Ed. note: This case study is a selection from the
2011 “Making the Case”
competition, in which an esteemed jury
identified submissions that demonstrate the value of design in a clear,
compelling and accessible way. It serves as an example of how to explain design
thinking to clients, students, peers and the public in general, based on
OpenIDEO.com is a web-based platform
for innovation where creative thinkers worldwide can design better, together.
Anyone who wants to participate can.
The platform, created by IDEO, seeks only solutions for social good. It works
like this: Designers post a problem, typically sponsored by a nonprofit group,
which moves through three phrases of development—inspiration, conception and
evaluation—toward a solution. Site users provide feedback every step of the
way, receiving points for their contributions. (Like in any good brainstorming
session, both quality and quantity are valued.) At the end of the process, a
final design is chosen. This design may be produced by whoever chooses to do
so: all concepts are generated under a Creative Commons license and are thus
shareable, remix-able and reusable. Everybody wins.
A London-based IDEO design team observed that online collaboration and consumer activism were trending up—more
than 2 billion people worldwide now engage in web-based interactions—and sought
a means to harness that tremendous human resource to do social good.
The team knew from experience that quantitative research can complement
human-centered design when employed at the right times in the process. The
ideation and evaluation phases of a project can benefit from feedback from the
community at large, particularly when designers are tackling big problems with
small budgets, as is often the case with social innovation projects.
One big challenge for the team was figuring out how to get the public to
participate without offering monetary incentives. Designers would address this
by communicating the nonprofit nature of the site and conveying to participants
that instead of cash they would gain inspiration, knowledge, and recognition as
part of a larger collaborative effort to solve some of the toughest problems
faced by modern society.
The team considered more than 100 different ways of engaging people in design
projects, but no single platform met all of their fundamental needs. In order
to be successful, the platform needed to:
OpenIDEO.com was developed to achieve all of this in one website.
Network innovation software companies
had started to threaten the design and innovation consulting industry, and the
design team began looking at what might disrupt the status quo. The team did
intensive research and competitive analyses to explore market opportunities and
experiment with social media and collaborative problem solving.
For example, the team set up a Facebook page called Big Conversations & Small Talk, on which it asked a wide audience of social media users questions about
pressing global issues. This simple problem-solving forum presented fans with
questions like “How can we help Iceland get out of its economic meltdown?” and
“What are you loyal to and why?” The page was extremely well received (over
11,000 fans and counting) and provided insight into what types of issues
engaged the community in a positive way.
The research and experiments helped the design team imagine what an open
platform might look like. They developed a vision for how the design-thinking
process might work online with a networked community of contributors. They saw
two key points of differentiation: creating an inclusive process in which
people from different backgrounds (not just designers) would take part, and
enabling collaboration among people through building on one another’s ideas.
Rapid prototyping revealed that some parts of the in-person design process did
not translate to an online environment. For example, the team tried a Synthesis
module, but it proved too complex to be done in a distributed manner. More
prototyping and gathering feedback (from varied stakeholders, from designers to
the companies that hire them) led to a search for the right
software-development partner. The team chose LargeBlue of London, which had
helped with the plug-in for the previously mentioned Facebook project.
LargeBlue’s collaborative nature and design process fit with the team’s style,
and their expertise in social media would prove invaluable.
After the platform was built, the design team launched an alpha program
internally to design a logo. The insights gained during this internal launch
were instrumental to the final product: The team learned about how to galvanize
the network; iterated the platform with new features, design and usability
tweaks; and enlisted a writer help with the written communications.
OpenIDEO.com launched in August 2010. The site continues to evolve. The team
maintains an open dialogue with users and responds to their needs and those of
the design challenges’ sponsors by adding new features regularly.
In its first six months online,
OpenIDEO.com far exceeded the team’s expectations in every way.
With 21,000+ members in more than 170 countries around the world, OpenIDEO.com has
established a diverse community of creative thinkers who are both dedicated to
effecting social change and willing to devote their time, energy and ideas to a
To date, OpenIDEO.com has hosted eleven public challenges and powered one dedicated channel. In several cases, the design team matched nonprofit
organizations with corporate sponsors to help make the challenge a reality.
Each challenge addressed a very different social issue that tested the
platform’s agility and robustness:
The OpenIDEO.com software will serve as an engine for innovation in multiple
contexts in the coming months, including: providing a tool to supplement design
research on designers’ client projects; powering internal innovation channels
at large corporations looking to transform their organizational structure, and
serving as a platform to inform and support users of the Human-Centered Design
Toolkit (a free resource for NGOs).
What happens when designers apply their problem-solving skills to socially progressive businesses and causes? In the first of an ongoing series of posts, Laura Weiss shares her experience and points the way for designers considering pro bono projects.
Section: Why Design -
nonprofit, personal essay, pro bono, social responsibility, Design for Good
A campaign designed for NGO Nutre Hogar helps raise awareness and funding to combat childhood malnutrition in rural Panama.
Section: Why Design -
graphic design, nonprofit, pro bono, social responsibility, Design for Good, design educators, students
AIGA invites all designers and creatives to participate in a virtual Town Hall to solve social issues in our communities by developing tangible engagement tools and generating new, productive conversations.
Section: Tools and Resources -
design thinking, advocacy, social responsibility, Diversity and Inclusion
Video: AIGA Medalist Stefan Sagmeister
Fanta Visual Identity System Launch Video