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“This has really opened our minds.  We always thought we were going to design luxurious things.  These lectures have made us think that we can actually use our skills for something different – to work with people in need and design the future.”

-Student in IIT Delhi Masters in Design class

Lecture on Design for UNICEF at IIT Delhi, 2012

I’m standing in front of a group of eleven students after class.  They are all pursuing their Masters degrees in design from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.  It is after what should have been a four hour class. They’ve stayed half an hour late (until 6:30 PM) to listen to Robert Fabricant (V.P., Creative at UNICEF Innovation partner frog design) talk to them over Skype about innovation and development.

I have been privledged to spend two weeks teaching classes in the Masters of Design track here at IIT.  Professors Rao and Jyoti kindly gave me the floor and let me work with some really incredible students.

This week we discussed rapid prototyping and fast failure.  We ran the marshmallow challenge.    In this challenge, groups work with a small amount of tape, string and dry spaghetti to build a structure that supports (or doesn’t, in most cases) a lone marshmallow.  Adults usually do much, much worse than kindergarteners.  The students broke into their groups and learned the hard way about the need for experimentation, trial and failure in the design process.

We actually created stockouts of marshmallows at all the nearby shops.

Finally, Robert was kind enough to spend half an hour, in the breakfast light of a New York morning, to talk about what he saw as important skills for designers of the future.  “You can discover unmet needs across interactions, and around products or services – these unmet needs have so many entry points, especially when you are designing with humility,” said Fabricant. (note: Jorge Just’s thesis presentation on RapidFTR has a nice discussion of design without hubris.)

Robert’s second point was reflected in what I heard after class.   He said that the students would have great responsibility to prioritize when and where to create: “as a designer, you create a notion of the future, through your products, services and thinking, that is sometimes fictional – until you make it come into focus.”

Notes on Robert’s presentation

Working with the students and faculty at one of the top technology universities in the world for the last two weeks has highlighted again how important it is to work with academia and plan a design for the future together.

chris fabian, nairobi, august 2012

for some bonus content, please see the Spectrum Analysis from IIT MDes Students on the 1,000 rupee note and the Spectrum of Corruption

Learning From Our Students
Request for Expression of Interest: Mobile Service Provider Liaisons (gateway providers, aggregators, WASPs etc.)