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We live in a new age where globalization & capitalism must harmonize with social good.


A new mindset for product designers by Ehsan Noursalehi

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We live in a new age where globalization & capitalism must harmonize with social good.


A new mindset for product designers by Ehsan Noursalehi

 

This website is a guide on how to make products that matter

It is time to put an end to useless products designed for people in crummy situations  

Technology has unleashed a new age of possibility and potential. More and more successful companies like Google and Facebook are relying on "poor" users in developing countries as significant sources of revenue. How? They create great designs for everyone. These global products treat humans as humans - people as people with needs and desires. These global heuristics are breaking down traditional economic, social, cultural, and geographic barriers of discrimination in product design.

 

WHY DO MINDSETS MATTER?

Is the glass half full or half empty? Product design mindsets have exponential impacts that directly alter the lives of millions of people around the world.

WHO IS THIS MINDSET FOR?

This website is a tool for people who fundamentally care about their world and the world around them. This is both for humanitarians and entrepreneurs. 

 

 

WHERE DID THIS COME FROM?

This project emerged from the frustrations of numerous products being designed every year and given away for free to people that don't want them.  

 

 
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Good intentions + wrong mindset = bad design


Don't waste time and money making a bad product that no one wants!

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Good intentions + wrong mindset = bad design


Don't waste time and money making a bad product that no one wants!

Examples of Useless Design

Just because a product has a social mission doesn't mean the product is great. 

LN-4 Prosthetic Hand

A prosthetic hand given away for free by the Ellen Meadows Foundation to poor amputees in need. The intention is good but the product is little more than some plastic and a few velcro straps. The hand is difficult to put on take off and can barely lift more than 5 pounds. 

Soccket Ball

Motivated by the world’s love for soccer, a student team at Harvard started a company and designed a soccer ball to generate electricity for poor kids. They raised over $90,000 on Kickstarter, and received praise from President Obama and the Clinton Foundation for an electricity generating soccer ball that often breaks in a few weeks.

 

Playpump

The PlayPump Water System is intended to use the energy of children at play to operate a water pump. The effort has been very successful in raising millions of dollars in donor funds. In reality, adults are often found struggling to use the inefficient system to pump water. Read more about 10 detailed problems of the PlayPump here

Free Wheelchair Mission

A wheelchair designed and made by the Free Wheelchair Mission organization from readily available plastic chairs, mountain bike tires, castors, and a custom metal frame. Over 700,000 have been distributed in 90 countries - they could have easily and affordably produced a more appropriate and desirable wheelchair.

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Sad Reality:

The reality of objects like the Playpump is that they often do not live up to the glamourous expectation or the representation they are advertised with. 

Read an analysis of this in Borland's PHd Thesis about the Playpump.

 
Too often we objectify people living in poverty. We paint them as two-dimensional characters that we pity.
— Kelsey Timmerman
 

Why are useless products widespread?


The kind of discriminatory mindset that created the products above is encouraged by things like this book by the Smithsonian and a loophole in nonprofit business models. 

 

Bad nonprofits accidentally use the nonprofit's business model as a loophole to only satisfy their donors and ignore their customers. 

Useless products are allowed to exist in this world and be distributed en mass because of nonprofits. Nonprofits are not all bad but a bad nonprofit is very bad. Nonprofits by nature don't sell products to customers that give them feedback. Instead, nonprofits advertise their service to donors, if donors like what they hear, they donate and the nonprofit accordingly gives something away for free. 

Design for the Other 90% and similar ideas of Design for Extreme Affordability, etc encourage designers to care about some of the poorest people in the world, which is what this world needs. However, caring is just the first step.

These ideas also give designers a mindset that looks down on the people they are trying to help and propels a "holier-than thou" atmosphere. These mindsets often, but not always, contribute in producing nothing more than feel-good projects and products that no one desires to own.

Even monkeys know when they are given unfair products. Can you imagine what people think?

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"Great design satisfies both our needs and our desires"


Tim Brown, IDEO

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"Great design satisfies both our needs and our desires"


Tim Brown, IDEO

How to prevent useless products 

Prevent useless products by simultaneously embracing constraints and desires

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Problem: Social product design is often driven by very tough constraints. There is no inherent problem in focusing on constraints. The problem arises when user desires are completely ignored.

The poor are accidentally seen as helpless people that need to be saved who have no agency. This type of design strips humans of their dignity.

 

Solution: Embrace constraints of the developing world and merge it with the typical desires of the first world. Not only can we more frequently avoid bad products, but we can also produce very innovative and meaningful products. 

