Design Thinking for the Underserved

Changing Behavior, Changing the World

George Ayeand Sara Cantor Ayecreated Greater Good Studiobased on the core beliefs that research changes design, design changes behavior, and behavior changes the world. Both have backgrounds in engineering and design, and both are teachers (George is a tenure-track assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, while Sara lectures regularly on social design at the Kellogg School of Management and the School of the Art Institute). They both left jobs in traditional design firms to co-found their small Chicago-based studio focused entirely on underserved populations.

George and Sara will share their work "creating tools for positive social change" at the 2015 SEGD Conference: Experience Chicago. Join them in Chicago June 4-6; register now!

What inspired you to create Greater Good Studio?

In our previous careers, we observed that very little design work was being done to help the people who need it the most. When it was done, it was framed as pro bono work and relegated to weekends and in between paying projects. We wondered: Is it possible to create a design business serving just these populations who need it the most?

So are you a non-profit? What is your business model?

We are a for-profit company whose mission is to work with underserved populations. We introduce human-centered design processes to organizations that haven’t typically benefitted from design thinking. We are paid by the organizations we work for. Sometimes they have funding in hand at the beginning, and sometimes we work with them to find the funding.

What is the biggest challenge of working with these types of clients?

By far the biggest challenge is getting completely overwhelmed with the magnitude of the problems. Saving the whole world is too hard! So we work very closely with our partners to frame their projects in a way that identifies two key things: Who needs the benefits of this project the most? And, What behavior are we trying to change?

So you move from creating artifacts to adapting or creating behaviors?

Yes. We didn’t have that clarity when we started, but narrowing the scope down to the people and the behaviors is our focus now. We’ve been honing that for the last three years and it’s a gradual shift that we’re trying to lead the charge on. I think we’re on to something.

How can designers working in more traditional work settings incorporate some of the Greater Good ethos into what they do?

Don’t use the word “design.” To our surprise, when we go to organizations where design is not known, it takes a long time to build trust and not be written off as the people who make posters. Just talk about what you are trying to do together, and base the conversation on missions and outcomes, not on “things” that might be produced. Focusing on behaviors, not artifacts, is how design thinking can change the world.

More on Greater Good’s work

Join Sara and George at the 2015 SEGD Conference: Experience Chicago


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