Reading Response 8

I am responding to Principle 8.10 from Artful Design: "Design for invisible needs [...] not only to compensate for deficiency in lower-order needs, but to proactively promote individual growth in the form of higher-order needs" (pg 415).

This principle immediately made me think of an old project called Divas, which encouraged teenage girls in Zambia to learn about contraception (a lower-order need) by making it a social activity (a higher-order need). They set up spaces called "Diva Centres" where "girls do their nails while having informal conversations about boys and sex. They hang out with friends, learn about contraception in their own terms from trained peers, and, when they're ready, receive counseling and access to a variety of short and long-term birth control in a safe and judgment-free environment from a trained professional." This approach was, apparently, quite successful - and I've thought about it on and off for years as a great example of how designing towards what people value and desire can also help address fundamental needs.

Diva Centre Diva Personalities

Funnily enough, the designers of Divas thought explicitly about designing for the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs! (I just found out while writing up this reading reflection - since it showed up as a Google result.) This article describes how:

In the social sector, we tend to put necessity first and assume we’ll move up the hierarchy of needs once we build the right foundation. But in the seemingly intractable work of poverty alleviation, we never seem to advance to the next level. We mistakenly assume that there’s no way a person can or should possibly worry about self-esteem if they’re hungry.
[For the Divas project], we shifted from talking about the factual benefits of contraception to positioning birth control in the context of what teens cared about, their future selves. To Maslow, needs like love, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization sit at the highest levels of his pyramid. [...] We began providing contraception in a way that felt designed specifically for them, their lives, and their aspirations.

Designing for the top of Maslow's hierarchy also makes me think about a project that I did on food access last year. My team was working with a nonprofit to design a new way to distribute food to people who are experiencing food insecurity. Initially, we thought the project would be all about efficiency and capacity, i.e. how can we get donated food from point A to point B? But as we interviewed more and more people, we learned that existing systems weren't being used to their full potential because they did not address certain higher-level needs, like dignity, choice, convenience, and community. People who are experiencing food insecurity are still people with jobs, preferences, dietary restrictions, and a sense of pride, and we cannot expect them to forgo their standards and higher-order needs for the sake of free food.

At the time, these higher-order needs were design principles and ideals that we kept in mind, but now I understand them to be far more essential. When you start from higher-order needs and design for human flourishing, you will design things that people actually care about and value. In the words of Ge, it will be both useful and awesome (pg 435).