Culture Design Innovation

The Crossroads of Design & Social Impact

“At this point in my career I want to work exclusively on tackling the root causes and complex systems that require an integrated approach to problem solving,” says Robert Fabricant in an interview with Allan Chochinov, Chair of the MFA Design Graduate Program at the School of Visual Arts. Co-founder of the Design Impact Group (DIG) at Dalberg Global Advisors with a persona that is eerily similar to Steve Jobs, Fabricant and fellow co-founder Ravi Chattpar have spearheaded DIG’s efforts at Human Centered Design—an approach to product design that integrates customer feedback throughout the process.

Human Centered Design Strategy Source: Dalberg Design Group
Human Centered Design Strategy
Source: Dalberg Design Group

The threat of this innovative design concept fading into oblivion is miniscule because of independent policy researcher CGAP’s (Consultative Group to Assist the Poor) experimentation at a multilateral scale. Since 2011, CGAP has applied HCD tools to 7 projects in 8 different countries, including Kenya, Pakistan, and Brazil. CGAP’s pursuit of financial inclusion objectives has led to the development of 175 concepts and 30 product prototypes in unbanked regions. The esoteric think tank has tried to draw insights on financial practices among the bottom of the pyramid—typically defined as those below the poverty line—through collective information gathering from targeted groups. Among other insights unearthed, trends related to the continued usage of cash, pooled resources and lack of trust in financial providers have paved the way for CGAP’s future financial prototypes.

Popularized by global design firm IDEO as a part of its 2009 tool-kit to provide solutions in the developing world, Human Centered Design has weathered the banality of Social Impact lingo to retain the essence of what it attempts to do. An evolving concept, HCD is repeatedly touted as a people-centric approach to designing solutions for end users by CGAP and IDEO—titans of the social impact space. The process involves constant re-modification of product prototypes by incorporating customer feedback to produce commercially viable products. Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation have been at the core of IDEO’s design process. Prototype design in the Inspiration phase involves exposure to grassroots level feedback and inputs from bottom of the pyramid customers through interviews, surveys and a user shadow process. Designers develop an intuitive understanding of needs and follow through with the iteration of products using the feedback loop. The implementation phase finally entails product distribution through partnership building.

The use of design to achieve social impact has elements of a novelty and holds the promise of eminence, making Dalberg’s foray into the space exciting to watch. In collaboration with CGAP and Frog Design, DIG developed a suite of products using the people centric approach for the Indonesian Consumer Bank MTPN and its customers. In an effort to revitalize the BTPN Wow! mobile wallet launched by the bank in 2012, extensive work over a three week period led to the creation of disruptive products to support financial inclusion. Recognition of the role of dreams in Indonesian culture, for instance propagated the creation of Dream Package: Paket Impian, a service to help customers build credit history, financial reputation and design payment plans. An informative series of agent games, Perbandingan Harga was another byproduct of the design process with huge value add for BTPN recruitment and training for the distribution of these financial inclusion products.

Adopting a human centered design strategy is not only capital intensive, it also runs the risk of delaying product launches in underserved geographic regions. Yet this feedback-centered approach has potential to generate tangible impact that mirrors the needs of underserved people. It is exciting to see continued interest in prototypes founded on Human Centered Design.