Dr. G. Venkataswamy (Dr. V), founder of the remarkable Aravind Eye Care Systemthat makes high-quality eye care accessible to low income customers, asked thequestion, “Why can’t the principles of McDonald’s be applied to eye care?” Askingthis question led him to creative ideas about efficient, high-quality care that havehad untold impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of the poor of South India.
Get close to the lives of those you are trying to serve.
Understand their actual needsrather than posing a hypothesis about what they
need. All successfulinnovations balance the requirements of desirability (what people need), feasibility (what technology can do), and viability (what is sustainable or profitable). Designthinking starts with what is desirable, not what is feasible, in order to seek out the best opportunities to create value and impact for the user.
Build to think and launch to learn
. Use prototyping, not speculation, to learn aboutthe viability of ideas and to evolve them toward fitter solutions. Launch simple ideasearly but structure to learn from these experiments and iterate the ideas quickly.Through our work with a US-based consumer goods company, we tried to understand what people in rural Ghana would pay for in terms of health and beauty products. We asked many questions, but not until we set up a mock shop on the side of theroad in a village did we understand that people would pay more for some higher-quality, branded products, such as vitamins and toothbrushes, and were reluctant topay for others, such as detergent and toothpaste. This market knowledge allowed usto recommend a basket of goods, a pricing strategy, and a branding direction to theclient, who has now effectively established a microfranchising business.
See the entire business system as a design opportunity
. Products and services may be at the core of what poor people need, but often the surrounding infrastructure of distribution, communications and marketing, support services, and business modelsare the least well developed and offer the most potential for innovation.In Kumasi, Ghana, we worked with Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor todesign a toilet and system around it for in-home, urban sanitation. We first designedthe service and business offering, which led to the pricing, branding, and, finally,design of the product. This offering is now being tested in 100 Kumasi households, with plans to expand to 10,000 households in the near future.
Teach a person to fish….
Sometimes the end solution is not the only benefit of design thinking. We have found that designing effective tools for others to design with can have significant impact. Not every nonprofit has access to designers;indeed, there are far too few designers focused on solving challenges in the socialsector. To help mitigate this deficit, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded aproject to create the Human-Centered Design Toolkit to act as a field guide for NGOsand non-profits looking to innovate. The toolkit has been downloaded well over60,000 times and used to support projects such as the design of a maternal hospitalin Nepal, a cooperative of weavers in Rwanda, water distribution managementsystems in Malawi, and hand washing stations in Vietnam.Given the scale and diversity of social challenges facing us today, ranging fromclimate change to failing education systems to threatened food, water, and energy supplies, to chronic health “pandemics,” I would argue it makes sense to use every approach we have in the toolbox to seek out new solutions to improve the state of the
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