How Design Can Save a Reputation

April 15, 2014 — 2 Comments


A few months ago, I wrote a post about five technologies in need of design makeovers in 2014. I’m happy to report my colleagues at, working with a group of NGOs and health and tech industry collaborators, have taken a shot at redesigning the most newsworthy item on that list, and the one with the worst reputation: drones.

The newly launched Drones for Health site focuses on the positive aspects of the remote aerial devices, asking the question, “How can drones improve global health?”

Rather than creepy privacy invaders or weapons of war, the team (Behrouz Hariri, Adam Reineck, and John Won) saw past the technology’s bad reputation and repositioned drones as “flying helpers,” coming up with scenarios in which unmanned aerial vehicles are uniquely suited to address big global health challenges.

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, for example, when the land is impassable, a drone could collect data from the sky; or what if they traveled the last-mile of the transportation infrastructure, delivering life-saving medicine and immunizations to the world’s hardest-to-reach corners?

The team’s vision, along with a set of design guidelines, are meant to inspire potential drone builders to create future flying helpers that look and act more human, contributing to the social good.

I’m inspired by this thoughtful, optimistic approach. In three short months, they were able to transform drones from dreadful to delightful. It made me wonder:

How might we inspire new collaborations and create more human-centered solutions to other maligned technologies like big data or email?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


2 responses to How Design Can Save a Reputation

  1. IDEO is simply amazing. The projects you work on to bring a human-centered approach to “everything” you do is socially responsible.

    Drones used for the right reasons is spot on. We should be thinking about “how might we?” start putting people behind products with engaging experiences. Automating community and happiness out is a serious problem in our society (digital Darwinism).

    “How might we?” change our thinking to explore the world rather than conquer it? We are showing money doesn’t equate to happiness.

    Big data is the problem with invasion of our trust and identity everywhere. Shortened product life cycles with lowest price avoiding taxes is not the solution we need. The phone is a problem.

    Design thinking + Creative confidence + Open leadership changes the world.

    I love “everything” about social responsibility first in the way you think. The biggest problem we face is one-to-one engagement in the moment.

    God bless your firm.

  2. Nur Ahmad Furlong July 1, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I completely disagree with this one Tim.

    Reputations change when old habits which form the foundations of that reputation are changed for new and improved ones. I don’t believe re-purposing the use of mini drones for fun or limited utility will ever outstrip the destruction of hellfire missiles ripping apart the flesh of unsuspecting people on the ground at the push of a button.

    The drone is know for this. Even the sight of mini drones used for other purposes is tainted with the reality of invasion of privacy and anonymous policing.

    The reputation of the drone will forever be tied to killing by autopilot until that despicable behavior ceases to exist. Everything else is sugar coating.

    Empathy means understanding the condition of those most affected and this article clearly reflects a lack of empathy for the victims of drones and their terrorizing effect.

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