someway focused on positive social impact through design, which is what I'm most interested in. These are some of my notes and takeaways from each session.
Be Like Water: Strategies for Infusing Design in Healthcare Organizations
By Kathryn McCurdy & Jeremy Beaudry (University of Vermont Medical Center)
When the two designers arrived at the hospital, they were the only designers and everyone was used to the assumption that because of the large complex nature of hospitals, projects take at least 6 months, if not multiple years. This is at odds with the idea that using design thinking projects can have shorter cycles to create and test ideas.
One project they presented had to do with the incredibly confusing wayfinding signage around the hospital that resulted in patients and visitors constantly getting lost. Their solution was to divide the hospital campus into a forest area and lake area, with a "river" connecting the two of them. People appreciated the calming feeling of natural elements and colors as part of the hospital.
- After talking to a different stakeholders and flushing out the issues, they took the hospital leadership on a walking tour of the hospital to experience the wayfinding issues themselves. This experience helped gain the buy in from the leadership that was necessary to implement the changes they wanted to make.
- They involved hospital staff in prototyping and testing the new signage in public hospital spaces. This got staff excited and invested in the project. More importantly, people got excited about the design thinking process and wanted to learn more and do more with the designers.
- The title of their talk "Be Like Water" is about flowing through and around the large organization, transferring information, ideas, and new ways to get things done more effectively.
Designing for Social Change: The New Principles for Design
By Masuma Henry (Artefact)
One of the stories told in this talk was about MicroEnsure, insurance for the world's poor. This is especially important because for many poor people, when a serious medical issue, natural disaster, etc occurs they have nothing to fall back on and fall hard. This population usually doesn't have insurance because it's too expensive, hard to access, and people don't believe it's accessible to them.
- To make insurance accessible, the insurance company teamed up with a cell service provider. When someone bought airtime, they'd get a text saying they could get low cost insurance. By associating insurance with something they could afford (airtime), people believed they could have insurance.
- Make it easy for people to buy. The company provided literature and education at stores where people buy airtime so that customers can talk to someone and ask questions about the insurance at that same location. This made getting over fears and signing up easier.
- Address needs as soon as they come up. The company sends agents to disaster areas, hospitals, etc to process claims on site so that customers get the cash they need sooner rather than later, because that's when they need the money.
Designing for Rural Farmers
By Elena Matsui (Rockefeller Foundation)
This was an interesting story about how, for even the poorest people in the world, form cannot be pushed to the side in the name of pure utility. The backstory is that the Rockefeller Foundation was working with rural farmers in different parts of Africa. They found that 70% of harvested crops are lost due to flooding, rats, etc when farmers stored the harvest (usually grains) in large plastic bags. Additionally, they sprayed pesticide onto the crops before bagging them to prevent pests from getting in, but this meant they had to pay for pesticide, then wash all the crops before selling them at the market. These bags were the main way poor farmers stored the harvest because they were cheap, but the 70% loss meant that despite them producing plenty of food, many still go hungry because so much of their produce goes to waste.
The Rockefeller Foundation's solution was a triple layered bag that would bring crop loss down to 10%. But, despite understanding the benefits, people weren't buying them.
- Form follows function, but form is still important, even when your customer base consists of some of the poorest people on the planet. The new bags didn't look new or different enough from the old bags to justify the price difference, even though it was a very minor price difference. The farmers were far more interested in the bulky metal silos that cost way more, but they looked new, different, and better. The difference was obvious.
- Also reinforcing the idea that form is important, is that Chinese knockoffs starting entering the market for much less than Rockefeller's bags, which made their bags seem even more overpriced. The knockoffs didn't work because they were cheaply made, which confused farmers because they lumped Rockefeller's bag with the knockoffs because there was no way to tell them apart.
- We can't just make a good product, we have to understand the economics around how customers are going to buy it. They would show the bag to the farmers, they'd get a lot of interest, but if the farmers were seeing it before the harvest time, that's when they have very little disposable income because they're running off the money from the last harvest. After learning this they started offering payment plans
- We need to understand the psychology of people who are making a decision to buy. These new bags would take about two years to break even compared to using the existing bags. The farmers knew this and knew that it would be better long term, but paying some now hurts more than ending up paying more later.