TF: IDEO is responsible for design innovations like the original Apple mouse and the Palm V, but you claim to be more interested in what the design profession can do to solve global issues. What is the IDEO ethos?
JW: IDEO began 30 years ago by designing products like those you mention. However, over time we've applied the approach of human-centred design to services, spaces, businesses and systems. We believe in the power of design thinking to enrich and transform, and to take on big challenges that the world faces, from climate change to education and health care to financial inclusion.
TF: What specifically does IDEO do?
JW: IDEO is an innovation and design firm. We work with our clients to develop innovative solutions to address the challenges faced by their organizations. Our clients range from Fortune 500 companies, such as the Bank of America, Nokia and Kaiser Permanente, to social sector organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, American Red Cross and Oxfam, and public sector institutions like the World Bank, the United States Department of Energy and the United Kingdom's National Health Service.
We take our clients through a design process that includes three phases: inspiration, ideation and implementation. In the inspiration phase, we go out into the world and talk with and observe customers or users to understand their needs. We then brainstorm and come up with a number of solutions and refine a select few into visually represented concepts. Finally, we work with our clients to develop an implementation plan to pilot-test and then scale the concept.
TF: What innovations has IDEO delivered in developing countries?
JW: We are currently working with Acumen Fund on a water project in India and Kenya [see box: The Ripple Effect]. We have developed a social marketing campaign to spread awareness about the importance of drinking safe water and a water delivery business and cart for female micro-entrepreneurs to deliver water in slum communities. We also worked with Vision Spring to develop an eye screening camp and eye-care programme for children in rural India. This project included the design of a system to help teachers spread awareness about eye care and conduct preliminary eye screenings with their students. In the United Kingdom, we designed aspects of the new Oxfam charity shops that generate revenue for Oxfam's work worldwide.
TF: How do you think design contributes to the creative industries in developing countries?
JW: As examples, we've had the opportunity to work with local design firms in India, giving us the opportunity to learn about designing for the local context. In other countries, like Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Viet Nam, we've worked with many local organizations to build their design and innovation capabilities through workshops and projects.
TF: In looking for a design solution to a particular problem, how important is an understanding of the cultural context to the outcome?
JW: Understanding the cultural context is a critical aspect of good design. On all projects, we include an anthropologist, psychologist or cognitive scientist to lead the team through the qualitative, observation-based research phase. We always work with local organizations, design firms or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), so they can help us with language and cultural translations.
TF: Have you noticed any trends emerging in your industry that will have an impact on development?
JW: In the past several years, the design industry has become increasingly committed to addressing big challenges in the world. There has been a move within design firms like IDEO to take on these challenges and do more work with public and social sector organizations. …