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