Friday, February 13, 2009

Design That Matters

Yesterday, CSU was lucky to host Tim Prestero, CEO of Design That Matters (DtM). This is a non-profit design firm, based in the Boston area, that works with social enterprises in developing countries. Tim's firm is a TechAward Laureate, and he is a Draper Richards fellow.

But more importantly, Tim is a BOPreneur. With humor and humility, he shared his story and his work with our students and faculty. His focus was how to design both for "the world we have, and for the world we want."

I will briefly summarize a few points I took from his talk, with the caveat that listening to Tim is way better than reading Paul.

- His "A Ha" Moment. In the Peace Corps he found that what he had learned in engineering school didn't help him know the right thickness of concrete to keep a latrine from collapsing. He'd "gotten all the way through what (he) thought was a good education, and didn't know anything" that could help him try to make the world a better place. And he decided that his life would not be dedicated to "saving the world... one latrine at a time."

-Some Deserve to Die. In the first five years of life, companies often die for the wrong reasons. Feuding founders, doing their own taxes, hiring poorly. But in the next five years, companies often die for the right reasons. Mainly for not making things that people need and can afford.

-Ordinary Heroes. He is frustrated by the "myth making quality" of the field of social entrepreneurship. He survived the many blunders of the early days of DtM through "mulish persistence and a willingness to learn." He encouraged the group to read Jessica Livingston's book Founders at Work to get another perspective on starting a company.

-Stupid Designer Tricks. He discouraged students from doing design stunts ("hey, what if we used trained squirrels") or "Robinson Crusoe" type designs which adhere to local material availablility beyond reason. He gave examples, but I won't share them in order to protect him from being chased by said squirrels and appropriate technology nuts.

-Point of View. DtM process is to start with a problem, and deeply understand the context through discussions with customers and users. They look for variance in opinions (for instance, the doctors like the idea, but not the nurses). This allows them to arrive at a point of view, a statement of the user-context-need. His example for an infant incubator (Nepal): The user was "doctors and nurses at good regional clinics" and the need was "a locally serviceable isolette to assist in thermoregulation for low birthweight infants of 32 weeks of gestational age."

-Mapping a Twisted Mind. From there, they use mind maps to generate lots of ideas. The idea is to fail quickly, and dispose of most of the ideas, or as he eloquently put it, "don't polish your turds." He encouraged the audience to share ideas with others quickly, whether business plans, product concepts, etc. and warned them of the dangerous echo chamber of keeping ideas within their team.

-Link the Chain. Design with an understanding of who will "use-choose-pay the dues" and approve the product. If anyone in this chain says "no", the product will not get used. [this echoed Andy Hargadon's suggestions last week to design products that easily embed into existing systems]

-Don't Be (too) Small. For products, there is a "minimum efficient scale" (if you go smaller, it won't work in the system). It is up to the designer to understand this and not go smaller just to be clever.

-Focus (the F Bomb). He advocated "functional idealism." Rather than chasing big problems all over the place, ask: "what is the same thing I can do well over and over again." For DtM, that is user centered design for developing world. As he put it "Ideo at 10 cents on the dollar."

-Presto. Last, but not least, my favorite Prestero-ism from yesterday: "Doing good is no reason to run a bad business."
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NOTE: Tim doesn't really look like this picture, but he must have looked like this some time. It does give him a rakish, BOPreneur look.

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