Design for good
3 keys to creating concepts that impact the world around us
Design for good is the practice of using design for social change or a higher purpose. Designers, and the companies they design for, play a critical role in building the world we live in and the future ahead of us to create positive social impact.
As the transition to a more sustainable and socially conscious economy is under way, design for good has never been more important.
I lead a team of designers who aspire to create products that improve people’s lives. We believe in the mission of design for good and in using our creativity to make a difference. We have been fortunate to work with many entrepreneurs who share the same mission.
From water filters for third world countries to smart wheelchair technology, the common theme we see behind these concepts is passionate entrepreneurs with forward-thinking ideas making a positive contribution.
Colorado-based Vivoblu is an example of a concept steeped in social change. The mission has been to develop a simple and cost-effective clean water solution for communities around the world. Vivoblu founder, John DeYoung, a businessman, entrepreneur, and founder of a non-profit serving the poor of Kolkata India, had been searching for clean water solutions for the students of his schools located in the slums and villages of West Bengal. After traveling to 31 countries and testing various filters over a four-year period, John took his learnings and in 2018 joined forces with product engineers and other team members to create a purpose-built water filter solution for the families in developing countries.
“It’s such a great feeling to have designed a product that will impact millions of people,” says John DeYoung, Co-Founder and CEO of Vivoblu. “What I love about Vivoblu’s filter is how truly purpose-built the final product is. Every aspect of the design is driven by our mission to save lives and bring clean water to children around the world. The collaboration from our design team helped make that mission possible.”
Partnering with people and companies who share a vision for improving the lives of others creates a synergy that becomes bigger than the products themselves.
LUCI has a similar story. The concept for LUCI started with a little girl in a power wheelchair and two brothers who dared to invent smart wheelchair technology to improve her life. Barry and Jered Dean developed LUCI in an effort to bring more stability, security, connectivity and independence to Barry’s daughter, Catherine, a power wheelchair user. When they realized the technology wasn’t available for Catherine or others like her, they created it.
Each test wheelchair used in the design and development process was named for the previous owner with their names stitched into the fabric of the chair. This helped the entire team weave the users’ stories and experiences into the design process and final product.
“I don’t think you can make a good product of you’re not focused on the end user and the end users experience and their emotions,” said Jared Dean, CTO, LUCI.
We believe there are several key components to helping entrepreneurs deliver solutions to market that are not only designed for good but also meet the needs of the market.
1. Understand the End User
New concepts often begin with solving a problem. This is where understanding the end user comes in. To truly design and deliver a successful product to market, it is imperative to understand either through personal connection or experiences, how it impacts the end user.
Empathy can be a powerful tool to help entrepreneurs, designers and teams look at solutions from different angles and from the perspective of the user to make the concept more personal and impactful.
2. Invest in Research & Development
Investing in research and development is critical to position a concept for success by identifying vulnerabilities, variables and direct impact. A thorough design and testing process will also help mitigate potential roadblocks to a successful product launch for both start-ups and established brands.
For example, research the latest materials and manufacturing processes that are more environmentally friendly than the tradition methods. Have your design team trained in the latest design thinking principals and human centered design.
Develop a product development strategy that is focused on design for good, answering some of these questions early in the process: Who will the product be used by? What is the need? How will the product be used or re-used? How and where will it be manufactured? What materials will be used? And, how will the product be disposed at the end of its life cycle?
We answer these questions through ethnographic research, ergonomic studies, functional prototyping, material selection, sourcing and lifecycle analyses to deliver a thoughtful concept. In many cases, we are able to use this due diligence phase to uncover new sustainable materials and manufacturing processes that are more eco-friendly and have a smaller carbon footprint, or identify untapped functionality that will improve the impact on the users’ experience.
3. Seize the Opportunity
There is no perfect time to launch a product or deliver a solution to market. Inspiration has no timeline, but preparing a concept for market takes commitment — from initial ideation to research and development, testing, manufacturing, sales and marketing and eventually into the users’ hands. Taking the first step to launch a concept and building a team that is committed to the mission is critical.
Chances are that someone somewhere has identified the need and is working on a similar solution to the problem you are trying to solve. Being first to market is key, and this can be facilitated by sourcing locally and using domestic manufacturing and advanced manufacturing techniques. Establishing yourself as the company that didn’t rest on its laurels and proactively did something to force positive change is important in consumer and investor trust and relationship building.
Products that positively impact people’s lives and our planet, and the people behind them, play a crucial role in our future, our economy, and our day-to-day experiences.
And, the need has never been greater as we transition to a more sustainable and socially conscious economy. Improving the way in which products are created and brought to market gives us a higher purpose and helps fuel positive social impact, one concept at a time.
Marc Hanchak is the founder of Denver-based LINK Product Development.