By Kara Pecknold//
ABSTRACT// This paper reports on a case study that investigated how a low-tech human-centered design process might more adequately prepare a rural community for future design solutions.
During the study, activities were developed to help a designer pursue a visual conversation when working with individuals who do not share the same language or technology in order to discover their needs, assets, beliefs and desires. By introducing these adaptive tools in a development context at the early stages of a design process, a designer is offered new insights. By collaborating with the community on this project, the next stages of the process can see improved focus in order to work toward the most appropriate and sustainable outcomes.
KEYWORDS// Human-centered Design, Participatory, Co-design, Social Innovation Sustainable Development
INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT// In January 2009, a toolkit that included drawing utensils, a single-use camera and a set of twenty-five aspiration cards, was sent to a group of ten women in Rwanda in order to gather insights about how they understand and interpret their personal and community needs. The contents were placed into a bag that was designed to act as both a carrying case and desk to allow for the process to occur during the rituals of daily life. By allowing the participants to be the researchers of their own community, a designer can more accurately assess how design solutions might be appropriately delivered in a cross-cultural context.
During my research, I initiated a brief exchange with Professor Ranjan from the National Institute of Design in India. I asked him about his methodology of “village intervention with design for sustainable living.” (Rajan, 2008) This approach seeks to incubate the ideas within the village in order to progress forward in any design solution. It also suggests that design plays a role in viewing an entire system rather than just its individual parts, which helps reduce misguided design interventions.
An example of an intervention occurred when a village-based Internet kiosk was developed in an attempt to open up communication channels in India: “I saw that they had focused on the technology. Battery backup, heat tolerance and dust resistant casing and all the other front end and back end systems that should make the system work. But it failed. Why? The focus seemed to be on making a robust and low cost solution but I did not hear what the village folks were supposed to do with the whole offering and it seems to me that this may have been the key to the failure of the whole effort: focus on technology and economy and missing the user and their particular condition in the location.”(Ranjan, 2007)
Paul Polak, author of Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail, draws on his twenty-five years of involvement in various developing nations to assess what is needed for these types of programs to work. His principles of design for the underserved provide a sensible gauge for a designer who seeks to offer solutions to an unknown demographic. He suggests that the poor customer should rule the design process and that one needs to have “good conversations, with your eyes open, with at least twenty-five poor people before you start designing.” (Polak, 2008)
CONTENTS AND PROCESS// In light of this understanding, my inquiry focused on tools that could establish a visual conversation around needs and aspirations. Because there was limited access to electricity and no computers or Internet, low-tech options were utilized. A notepad was included as a means of asking participants to draw images of things they thought could be useful for improving their village. A non-flash, single-use camera was repackaged and hosted a list of statements, which prompted a participant to take pictures as she interpreted the meaning of each phrase. The statements ranged from a basic inquiry of where someone might shop to how she might spend the equivalent of a day’s wage (500 francs = $1 US). Aspiration cards, primarily sourced from IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit (IDEO), were included as a means of investigating the usefulness of pre-selected visuals in the assessment. Colored stickers were included as visual cues to code the top six needs and the top six wishes of each person. For a one-week period, ten women accessed these tools during the rituals of their daily routines and the results provided information that could then be developed into valuable design projects.
CONCLUSION// The outcomes of these visual activities helped the designer and the community to understand and prioritize the most appropriate strategies for future innovations before spending time and money on a pre-defined design solution. This form of dialogue offers a means to pursue the initial stages of “village incubation,” where the community is invited to develop their own measurable objectives. From this place, a designer can acquire an understanding of a whole system in order to appropriately develop solutions (technological or otherwise) that are both accessible and relevant to the community.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS// I would like to thank the women who offered their creative energy and insight to this project. With equal respect, I could not have pursued these ideas without the help of two supportive Rwandan translators: Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Magnifique Nzaramba.
- IDEO (Firm). Human-Centered Design Toolkit. Available at: http://www.ideo.com/work/item/human-centered-design-toolkit/
- Polak, Paul. (2008). Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
- Ranjan, MP. World Usability Day at Bangalore: Lecture on Social Equity and Design. Design For India Blog (November 7, 2007), http://design-for-india.blogspot.com/2007/11/world-usability-day-at-bangalore.html (accessed on May 7, 2009).
- Ranjan, MP. Poverty and Design Explored: Context India. Design For India Blog (April 2, 2008) http://design-forindia.blogspot.com/2008/04/poverty-and-design exploredcontext.html.