In-the-field prototyping with Jugaad, MacGyver & me

Another great view into real world design and prototyping by Catapult Design—this time from industrial designer Noel Wilson.  Reposted with permission from Catapult’s blog, originally published here.

The value of a prototype is in what it can test. It isn’t always necessary to make it pretty, nor to make it function, it totally depends on what you are trying to learn from it. On a frugal budget, be it of time or funds, one prototype can be made to test many things, and then adapted again to test even more…but really prototypes were made to be broken, and if they last too long it is a sign you’re either not testing them hard enough or you’ve become too attached.  I admit…after sweating over prototypes late into the night in my makeshift workshops (set  up in hallways, bedrooms, bathrooms etc) and scrutinizing them for days or weeks, it is hard to let them go, let alone batter them until they fail. But tough love is justified in this case

Prep for the next days prototyping
– Preparing for the next day’s prototyping

On this trip I was headed to Rajasthan with Wello to visit a  mix of communities around Jodhpur & Udaipur to tune their device to better suit peoples needs and environment (see our Wello project page). I had to carry my kit on some challenging modes of transport to slice, melt, join, flatten, form, twist and repair our prototypes as we broke them.

Continue reading

Insights from Embrace on Design for Social Impact

The following is reposted with permission from Embrace.  The original post appears here, originally published June 27, 2011.  

The Embrace Infant Warmer (profiled here on BoP Designer) is a low cost alternative to traditional incubators with many other benefits. In this insightful post, Embrace’s designers answer questions about design thinking and what it means to have been selected as a finalist for the INDEX 2011 design awards, asked by Embrace’s Business Development Manager, Ana Manzur-Allan:

Ana: Somebody said that to be an effective designer for social impact, we need to be humble listeners and fearless leaders, all at the same time, which is no easy feat. What are your thoughts on this?

Eu-wen: The person who said this was Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H Design and she is absolutely right. One of the key difficulties we face in our work is that the vision we have of the future, the vision that inspires and drives us in our work, is a fiction that many of our users and external stakeholders find difficult to be able to share with us. Our users grow up under severe resource constraints, and tightly circumscribed sociocultural norms. Opportunity to dream of something better is a luxury that we take for granted, but is often not even a rewarding exercise for people like our users because more often than not, that is exactly what it turns out to be for them – a dream.

Thus it is rare for us to be able to effectively co-create with our users, especially under the kind of pressing timelines that we put on ourselves (change should have happened yesterday, and I am impatient). The only viable strategy to create effective design for social impact, is then to carefully understand our users as best we can, in ways that they might not even be able to imagine themselves because we are imagining them interacting in a future with a new product that does not really exist yet. It then becomes our terrifying responsibility to take this understanding, and boldly make design decisions on behalf of our user. I guess I actually would tweak Pilloton’s statement to say “bold” rather than “fearless” because especially where Embrace is concerned, developing medical devices for social impact, failures in our design’s usability can lead to exposing infants to more harm than good, and so it is with no small amount of both boldness and trepidation that I craft my design.

The nutshell is this: Designers and engineers generally do not come from poor villages. They thus need the humility and tremendous empathy to understand their users who come from completely different backgrounds and often utilize very different mental models to understand and frame their world. Bold leadership is thus especially necessary when you consider how audacious and presumptuous one must be to create a design for people so unlike yourself. Continue reading

Intuition and Decision-Making

Here are some good thoughts from a post from The 99 Percent, “Don’t Overthink It: 5 Tips for Daily Decision-Making.”  This point seems especially relevant for designers and problem solvers working in development and unfamiliar contexts.

3. The three kinds of intuition.

In the creative and business worlds, you hear a lot of talk about intuition, and “trusting your gut.” But what does that really mean? It’s less simple than you might think. Columbia Business School professor William Duggan believes that there are three different types of intuition:

“Ordinary intuition is just a feeling, a gut instinct. Expert intuition is snap judgments, when you instantly recognize something familiar, the way a tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of the opponent’s racket… The third kind, strategic intuition, is not a vague feeling, like ordinary intuition. Strategic intuition is a clear thought… That flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been on your mind for a month.
…


“Expert intuition is always fast, and it only works in familiar situations. Strategic intuition is always slow, and it works for new situations, which is when you need your best ideas.



