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)