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Design for humans by humans


iDE has always operated under the ethos of talking to the people who have the problem and listening to what they have to say. We believe that people are more likely to invest their money in a solution that comes from their own ideas, and from their true aspirations. That solution is more likely to be sustainable and cost-effective, too.

In northern Ghana, our in-depth market research helped us zero in on a specific type of customer: adults who had moved from rural areas to larger towns and cities in search of salaried employment. These young workers are often looking for ways to use their income to provide a better life for their families back home, and especially for their parents. A clean, functional toilet is one way to improve quality of life for their families, but the market wasn’t offering any attractive options. The two options that were available were on the extremes—low-quality latrines that did nothing to discourage odors or repel flies versus porcelain flush toilets that require water-line connections, making them both ill-suited to rural markets and often more costly than what these young workers could afford.

iDE’s team in Ghana used HCD principles to gather feedback about conditions in Ghana as well as what people desired, then designed an aspirational yet affordable hygienic toilet that filled this market gap. The “Sama Sama” is a porcelain and tile flush toilet that separates human waste from the environment—minimizing smells and flies—and is attractive and modern-looking. In short, it is unlike anything else on the market at its price. iDE began selling the toilet  in October 2016 and had nearly 100 customers in the first three months, with customers reporting that the Sama Sama provides them with a safe, comfortable alternative to open defecation. Scale-up activities—recruiting sales agents, training suppliers, and building word-of-mouth through targeted marketing—is now underway.

Many doubted that people living on $2 or less per day would spend money on a toilet. We proved them wrong. Our approach starts with consumers—understanding their needs, desires, and social norms.

iDE PC Human Centered Design Extended Caption

(Photo by David Graham/iDE)

Design can change lives when it responds to the needs and desires of real people. We use Human-Centered Design (HCD) to create beneficial products and services that people want to buy and businesses want to sell.

HCD is a systematic method for acquiring a deep understanding of customers, their environments, and their routines in order to create innovative solutions to the problems that they face. Major corporations have used HCD for decades to create products that have revolutionized industries (e.g., Apple, IKEA). iDE applies the same design skills to problems that are of life-and-death importance to people at the base of the economic pyramid. We begin with careful listening to learn about the needs and aspirations of poor rural customers. We then use these insights to iteratively generate, prototype, and refine solutions that improve lives and livelihoods. We consider the entire user experience from how a solution is built to how it is promoted, financed, delivered, serviced, and more. HCD is a critical tool for creating elegant solutions that work smoothly for end customers and for the supply-chain enterprises that make and sell them.

In essence, HCD is a methodology that gives customers a voice in the products and services they buy, resulting in higher adoption rates and profitable business models. We co-design with our users, giving them the opportunity to help create the products that can change their future.

HCD consists of three phases—

  1. Hear—Listen to the needs, aspirations, barriers, and motivators of everyone involved.
  2. Create—Explore multiple ideas and test them quickly, through simple prototypes, to arrive at a desirable and feasible solution.
  3. Deliver—Design a viable business model that will sustainably deliver the product or service to customers

Instead of designing better computers and couches, iDE has become a leader in applying HCD to help solve some of the world’s toughest challenges in sanitation and agriculture. We knew if we thought about the world’s poorest as customers rather than as recipients of charity, we could break through many barriers and create products and services that are feasible, desirable, and viable in the developing world.

Today, we are on a path to embed the HCD approach into each of our country offices.

Localized contexts, holistic solution—

HCD provides the insights that enable iDE to produce tangible results in the field. Scalable solutions are at the intersection of three lenses:

  • Desirability (Social)—What do users need and want? What are the drivers and barriers to adoption? What incentives drive their decisions? What is the entire user experience like, from the moment they are exposed to the solution to their ongoing use and maintenance?
  • Feasibility (Technical)—What can be done technically? Will this technology work locally?
  • Viability (Economic)—What is financially and economically viable? Is there a financing model and incentive structure that allows this solution to be sustained for as long as it is needed?

These solutions can be for both existing and new markets; they can be new solutions or modifications to existing ones; they can be products, services, business models, and programs. The important thing is that they are holistic, addressing the customer, the supply chain, and the marketing mix (product, price, promotion, and distribution).


Read More

Design for Developing Countries

Establishing a methodology for Human-Centered Design in a challenging context

In 2009, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded a collaboration that combined experience and wisdom of designers and field staff that eventually coalesced into the HCD Toolkit, a methodology specifically for organizations working with poor communities to create products that are feasible, desirable, and viable.


Read more: How human-centered design was adapted for use in developing contexts