“This difference is crucial, because expert intuition can be the enemy of strategic intuition. As you get better at your job, you recognize patterns that let you solve similar problems faster and faster. That’s expert intuition at work. In new situations your brain takes much longer to make enough new connections to find a good answer. A flash of insight happens in only a moment, but it may take weeks for that moment to come. You can’t rush it. But your expert intuition might see something familiar and make a snap judgment too soon. The discipline of strategic intuition requires you recognize when a situation is new and turn off your expert intuition. You must disconnect the old dots, to let new ones connect on their own.”

Takeaway: We should trust our expert intuition (based on experience) when making choices about familiar problems. But when we need a break-through solution, we shouldn’t be too quick to jump to conclusions.

View the other 4 tips on The 99 Percent >>

(Image credit: The 99 Percent)

The LeafBed: A Cardboard Bed for Humanitarian Use

This one comes from The GUST Project, with a heads-up from @raovallabh.

The LeafBed, designed by Julien Sylvain and Leaf Supply, is a modular bed made of custom-cut and folded cardboard.  Multiple blocks join together to create the desired length of the bed and they are strong enough (with perpendicular criss-crossing cardboard struts inside) to withstand a hefty amount of weight from people sleeping, standing and sitting on them.  The LeafBed is intended for temporary use in humanitarian and disaster situations.  The blocks can also be used as table stands and temporary seating, for example.

As the video says, cardboard furniture is not a new concept, but what has been used in the past for humanitarian purposes is usually coated to be water-resistant.  The LeafBed doesn’t bother with additional coating, opting instead to use standard corrugated cardboard which allows them to be manufactured by any cardboard maker much closer to where the beds are needed.  This shortens shipping distances significantly, which speeds delivery to disaster-affected areas and cuts costs for Leaf Supply and for buyers.  It also prioritizes giving business to local cardboard manufacturers, which is a positive element for helping local economies, especially during or after a crisis.

The problem is that until now, cardboard furniture wasn’t made with standard packaging cardboard, but with treated cardboard which withstands water and humidity. Our innovation has been to produce furniture with standard packaging cardboard in order to use the cardboard industry, which is already present in every country.

I like the sound of the designers’ choice to forego weather treatment in favor of allowing local production and recycling after use.  It shows bigger-picture consideration and a confidence of not trying to be something more than what it really is—a temporary bed made of paper.  LeafBeds probably aren’t right for wet climates or on wet floors, but field tests in Niger show impressive durability even after six months of use.

The next natural questions would be first, how well these cardboard beds meet real needs—how well do they function, and how happy are people with them?  Then, what measures does Leaf Supply take to try to ensure a sustainable and socially responsible product life cycle from start to finish?  Issues like where the paper pulp comes from, what chemicals are used and how they’re disposed of, and what happens to the Leafbeds after their use are all important to try to steer for a holistic, responsible solution.  I’m sure using many different manufacturers presents a challenge.  Creator Julien Sylvain says he’d like Leaf Supply “to be the first socially responsible supplier of humanitarian equipment,” and that’s certainly a good sign.

According to Leaf Supply’s field tests, out of 75 users interviewed after 6 months of using LeafBeds in Niamey, Niger: 99% of users use the LeafBed as a bed (rather than using the blocks for other purposes), 74% of users use additions like a mattress, blankets or mats, and 99% report being satisfied after 1, 3 and 6 months of use.

Has anyone seen these in action?  I’d love to know more about what users think and hear about how they do in different circumstances.  Leave a comment below if so.

For more on the Leafbed, visit their profile page on GUST’s website, or Leaf Supply’s website itself.

For more examples of social innovators around Asia captured by a group of dynamic and wandering near-college-grads, check out The GUST Project.  Looks like cool stuff so far.

