Centering the Consumer: How to Create Innovative and Sustainable Products

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In a world where innovation moves at the speed of light, where there’s a new product on the market every other day, how do we keep creating while making an impact? The answer lies in going back to the roots, to the people we are creating for- the consumers. On 7 th October 2020, Dr. Monica Nandan joined the batch of 2022 to give a lecture on Human Centered Design Thinking. She is currently the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Social Impact and Professor of Social Work and Human Services at Kennesaw State University.

What is on Human Centered Design? It is a perspective, a mindset, according to Dr. Nandan. “A human centered design will help you hear the needs of constituents in new ways, create innovative solutions to meet these needs and devise solutions with financial sustainability in mind.”

Dr. Nandan started off by telling us that the thing she has found out is that the more you learn, the more you realize you know nothing. No one field, no one researcher has all the answers. It is through participating and engaging with the people around us, that we can get a deeper understanding  of the issues we are trying to solve. In 2020, the question arises – how do we keep innovating, and how do we sustain it? We must listen to the consumers, and engage them in creating the solutions to their problems. There are new problems every day.

It is human instinct to find a quick solution, Dr. Nandan pointed out. But Human Centered Design says that the more time you spend understanding the problem, the better. We must empathize with our consumers- we must try to walk their walk. It goes beyond simple research- talking to people is essential. She gave the example of a space being built for high achieving students in Atlanta- that the students themselves got to collaborate on, give inputs on what exactly they wanted and needed- which is a perfect example of Human Centered Design Thinking in action.

She wrapped up the lecture with a video of the Whirlpool Care Counts campaign, where they installed washers and dryers in schools to combat dropping attendance rates. A reason a lot of students from lower income households drop out is because they do not have clean clothes. The installation of the machines gave the students incentive to come to school, and of course gave them clean clothes to wear. This campaign was made in collaboration with the teachers and students, which is the central tenet of Human Centered Design Thinking.

The session equipped students with the tools to create better and more sustainable things- whether it be a campaign, a product or a film. We learnt the importance of empathy, and the importance of collaboration.

 

Prishita Das
(Batch 2022)