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Learn by doing

iDE immerses Global Good engineers in design thinking


Above all things, human-centered design is a mindset, and at its core, is empathy—the software that must be understood before you design the hardware. 

iDE was approached in 2017 by the Seattle-based Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, where scientists and engineers working with IV’s Global Good fund asked, “How might we be more human-centered in our approach to engineering and product design?” 

Our response: Learn by doing. The only way, we said, is to see for yourself how customers in the poorest locations live and work. To truly understand the principles and mechanics of the human-centered design methodology you have to go through it, in the field, yourself. 

ENGINEER, MEET DESIGNER

Vishal Raj (left) is the iDesign Ghana Director. He led the Global Good engineer team through a methodology to explore this question: How might resource-smart technology contribute to more productive water use?

360 Immersion Photo Call Out

The iDE Immersion Bootcamp

iDE designed an immersion program to help engineers and designers understand their users at a deeper level in order to improve their skills in design. The program includes: administering in-field qualitative user interviews; analysis & synthesis of collected data; storytelling; generating user insights; and developing frameworks including user personas, user journeys, and stakeholder maps.

Global Good already knew that good and commercially viable design at the last mile can be the difference between life and death, food security or insecurity, clean or dirty water.  So, within a few weeks, eight people from Global Good were on a plane headed for northern Ghana for a 14-day immersion training program into human-centered design.

Abby Nydam, iDE’s Global Design Director, interviewed a couple of the participants after the immersion program in order to learn how they planned to put in practice the principles of human-centered design in their daily work.

“I have greater confidence as a designer and engineer now that I understand customers better.” 

-Shannon Stone, PhD, Engineer​, Global Good

How to write user interviews that cut through preconceptions

Prior to joining the immersion program, Shannon Stone said, “My perception about human-centered design was that it was useful but also an unknown tool, at least to me, for gaining insight into the target user.” Although he had prior experience researching dairy value chains in Kenya and Uganda and mosquito-proof housing in the Gambia, human-centered design was an unfamiliar concept. 

With iDE, Shannon learned how to write an interview guide and administer one to users in the field. His “aha” moment was during a session with farmers testing a prototype for grain-moisture measurements that relied on color and symbol coding to represent various stages of plant health (i.e., alive, dying, and dead). Shannon said, “We saw how differently farmers see colors, symbols, and their meanings—and how different that was from my own understanding.” 

When to build low-resolution prototypes for faster user feedback 

Originally from Hong Kong, Chin Hei Ng has been with Intellectual Ventures/Global Good for the past two years, where he focuses on the design and engineering of life-saving medical devices that can be used in low-resource settings. However, Chin had never spent time in a developing country before. A major takeaway from his experience in Ghana was the need to build low resolution prototypes and iterate based on user feedback. Chin said that while Global Good builds highly functioning prototypes for the field to gather data and user feedback, intermediate prototypes could be very valuable to validate critical assumptions before fully committing to the more expensive ones.  

“The BOP population are the people in need of help, as such, we sometimes think we know what’s best for them. However, after this experience, I realize they are no different than us, in that they are creators, innovators and problem solvers. Because of that, coupled with their unique situation (unique to us), they might do things in ways that we didn’t anticipate, which would have major impact on the product design.” 

-Chin Hei Ng, Engineer​, Global Good

Discoveries and comments like these from Shannon and Chin illustrate the power of immersive training. The value of the experience goes far beyond the individual participants, as the lessons learned will affect future products and services that will find their way into the hands of rural people around the world. 

Immersion 360 for your team

If you or your company is interested in your own immersive training in applying design thinking in developing markets, email our Global Design Director, Abby Nydam.



Tagged: Ghana, Design, Africa

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