20 November 2009

Tweet Translations: The Number 25

After my talk at Practivism II last night, a few people tweeted this quote so I wanted to clarify its source and some of my thoughts around it for those who weren't able to attend.

If you haven't had good conversations, with your eyes open, with at least twenty-five poor people before you start designing, don't bother.

This quote comes from Paul Polak's book, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. It contains an amazing amount of information for a designer who has interest in designing with rural communities. In one section, Polak suggests there are some basic principles when designing for the “other 90%.” The former quote represents one of them.

The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%. (Polak)

His recommended design principles put the poor customer at the centre of the design process in order to develop the most sustainable offerings. To know your customer, you need to talk to your customer. I'm not sure why he suggests that it should be twenty-five people. I don't know that it's a magical number but I'll assume that talking to more people will help overcome the large assumptions that can surface after only talking to one or two. It may take more time but this is a much better option; otherwise, we have the potential to waste a lot of money and time on a product or service that won't actually be useful or successful.

At my talk last night, I suggested that if we are to design appropriately at this time in history, it shouldn't matter what demographic we are working with - talking with and including people in the process will be a key to the quality of deliverables we produce. My work in Rwanda forced me to consider how to have these good conversations when language was not shared. I highlighted how this diversity of language and culture we exist in requires us to think creatively about the best ways to design and deliver appropriate solutions in this very global world.

If you're interested in more, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum has presented a wonderful exhibit on what this type of design could look like.

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