"Only through this unique method of trust-building and intimate questioning were we able to successfully create an ideal product. And that is the key part of human-centered research. Conducting this kind of interpersonal analysis is the most effective way to identify opportunities to serve individuals and improve quality of life." - Mikaela Falk, Duke '16
Student engagement was a key component in the success of the conference. The TechCon opened with an all-day Student Summit. As part of the summit, students had the chance to participate in a design lab workshop crafted jointly by UC Berkeley’s Development Impact Lab and the global design firm IDEO. Led by William and Mary senior Molly Adair, this thinking-workshop introduced the concept of human-centered design through “design thinking”, a process that helps envision new creative ways to serve individuals based on their needs and desires.
The design lab challenged attendees to create a prototype of the ideal cell phone. As Adair announced the assignment, this daunting task loomed large over the room of eager students. Designing the perfect cell phone is nearly impossible. What is feasible, however, would be designing an ideal phone for a certain individual. Students were paired with a partner and guided through a 10-step process of one-on-one interviews to discover exactly how their partner uses their current cellphone and what capabilities they would ideally want in a perfect phone. After the initial questioning, students were instructed to dig deeper and ask more personal questions. Through this method, my partner who had been a stranger to me 10 minutes prior, was able to dig up some very pertinent facts about me that helped him envision my perfect phone. A few years back, a close friend of my family’s was diagnosed with a brain tumor; he had also spent a good portion of his life with his cellphone attached to his right ear precisely in the location of the tumor, so some doctors suggested the possible correlation. When designing the prototype for my ideal cellphone, my partner made sure to focus on creating a special type of barrier that would block the radiowaves and electromagnetic radiation from the phone as I hold it up to my ear or place it in my lap.
Only through this unique method of trust-building and intimate questioning were we able to successfully create an ideal product. And that is the key part of human-centered research. Conducting this kind of interpersonal analysis is the most effective way to identify opportunities to serve individuals and improve quality of life.
Tackling problems of international development with a human-centered approach is truly invaluable. Designing innovative and high-impact technologies requires an outlook that is both interdisciplinary and individual-based. The example of the Odón Device, which I read about recently in the news, perfectly encapsulates the value of these viewpoints in issues of health and development. This new birthing device was invented by a man named Jorge Odón who had subconsciously made the connection from a video he had seen on extracting a cork from a wine bottle. Nobody could have imagined the impact of applying a cork trick to the labor and delivery setting. Medical professionals predict that the device will not only help save babies in poor countries, but also reduce cesarean section births in wealthy ones. The innovation has transformed from Barbie dolls and a fabric bag in Jorge Odón’s kitchen to a patented device that has won research grants from USAID and is now being safety-tested around the world.
It is incredible to see how Odon - a car mechanic who had only ever tinkered with automobile parts in his garage - could envision a disruptive innovation for an issue that could not be farther from his field of expertise. The key factor here, elucidated by the W.H.O.’s Chief Coordinator for Maternal and Perinatal health, was that this specific childbirth problem needed the viewpoint of someone detached from this field – someone with a refreshingly different perspective. Someone who tinkered with his daughter’s dolls and his wife’s sewing bag, and who was brave enough to wander into an obstetrician’s office and share his prototype while bouncing off more ideas. With encouragement from the doctor, Odón continued to pursue collaboration with medical professionals, improving his prototype along the way. Odón’s unique imagination, combined with his collaborative ambitions created an incredible innovation. The possibilities of human-centered design are truly unlimited, as I learned and witnessed attending the HESN TechCon.