Last year while scrolling through twitter, I came across a tweet campaign about a design program, the requirements were simple: be of African descent and young.
As a result, I thought, I literally have nothing to lose by applying as I was also feeling kind of dissatisfied with my job at the time. I took a leap of faith, applied and completely forgot about it.
A couple of weeks later, I got an email saying I made it into the second stage of the application process, I was so surprised but more importantly I was so nervous because I really wanted to be a part of the program – the design had been on my mind for some time and I believed it was the next step for me career-wise.
During the interview, I was nervous and still cannot recall what was asked and what was said but I was sure I’d ruined my chance to participate in the program. I screamed in excitement when I got the email saying I made it through and I was officially a design trainee.
A month later, I was on a plane to Kigali to begin what would be the most important six months of my life. For one month, I and fourteen other brilliant individuals learned about the intricacies of Human-Centered Design (HCD).
From day one, the team at CcHUB ensured that we were well taken care of while providing the resources we needed to become HCD experts. Two events stand out to me as incredibly formative experiences at the beginning of my design journey.
For the first lesson, we learned about empathy – after watching a video, we were asked to create a graph that depicts the journey from having no empathy to having empathy. Reading this you might think ‘okay, fairly simple and pretty straightforward’ I thought the same thing too, in fact as I was plotting this graph with my teammates I was thinking ‘everyone’s graph would be the exact same thing, why are we doing this’ but boy was I wrong.
I got to see first hand just how unique everyone’s perspective was. Not one graph was similar to another. For me, this was a very important introduction into what HCD would be like – everyone’s lived experiences are very different and it’s important to hear from the people when creating a product or service for them because it’s almost impossible to see what they see.
The second event was having to work on a practice design challenge – it was basically like a mock trial but with a real-life problem. On the day we were to begin this challenge, all the teams were given a piece of paper with our challenge on it, my team’s said ‘vaccine delivery challenges’ – very vague and broad right?
We had so many questions and didn’t know where to start from but we had technical support from the CcHUB team and they did a very good job of guiding us. Having to solve an actual problem and going through each stage in the design process as we worked to find a solution was very important because we got to experience all the emotions that come with design thinking one of them is the feeling that comes with rejection.
When we were so sure we had found the perfect solution to the problem, so sure in fact that we had begun to celebrate. It was with this assuredness and confidence that we presented our solution to representatives from the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) expecting them to jump up and down with joy thanking us for coming up with such a brilliant idea.
Their feedback came with one simple sentence: “we can’t do that because we like our current approach”. They went on to tell us to find a way to create a solution that fits in with said current approach.
We were so defeated, the hours after that were painful, my entire team had basically given up. But we were quickly reminded by the CcHUB team that rejection is a big part of the HCD process, Your end-user won’t always like the first version of your solution. Having to experience that rejection in that way was necessary because it basically forced us to develop an iterative mindset just in time for our practicum.
At the beginning of the practicum, my teammate and I were very excited. We just came back from Kigali and were still riding off the high of being in an environment where everyone shared the same design ideology. We were placed with the Health Strategy and Delivery Foundation (HSDF) an organisation dedicated to improving the quality of healthcare in Nigeria.
After a few weeks of going back and forth with our team lead at HSDF we settled on the design challenge: Maternal mortalities in select secondary healthcare facilities in Lagos state continue to increase despite HSDF’s interventions. Our specific focus was to investigate the impact of the third delay (delay in receiving quality healthcare) on these maternal deaths. The HCD process has four stages and during the practicum, each stage came with its own host of invaluable experiences.
During the first and second stage – Discovery and Understand – we had to do a lot of desk and field research to find out how the third delay was possibly causing maternal deaths. We read research papers, read articles and blog posts and scheduled interviews with hospital staff members. After we had gathered all the information, pooled them together, analysed them and presented them to the HSDF team, we encountered our first problem – we researched the wrong thing.
At this point, you’re probably thinking ‘huh? How does one research the wrong thing?’ It turned out that there had been a very crucial miscommunication while we were finalising our design challenge so we missed an important section: while focusing on the third delay, we were to further narrow it down and focus on the fourth stage of labour i.e the activities that are carried out in the first two hours after a woman has given birth. This miscommunication led us to our first lesson ‘always ALWAYS make sure that everyone on the team is on the exact same page’. Because of this, we had to redo our desk research and our interviews but more importantly, we did, in fact, notice a very large gap in the hospital in respect to the quality of care delivered in the fourth stage of labour.
For the third stage – Co-Creation – We had to work closely with the hospital in developing a solution to the problem we found. We told them about the gap, walked them through the HCD process and briefed them on brainstorming/ideation.
We also gave them examples, did mini-games to prep them and get their minds ready for the brainstorming exercise but yet when we started the hospital staff were still very fixated on the notion that nothing can be done without the government’s help. Which brought us to our second lesson: ‘it’s almost impossible to completely change a person’s mindset in one afternoon’.
We had to double down and share various examples of how HCD has been used to transform health facilities in other countries to get them to slightly believe us. Eventually, we got some pretty good ideas which we went on to prototype and test – the fourth stage. But we couldn’t test for more than a week because it was during the time coronavirus had started to rear its ugly head and lockdown laws were newly being implemented. The safety of the team was our first priority so we had to shut down operations as a Hospital was not the best place to be working at the time.
I had a lot of fun and learnt a lot for the duration of the program. HCD is fast becoming an invaluable tool in problem-solving and product/program development. More and more people are starting to see the necessity of involving the end-user at the beginning stages of creating a product because that is the best and fastest way to create something that people not only need but also want.
I am so happy that I got a chance to be a part of the design traineeship program and I am excited about the amazing opportunities that it has opened up for me.