We can be utilitarian, but we must no longer attempt to address needs while ignoring desires. 

 

 

 

4 Principles of Great Design for Everyone


1. Simultaneously Embrace Desires & Constraints

Create a solution that embraces and satisfies constraints & desires. It must be simultaneous. One cannot ignore the other.

2. Minimize Resource Inefficiencies

Start with a systematic analysis of the product. Use first principles to reinvent problematic aspects.

3. Optimize Value

Provide the maximum functional, social, and emotional value for a minimum initial investment and low long-term maintenance cost.

4. Dignify Everyone

We are all human. Do not discriminate based on geography, culture, or economic status. A homeless person and the President should be treated equally. 

 

 

 

 

Examples of Great Design for Everyone

Have you ever wondered about how a homeless person on the side of the street and the leader of the free world consume the same fizzy soda drink just to have a fleeting moment of happiness? Illustration by Elliot Devries 

Have you ever wondered about how a homeless person on the side of the street and the leader of the free world consume the same fizzy soda drink just to have a fleeting moment of happiness? Illustration by Elliot Devries 

Be hopeful of the future. There are in fact countless great products that do not discriminate based on geography, culture or economic status. We just need more.

I have seen this identical type of plastic chair in photos of the Lagos, Nigeria, city dumps in the Times. A photo of a memorial gathering for a slain Al Qaeda leader in Jordan showed a row of these same chairs in a tent. I own six of these chairs myself. I believe this type of white molded-plastic chair belongs to the growing category of the world’s ubiquitous objects
— Ian Frazier

The quartz Casio brand F-91W digital wristwatch was introduced in 1991 and continues to be a popular product worldwide today. The watch is water-resistant, features a calendar, alarm, stopwatch, and has a battery that last over 7 years. 

The BIC Cristal pen is a tool of utility and creativity. It is highly reliable, stylish, and one of the most affordable ballpoint pens in the world. 

The monobloc polypropylene chair is produced by numerous manufacturers worldwide. It is the world’s most common style of chair. The chairs are very affordable, need no maintenance, can be used in any weather, and are stackable. 

 

A carbonated soft drink sold in over 200 countries worldwide.

According to Interbrand, in 2011, Coca-Cola was the world’s most valuable brand. 

 

Equitable Globalization of Gangnam Style

In the 20th century what might have taken 20 years to spread around the world takes only a few months at most in the 21st. 

In 2012, Gangnam Style took the world by storm. It went around the globe several times over becoming the first YouTube video to have over one billion views. The music video has continued to spread reaching over 1.9 billion views on YouTube – overnight becoming a globalization phenomenon. It is without a doubt a marker in history where there is now a means and interest to instantaneously distribute products, or in this case a digital product, globally to everyone without regard to social, economic, or cultural status. 

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The World is Constantly Changing


 

"Reverse innovation isn’t optional; it’s oxygen"

— JEFF IMMELT, GE  

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The World is Constantly Changing


 

"Reverse innovation isn’t optional; it’s oxygen"

— JEFF IMMELT, GE  

The World is Getting Better

Hans Rosling uses data from 200 countries over 200 years to show how the world we live in is radically different (and better) from the world most of us imagine.

By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.
— Bill Gates

Competition is Evolving

Companies like AppleGoogle, & Facebook know that the future opportunity for market growth is in the developing world. 

Apple was penalized by the stock market recently because their new iPhone 5C was not affordable enough for the growing global population of smart phone consumers. Apple is inherently motivated to sell its products to new consumers in countries like India, Brazil & China.

Google constantly experiments with innovative ways to give internet access to the poorest of the poor in the developing world. Its new line of internet-based Chromebook laptops starting at $199 are advertised heavily as being "Designed for Everyone".

Facebook championed a partnership with Nokia, Opera, Samsung, Qualcomm and numerous others organizations to create Internet.org - "a global partnership working together to bring the internet to the two thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it".

 


GE Is Forced to Disrupt Itself

A traditional non-portable ultrasound machine (left) next to the new portable $7,900 GE Vscan device (right) 

A traditional non-portable ultrasound machine (left) next to the new portable $7,900 GE Vscan device (right) 

Traditional ultrasound devices cost over $100,000 and need an entire hospital room. Traditional devices work great for large hospitals in the US. But in China, hospitals are small and scattered making a large expensive device impossible. When GE glocalized their USA-developed device in China it sold poorly. However, in 2002, a GE team in China developed a new device specifically for China – this device proved not only to do well in China but also in the United States finding new previously unforeseen applications.

