Catalyzing the growth of the Kenya tech community

Stanford Dschool's | iHub UX lab Design thinking workshop. What a week!

By Mark Kamau
iHub UXlab
  Published 16 Feb 2013
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When we set out to do the first user experience lab in Sub Saharan Africa. We had our focus squarely on the community. Africa is buzzing with a lot of tech and a lot of work is getting done left right and center; from tech and social enterprise. There has been some success, but not nearly enough. To generate real traction, it is important for us to develop prerequisite skills to ensure our methods of working and developing products give the work we do the best chance of successful impact.

It is with this in mind that we had Jenny Stefanotti and Jeremy Weinstein of Stanford University. The aim was to help organizations learn the design thinking mothod within a locally relevant context. This is quite handy especially because a lot of us have been developing products entirely from our offices and tech spaces without engaging the people we are designing for. This has obvious drawbacks.

We picked healthcare in the informal settlements as a design challenge. For some context; Mathare is one of the most dangerous and deprived informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. There is no public hospital with only one 40mins away and overstretched. This has given rise in plenty of informal caregivers who are often unqualified. Counterfeit medicine rackets prevail, taking advantage of the uninformed and often desperate. The idea was to take this design challenge and see what solution ideas could be generated using the design thinking method.

For the workshop, we had techies, organizations working within the governance space and individual designers. This mix provided a good mix for divergent views.

The lesson for me begun before the first workshop day; Arriving on the design challenge was a meticulous process analyzing and considering multiple angles, both practical, social and cultural. It forced me to think at all these levels and was a really interesting experience.

The most remarkable experience though was doing the empathy work in the depths of Mathare slum. Talking to a mother who had to pray throughout the night because she couldn’t walk 40mins to Mathare hospital in the middle of the night, but surprised by her knowledge of who sold counterfeit meds and who didn’t.  We were also surprised by an unlicensed caregiver who helped many for nothing but his passion for the people. This was completely against our assumption of people trying to take advantage of the situation.

After the empathy work, participants learnt a series of impressive techniques for generating ideas and unlocking creative thinking, spurred by the energy of the people we met in Mathare.

 

Design is as powerful as the amount of empathy we have for the situation we are designing for. This was the biggest lesson. If you get nothing from this blog post, get this. Understand whom you are designing for. Not just from assumption or online reviews, but from talking to human beings. It is energizing, focuses you and your team and provides insights that you cant find anywhere else.

Design thinking provides and excellent process for this understanding and the people in the workshop were amazed at how much better we can develop solutions with this clear process. Design thinking is a super powerful tool that epitomizes why the UX lab exists. To help you do what you do better, smarter, by equipping yourself with different sets of tools as part of your product design arsenal as an organization, social enterprise or techie.

MAX VENTILLA | Successful experience with design thinking application with his startups

We also had the priviledge of one of the most insightful and inspiring talks I have yet attended at the iHub. Max Ventilla was the cofounder and CEO of Aardvark, a social search company acquired by Google in early 2010. At Google, he heads the company's cross-product personalization efforts.

Gave an inspiring talk of how he has applied the principles of design thinking throughout his career. He talked about how he has always insisted not on necessarily arriving at a product, but constantly improving. Think about that for a moment. He also talked about the power of just getting started! Develop something to the quickest testable phase and let people try it and give you feedback. His talk warrants a separate blog post as there are many insights to share.

Africans are good enough to solve Africa’s problems. We need to be relentless in improving what we do and we can be what we aspire to. Our vision is that of developing a community of Africans designing impactful solutions to Africa’s challenges.

The iHub UX lab is a space for you. To ideate/brainstorm your next idea, to think through the next step of what you are currently working on and to test your product with people, because people matter.

It is also a rich source of skills and knowledge with the various skill-specific workshops for you and your team. Come check us out and let's work together. Mark[a]ihub.co.ke

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