User-Centric Design: Five Social Enterprises Which Took the Philosophy to Implementation

The User-Centric Design process (UCD) is a highly useful process, as we have already seen from the article on design thinking for the BoP. Good design is a process from start to finish, one that can’t be rushed and demands a good deal of thought and consideration. Your users are everything, so it makes sense that you should be designing to make their experience as delightful as you can. For example, IBM had an e-Commerce site, on which they moved the Shop button up a little bit and had a 500% increase in revenue just by increasing the visibility of that button. In other cases, as well, just moving a button away from a branding element, almost like a logo, saw 150 times increase in ease of use on the same design.

This holds true even more so in the case of social enterprises, whose primary objective should be the reduction of costs while effective satisfaction of needs, thereby directly focussing on the end consumer’s requirements.

Here are some examples of a few social enterprises that took the user-centric design thinking process from mere ideology to actual implementation, and how they succeeded because of that.


  1.       D-LIGHT

D.light was founded as a for-profit social enterprise in the year 2006. It has won many awards and accolades for its noble project of manufacturing and distributing the most reliable, accessible, and affordable solar lighting and power products. These products are exclusively designed to serve the more than 2 billion people globally without access to reliable electricity. D. light has five distribution hubs across East Africa, West Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and the United States. D.Light has already impacted 65 million lives with its products and aims to reach 100 million people by the year 2020. Their product’s ded-lightmonstrative video can be seen here.

From the first prototype until today, this user-centered design approach has defined the development of the company’s portable solar-powered lamps, mobile phone chargers, and solar home systems. The most important needs, wants and desires of their customers are addressed by each D.light product. The founders being from Stanford’s prestigious Design School, create products for underserved, base-of-the-pyramid families around the world applying the best, most innovative design principles possible. D.light’s commanding market share, dedication to reliability and user-centered design have allowed it to sell hundreds of thousands of units per month while maintaining excellent quality at scale.



Embrace Innovations is an Indian health technology social enterprise, incorporated by Stanford Design School Alumni Jane Chen in the year 2008. It focusses on reducing infant and maternal mortality rates. Its basic vision is based on the startling fact that nearly four million out embrace_logo_newbabies of every twenty million premature and low-birth-weight babies die. This is largely due to lack of fat required to maintain a suitable body temperature.

Embrace Innovations’ flagship product, the Embrace Infant Warmer addresses the functional requirement of providing warmth to low-birth weight babies while meeting the usability and cost effectiveness as well. The Warmer is low cost, effective at heating, portable, intuitively convenient, and easy to use. Its simple elegance paired with manufacturing expertise means that this device can be provided at a fraction of the cost of traditional incubators, so the people who need it the most can afford it. This product does not require more than 35 minutes of electricity charge, which makes it all the more convenient for neo-natal care in the rural areas.


  1.       VISION SPRING

A low-cost eye care provider in India had been selling eye care and reading glasses to adults, wanted to begin providing comprehensive eye care to children. Vision Spring’s design effort included everything other than the design of the glasses, from marketing “eye camps” through self-help groups to training teachers about the importance of eye care and transporting kids to the local eye care centre. Working with Vision Spring, IDEO designers prototyped the eye screening process with a group of 15 children between the ages of 8 and 12. As of September 2009, Vision Spring had conducted in India 10 eye camps for children, screened 3,000 children, transported 202 children to the local eye hospital, and provided glasses for the 69 children who needed them. “Now that we have become a design thinking organization, we continue to use prototypes to assess the feedback and viability of new market approaches from our most important customers: our vision entrepreneurs [or salespeople] and end consumers,” explained Peter Eliassen, vice president of sales and operations at Vision Spring. Eliassen added that prototyping lets Vision Spring focus on the approaches that put children at ease during the screening process.


  1.       DRIP TECH

Global water usage is undrip-irrigaionsustainable from a food
security perspective. In various third world countries, agriculture still accounts for the usage of a majority of economic resources, such as freshwater. The most commonly used method of irrigation is flooded Irrigation, which is highly labour intensive. This method not just results in wasting water, but also lower yields.

Drip Tech is a company originally founded in the USA but now has been overtaken by M/s Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. It has created the best drip irrigation system for small-plot farmers – affordable, high quality, and easy-to-use. Without the need for expensive and complex emitters, Driptech systems are priced at least 50% lower than traditional commercially available drip irrigation systems.  After buying this system, farmers can recoup their initial investment in less than 6 months, with significant increases in income over the next 3-5 years — the lifespan of the product.

Driptech’s system can also be easily scaled up or down depending on the size of the field, thus giving it a technological advantage over both capitals intensive commercial drip irrigation and water intensive flood irrigation.

The founder of Driptech, an international water technologies company, spent time in Ethiopia observing and thinking about the design of existing irrigation systems, and why they did not fulfil the needs of smallholder farmers. In response, he developed an innovative manufacturing process to produce high-quality, affordable drip irrigation systems that can increase crop yields for smallholders.  


  1.       JAYAASHREE INDUSTRIESarunachalam-muruganantham

One of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and winner of the Padma Shri award, Arunachalam Muruganantham, colloquially known as “Menstrual Man,” or “the Tampon King.” Muruganantham was determined to design a sanitary pad for rural Indian women that was affordable, but also comfortable and absorbent. To understand what made for a great menstrual product, he prototyped his initial designs by wearing them himself, simulating a menstrual period with a small pump. Muruganantham then went ahead to set up Jayashree Industries, to manufacture and design machines that could easily produce sanitary napkins at a very low cost and market them door-to-door. These industries have gone ahead to provide these types of machinery in 14 states of India, directly impacting 2.5 million women of the country.

While affordable or free sanitary products can ease these difficulties, comprehensive Menstrual Health Management (MHM) programs seek to address the complete experience of menstruation for women and girls by tweaking their MHM solutions depending on women and girls’ cultures, locations, and socioeconomic strata. Many of the most successful interventions incorporate a human-centered design to challenge their initial hypotheses about the nature of menstrual issues in an area.

In Bolivia, leaders of a UNICEF and Emory University team asked girls to draw a picture of their “ideal” school bathroom. Through this design-centered exercise, researchers identified surprising sources of discomfort – for instance, girls preferred warm water in school bathrooms because they believed that using cold water during periods increased menstrual flow.

To know more about such entrepreneurs, visit Impactpreneurs.

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