Jorge Just was generous enough to share his experiences gained from the “Design for UNICEF” class. He was a participant from the second ITP class, and it happened to turn out that Jorge took the group project and continued it for his thesis. UNICEF has now contracted with him to continue with his prototype, named RapidFTR, with the intention of turning it into a useful tool in the instance of family reunification.
The reason Jorge says he enrolled in the “Design for UNICEF” class was because of the edification that comes from working with an actual client, and being able to work hands-on in the field. Jorge’s job experience prior to coming to ITP, as a contributor for public radio and having organized fan outreach and marketing for musicians fed into some aspects of his school projects. In regards to the UNICEF project, once the project had progressed into a thesis project, it necessitated that Jorge be able to collaborate and draw in people’s talents and abilities toward the goal of developing a working product by open-sourcing the content. This was something that Jorge was able to accept and coordinate more successfully given his background.
When asked about the greatest sources of tribulation and frustration in the class, Jorge pointed to the beginning of the class, when students were given weekly project parameters and shuffled into different groups every couple of weeks. He expressed the necessary difficulty in working with people he didn’t know all that well and whose individual backgrounds and opinions had to undergo a process of discovery in order to form effective design proposals. In the beginning, he also found a source of anxiety to be his relative ignorance regarding the region he was designing for, in this case Sub-Saharan Africa. Lack of knowledge about the actual difficulties faced hampered his confidence in the solutions the groups proposed. Jorge said his final group was the last to settle on a project, which was a source of anxiety for his professors. However, in the end they were able to generate a strong project that the group was proud of, even after all of the juggling of ideas and uncertainty in how to progress forward.
In regards to the topic of UNICEF’s reach in aiding student projects, Jorge mentioned the invaluable help that the organization’s child protection specialist Pernille Ironside was able to provide. He stated that the knowledge she imparted to his group was “instrumental, we would not be where we were now without that meeting.” Also greatly helpful to the RapidFTR team was the research and documentation that the Ugandan field office was able to provide in regards to their system of family tracing.
Jorge expressed the profound value in presenting at UNICEF’s New York headquarters. All feedback, positive and critical alike, was appreciated. In fact, he said, the more UNICEF staff that could attend the better, as he understands the value in getting exposure to the greatest variety of knowledgeable people in order to improve as yet untested prototypes.
The RapidFTR project was not intended to become Jorge’s thesis project, originally the members of the group discussed continuing after the class ended but that was shelved for the time being because of other class priorities. However, with the disaster in Haiti came a clearly defined need to develop a mobile phone application and data storage system for family tracing and child recovery. Chris Fabian, who spearheaded the collaboration between ITP and UNICEF, asked Jorge to further develop the RapidFTR project. Jorge agreed and in the process turned it into his thesis project. Jorge is now working for UNICEF, he has held codejams all over the globe to develop the framework upon which the communications system can thrive, and he hopes that by summer’s end he will have a project ready to undergo user-testing in the field.
When asked about what Jorge got from this class, he said that it was more than he had initially expected. “I didn’t know I could get to work on a project that could potentially help a lot of people.” In regards to what is required to apply this type of collaboration successfully in a different environment, Jorge singled out that having an instructor like Clay Shirky is vital. That is to say, an instructor that is “motivated, and is interested in helping your ideas become better and to reach out to more people.”