Photos provided by Leaf Supply

Micro Manuals for 4 Earth Building Techniques

Forwarded to me by Dhruv Chandra Sud—thanks Dhruv!

Self help construction booklets from barefoot architect Sourabh Phadke are the best way to get started on your love affair with mud building. Although based in Pune (where he also teaches ecology at the AmanSetu school), Sourabh has been advocating natural building & self help construction in several parts of India. Best of all these delightful and informative primers can be downloaded FREE!

From Sourabh:

“This series of five booklets intends to introduce you to four earth construction techniques that have been instrumental in shaping the world that we live in.

These tiny booklets are designed to deliver just about enough information to give you a flavour of the subject matter, but to keep you hungry for more! And although not strictly necessary, this mucky matter could be consumed with the natural additive provided (for better digestion).”

Click on the images below to download the PDF’s (2.9–3.6 MB each):

You can also find these micro-manuals and more on Sourabh’s website.  Happy building!

Nubian Vault Building Technique – Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN)

I was recently contacted by Antoine Horellou and made aware of Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN). The following is an introduction to the technique and the organization based on information provided on AVN’s website (which is also available in French). Thanks, Antoine, for letting us know.

Nubian vault technique - Association la Voute Nubienne

The Nubian Vault is “an affordable, sustainable, African building technique.” It uses mud bricks and earth mortar, assembling them into arched, vaulted ceilings without the need for timber. Water- and weatherproofing is incorporated into design with plastic sheeting and an additional layer of enriched mud mortar covering the roof and optional additional concrete, lime or tar finishes, depending on need based on local conditions.

Continue reading

Communication Design: Living Graffiti

For those who might like to use more moss in their messaging:

moss graffiti - how to

This DIY tutorial comes from a book called More Show Me How and you can view larger, clearer graphic and step-by-step instructions from the book here on Popular Mechanics.  One of eight selections from the book, you can also learn how to make a metal detector, a backyard raku kiln, and a pretty labor-intensive, maybe safe and effective bed warmed by hot coals in the wilderness.

Thanks to Street Art in Germany for posting this on Facebook, and Nils Klinkenberg for passing it on.

Design for Social Impact 2.0 [Catapult Design]

Following up on a recent post, Heather Fleming of Catapult Design shares her thoughts as an attendee of the Social Impact Design Summit on February 27.  The following was originally published on Catapult’s blog, reposted here with permission.

Last week Cooper-Hewitt and the National Endowment for the Arts hosted a “Social Impact Design Roundtable” with the gracious support of several foundations.  The premise for the day was defined by three questions:

  1. Where are the gaps in socially responsible design?  What are the biggest challenges?
  2. What are organizational models of successful and sustainable ways of working in socially responsible design?
  3. How can we effectively prepare future generations of designers for this growing area of design?

So what were some of the outputs from the roundtable?  Expect a whitepaper synopsis by Julie Lasky available on the web in the next few months.  But in case your expectations are high, there wasn’t any particularly new information revealed at the session.  In the past four convenings I’ve attended, we’ve identified more or less the same challenges:

Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking

The following post is by Michael Michalko, originally published on Psychology Today.  It has been reposted here with his permission.  You can find past and future posts by Michael in his blog, Creative Thinkering, on Psychology Today.

Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking

Aspects of creative thinking that are not usually taught.

1.  You are creative. The artist is not a special person, each one of us is a special kind of artist. Every one of us is born a creative, spontaneous thinker. The only difference between people who are creative and people who are not is a simple belief. Creative people believe they are creative. People who believe they are not creative, are not. Once you have a particular identity and set of beliefs about yourself, you become interested in seeking out the skills needed to express your identity and beliefs. This is why people who believe they are creative become creative. If you believe you are not creative, then there is no need to learn how to become creative and you don’t. The reality is that believing you are not creative excuses you from trying or attempting anything new. When someone tells you that they are not creative, you are talking to someone who has no interest and will make no effort to be a creative thinker. Continue reading