What Great Leaders Know About Designing for Impact

October 4, 2012

Recently I had the honor of speaking about design for impact during the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York. In the audience were some of the most influential, action-oriented, and socially responsible leaders in the world. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk with Fast Company editor Linda Tischler about design's role in creating positive change. Here are five key takeaways from our conversation on stage:

• Design at its essence is about being intentional.

• Great design is anything that meets the need of the community that it is developed for.

• To design for impact, we must deeply understand the communities that we serve.

• Being embedded in a community allows designers to get insights that may lead to products or services that serve that community.

• One trend we see is that designers are not just visiting communities-in-need to do ethnographic research. Instead, designers just stay and start prototyping in the field in collaboration with the community. This allows an idea to evolve to the best solution within a particular community.

I expand on a few of these ideas in Linda's subsequent Co.Design article: 5 Reasons Global Firms Should Serve The Developing World.

IDEO and's Fred Dust, Patrice Martin, Sandy Speicher, and Jocelyn Wyatt also spoke at CGI 2012. Watch them—and see my full conversation with Linda during the plenary opening session—here.

Beyond the inspiring and provocative talks, CGI hosted five interactive Design Lab sessions this year with the goal of spurring new commitments to turn ideas into action. A number of other great designers focused on the social sector participated in the labs, including John Cary from Public Interest Design, Heather Fleming from Catapult Design, Krista Donaldson from D-Rev, Liz Ogbu from California College of the Arts, Kate Canales from Southern Methodist University, and Sarah Stein Greenberg and David Janka from the Stanford Design Lab participants worked to generate solutions to specific "how" questions, such as: How might we design healthier urban environments that help prevent chronic diseases?

More than $2 billion in funds were committed by the end of the CGI conference to a wide range of solutions expected to benefit nearly 22 million people. Now that's impact.

(posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)