GE succeeded in preventing disruption from emerging giants by attempting its own reverse innovation – the outcome is thus a new portable, handheld, and highly effective $7,900 ultrasound machine.

GE has tremendous respect for traditional rivals like Siemens, Philips, and Rolls- Royce. But it knows how to compete with them; they will never destroy GE. By introducing products that create a new price-performance paradigm, however, the emerging giants very well could. Reverse innovation isn’t optional; it’s oxygen
— Jeff Immelt, GE
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How to develop the great design everyone deserves


It is all about having the right mindset

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How to develop the great design everyone deserves


It is all about having the right mindset


THE GREAT DESIGNER'S CREED


We Are All Human

If you start by focusing on poverty, it means that you are focusing on and are biased by inequality. If we instead focus on people first and their commonalities, then we can instead focus on and be biased by equality. 

 

At the core of this thesis is the belief that every person on this planet is a human being. That there are fundamental human needs and desires that unite us all. It is the responsibility of the designer to discover what those needs are and to properly satisfy them through a great product.

 
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Instead of focusing on our mutually exclusive qualities, we can and should focus on our mutually inclusive qualities. 

 

 

Examples of great design for everyone

Here are some good examples of what happens when designers remember that we are all human

These designs simultaneously embrace desires and constraints, minimize resource inefficiencies, optimize value, and dignify everyone

Lifestraw

A portable water filter straw. Instantly filters water using no electricity, UV power, chemicals, etc. Can be used effectively by rural communities or adventurers.

4.7/5 star rating on Amazon out of 2,990 customer ratings. Available for $20. 

GiraDora 

A highly affordable pedal-powered washing machine and dryer. It requires no electricity and is highly portable. This is a major improvement over manual washing methods.

This is a very practical solution for remote villagers, apartment dwellers, and campers.

Concept design & functional prototype. 

BioLite Campstove

A highly portable, electricity producing, and highly efficient wood burning cookstove for use in camping or developing world contexts. The BioLite cookstove weighs 2lbs, runs on twigs, and produces electricity to charge USB powered devices.

4.7/5 star rating on Amazon out of 112 customer ratings. Available for $130. 

 

 

 

One World Futbol

A new type of indestructible soccer ball developed in 2010 by Tim Jahnigen and funded by Chevrolet. The ball is self-inflating, never needs to be pumped up, and consists of an extremely resilient foam material.

In limited global distribution. Buy one give one for $40.


Expanding on the 4 Principles of Great Design for Everyone

1. SIMULTANEOUSLY EMBRACE DESIRES & CONSTRAINTS

Create a solution that embraces and satisfies constraints & desires. It must be simultaneous. One cannot ignore the other.

2. MINIMIZE RESOURCE INEFFICIENCIES

Start with a systematic analysis of the product. Use first principles to reinvent problematic aspects. 

3. OPTIMIZE VALUE

Provide the maximum functional, social, and emotional value for a minimum initial investment and low long-term maintenance cost.

4. DIGNIFY EVERYONE

We are all human. Do not discriminate based on geography, culture, or economic status. A homeless person and the President should be treated equally.


Simultaneously create great designs for rich and poor:

Simultaneously pursue what appear to be competing interests between the Top 10% and Bottom 90% users in order to discover new things, simplify the problem, and finally arrive at the core values that make us all human. It can be a difficult process but, one with great humanitarian and financial rewards. 

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Combine the right mindset with the right techniques:

A great designer will never assume someone will automatically want their product. A great designer knows it is a combination of the right strategies and techniques in an iterative process that helps them arrive at a solution that will have a positive effect on people's lives.

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Keep perspective in mind by using a few numbers:

By definition, there are 9 times more people in the poorer bottom 90% than the top 10%. No matter how rich the top 10% get, they won't buy nearly as many phones as the bottom 90%. Companies like Apple and Samsung cannot ignore that massive potential.  


Discover first principles in order to solve complex problems:

Instead of reasoning by analogy, comparing what you are working on to what you already know, reason by what Elon Musk calls first principles. Instead of using analogies, use a greater level of mental energy to "boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there".


Optimize value like a mathematical equation

Providing products at the lowest price possible is not the most important thing for poor consumers. The Finnish have a saying that “poor people can’t afford cheap things”. Rather than "cheapness", quality and value performance are often the most important factors in the decision making process for consumers regardless of economic status or geographic location.


 

No one wants a shitty product.

The most misleading proposition is the notion that offering a useless product or service for free to people in crummy situations will save the world. 

Question your assumptions and build something that matters.