Design for the Next Billion Users

The people who need design ingenuity the most, the poorest 90% of the global population, have historically been deprived of it.” – Alice Rawsthorn

I feel blessed to have had the opportunities to apply human-centred design to some of the most complex problem spaces for extreme users: oral communities (who rely on oral communication only), financially excluded (they are not serviced by any financial institutions and rely on informal creditors often called as loan sharks, impoverished (who fall well below poverty lines), small-holder farmers (who are caught up in eternal debt traps). The selection below is a glimpse of some projects that I led.

These projects gave me a different perspective and insight into the world of the ‘next billion users‘ – those who are not ‘conditioned’ to the way our technology works today. I learned how Design can create a significant impact in solving complex problems of beyond the usual challenges of Digital Transformation we face for the enterprise and digital applications world.

Redesigning the navigation system for 1,000+ bed Veterans’ Hospital

Led a team of designers to improve patient experience at Veterans Hospital (a 1000 bed public hospital) by redesigning the navigation system of the hospital for the illiterate patients as well as educated English speaking patients. The hospital had an exceptional Out-Patient load of 3,000 patients per day and they had tried several processes for crowd management and navigation system before. However, a large number of patients found it very difficult to find their way through the large hospital in search of the right speciality and doctors’ office.

My team used Design Thinking to build clear understanding of the problem through immersions, rapid prototyping and extensive user-testing to determine the feasibility of wide number of ideas.

The re-designed navigation design system incorporated colour-coding, localized icons, local language (urdu) as well as coloured navigation floor lines to serve as visual aids for the target users who struggle with written text.

An overwhelming majority of surveyed patients found the prototypes helpful in finding their way and had higher memory recall and cognition for the icons and terminology used.

My responsibilities included design oversight, stakeholder management, client relations, project and team management.

Re-designing the cash-out experience for women beneficiaries of Pakistan’s largest social safety net program (BISP)

More than 7 Million households below the poverty line receive a quarterly stipend of $50 given to the female head of household to help them with basic necessities like food and clothing. Government of Pakistan spends an annual budget of $1 Billion to support this initiative under the name of Benazir Income Support Program (BISP – now called Ehsaas). The payment transfer mechanism has evolved over the last few years from postal service to bank accounts (ATM cards) to digital wallets (mobile money) to provide better transparency, improve access (mobile money agents have highest coverage) and reduce fraud.

The newly piloted digital payment system involved biometric validation but apparently that was not enough to stem out forceful deductions of grant money at cash-out points. I worked with a team of service designers and UX researchers to improve the cash-out experience for the beneficiaries and find ways to reduce deductions.

As a design researcher and systems designer I collaborated with the team in literature review, user research, synthesis, design sprint and prototype testing. Our goal was to develop deep empathy for these users and other stakeholders in the ecosystem to find solutions which can work at scale across the country for diverse set of extreme users. Since there are only a handful of mass digital payments programs at such scale in the world, there was no playbook for this problem space. Cultural context of Pakistan made it a truly unique problem.

As all wicked problems require, we used Design Thinking to relentlessly prototype ideas and concepts to learn more about what works or doesn’t in the real world to solve the complex challenges which involved socio-economic (business model & incentives for the mobile money agents), cognitive and complex cultural factors (e.g. women’s agency, their reliance on proxies). We learnt a lot about women’s digital and financial literacy and the scale of complexities.

Our findings and learnings were presented to key stakeholders including the government officials, banking partners (Telenor’s Digital wallet division) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to serve as a blueprint for future improvements in the service experience for the program. Some of the learnings were shared at global forums like Gates Foundation’s global thought leadership events, Service Design Network Conference and other conferences.

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