During my graduate studies, I worked on a research project and supporting thesis paper to explore how a designer could facilitate dialogue and collaboration in the design process when a shared verbal language or assumed technologies were not present.

From June 2008 to February 2009, a two-phase project explored the role of communication design in a rural community in Africa. It considered how principles of governance could be applied to create a more transparent dialogue during the design process and investigated the impact of a designer’s presence and absence in this context.

During the project, a field bag was designed to act as a writing surface for ten women in Rwanda to use while participating in creative activities during the rituals of daily life. The activities were developed to help a designer have a visual conversation when working with individuals who do not share the same language, in order to discover the needs, assets, beliefs and desires of an individual or group before offering a design solution.

By introducing a design methodology into a development context, adaptive tools were created to increase the opportunity for appropriate and effective outcomes. By focusing greater attention on the unspoken needs of the underserved, the often-overlooked potential of their ideas can be revealed and accessed for future innovations. From here, design positions itself as a discipline that embraces ambiguity in the midst of complexity when seeking to address significant problems in a sustainable fashion.

This research has been included in IDEO's Human-Centered Design Toolkit.

Co-creation, co-design, sustainable development, human-centered, participatory, communication, appropriate technology, transformation, creativity, social impact, probes, democracy, governance, social innovation, design process