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Catapult Design April 28, 2010

Posted by Ignacio Larrain in Design Thinking.
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This past Wednesday, we saw a great aspect of design from the eyes of Catapult Design.

Catapult provides a complete different approach to the design industry, by focusing in the nonprofit design. They try to help organizations and aim to create social change, with an extremely diverse team of engineers, anthropologists, designers, and psychologists. Following an approach of assess, design, implement and evaluate, the company intends to address multidisciplinary solutions to social ventures that go beyond the typical scope of a design firm.

Cases of interest that captured our attention were the development of a wind turbine in Guatemala or a fuel-efficient cook stove in Darfur, Sudan. In contrast with other design firms that advise on launching a new product or inventing a new process, Catapult‘s objectives go beyond the market aspirations. For example in the cook stove case mentioned above, the final goal was to avoid long journeys of women in Africa, where they faced the risk of being harmed or raped, and thus diminish the incidence of violence within their communities.  The design also had a great functionality thought behind it. It was developed by students at Cal and used 75% less fuel wood than traditional cooking stoves. The team assessed design for manufacturability, initiated a local manufacturing in Sudan and had to develop a training strategy for users.

When defining a design solution or need in a developing country, the company recommends sending at least two people to the site for the observation phase as the insight will be better. The approach is from three perspectives. The first is the person/family; the second is the community; and the third is the country, including but not limited to an understanding of the political environment, trade agreements, and trends in population.  Multidisciplinary research along with more personal feedback provide a more complete understanding of what is needed and sometimes shows what the community doesn’t see as a necessity or things they wouldn’t change, which is an important input. Many times this types of problems are much broader than one would imagine, or they have their roots in situations we had not expected. This good understanding of the whole environment at different levels – and how everything relates around the problem – will be crucial to move forward from the assessment stage to the design stafe, and to produce solutions that really impact those societies. We believe that a very good tool for the assessment stage is mind mapping, which can help us connect all the dots and explore situations by broadening the boundaries.

Finally, a great takeaway is that we should not try to reinvent the wheel over and over again, but to be creative and understand that there are countless technologies and solutions out there that can be applied to many problems we will encounter day after day.

Authors: Labra, Larrain & Valdes

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