How “Design Thinking” Impacts Developing Economies

As a first generation American, I have always been influenced by my parents, who continue to be a powerful example for me. Having faced cultural discrimination, they were forced to flee to the United States with practically nothing. They arrived here, to the land of opportunity, with an entrepreneurial spirit and made a success of their lives. Having learned from my parents’ difficulties in their native land before they came to the U.S., I empathize with people in developing countries. Given my family’s background, my fundamental desire in life is to help other people who are struggling to survive in underdeveloped nations.

As a future entrepreneur, one of my ambitions is to improve living standards in developing countries. I am learning one of the tools that can be used to achieve this in the MBA in Design Strategy (DMBA). It is called Design Thinking.

Design Thinking involves generating a multitude of “out of the box” ideas, building on these ideas, deferring judgment, and arriving at a consensus. According to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, it is “a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” By understanding these principles, I began to see how business methods, sustainability (viability within a particular environment), strategy, and communication are fundamental to Design Thinking and can be used in global development projects. I am immersed in this learning experience at DMBA comprehending how to apply these skill-sets to participate in and contribute to social change in developing countries.

I consider Design Thinking to be like a “language.” In the same way that my parents grasped a new language quickly (English), I grasped Design Thinking quickly. Engaging in conversations and multidisciplinary collaborative practices with my peers and with the DMBA faculty, who are established design thinkers, has brought me an awareness of the necessary skills and learning methodology required to become a design thinker.

One great example of applying Design Thinking is Emily Pilloton´s Hippo Roller project. Pilloton is the founder of the organization Project H, and works at the Kgautswane community in Africa. The Hippo Roller is a simple barrel device that transports water efficiently to villages in rural parts of Africa. Using both Design Thinking and simple technology, she has helped to improve the design of the Hippo Roller and found an effective way to get water into the hands of those who need it, bypassing traditional methods of transportation. Pilloton led collaborative brainstorming sessions to develop concepts with Engineers Without Borders to lower costs of production and shipping. Project H is funding Hippo Rollers for 17 villages and provides consequential benefits: raising livestock and crops, providing additional time for education, and establishing opportunities for local entrepreneurship. This project illustrates how a product that benefits a developing country requires compatibility with the local environment and cultural standards, amongst other factors and how design thinking is highly innovative in this respect.

As a young adult, I understand how people my age, who are embarking on a new career, have great aspirations for success. Challenges and tribulations of the commercial world might provide excitement, but often don’t provide inner satisfaction. Many define success in monetary terms, while others define success in humanitarian terms. For those who want to follow a more humanitarian type of career, combined with the spirit of an entrepreneur, I believe that Design Thinking is a useful tool. There are wonderful opportunities waiting to be discovered. Entrepreneurial endeavors that involve Design Thinking can provide the ultimate achievements in personal satisfaction and a sense of service often lacking in society.

Eric Dorf believes the goods and services we produce should benefit both people and the environment. He holds both Digital Media and Graphic Design degrees and is currently working towards an MBA in Design Strategy degree at California College of the Arts. His focus is to continually create responsible new products, help to build strong organizations, and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.