Design Thinking

Designing for Outcomes

Timothy Prestero, founder and CEO of Design that Matters, runs a nonprofit that designs products for the poor in developing countries.  Mr. Prestero delivers a very interesting TED talk entitled, Design for people, not Awards.

He flips the concept of designing products on its edge, moving from designing for inspiration to designing for outcomes.  He tells some interesting stories about products his company has designed that had little impact on the end-user because they were designed for inspiration.  Now he approaches design problems from a different perspective, designing for outcomes or designing with the end-user in mind.  To achieve this goal his design team needs to collect copious data from the people in the chain; the manufacturer, distributor and user.

He talks about the fact that “high-tech design” does not necessarily work in under-developed countries.  Most products that are designed with inspiration in mind, do not usually fit into the under-developed culture in which they are used.  Mr. Prestero talks about how he has learned to

Design for Outcomes

First, ask the question, what is a problem that needs to be solved?  Then be sure to include the end-user in the data collection and decision-making processes.

Mr. Prestero tells the story of curing jaundice in newborns by shining blue light on them.  In designing the most effective device, he learned that the challenge of coming up with the right design was made easier by looking at how the end-user sees the problem.  He points out that

users are not dumb, only products are dumb

If you want people to trust the design, it has to look trustworthy.

In design, appearances matters because users do not want to use a product that looks “cheap.”  Also, designing a product with the outcome in mind means that you need to be guided by a simple philosophy

Make it hard to use wrong, make the right way to use it the easy way to use it.

Finally, design for manufacturing and distribution.  If you leave out the opinions of manufactures and distributors, the product you design may not make it to the user.  So he suggests that we

design for actual use.

In concluding he e asks the following question:

Are we designing for the world we want, the one we have, or the one that’s coming?

For the designer, the answer to that question is important.  I think Mr. Prestero would say all three.

Designing products, to make a difference you have to design outcomes and that is design that matters.

So, how do his ideas apply to design challenges in schools.  For example, what if a school wants to design a new academic schedule?  What would the process look like if you designed for outcomes, with the end-user in mind.  Is the end-user the student?  If so, what would a schedule look like that was designed for students, with students in mind?  What kind of data would we have to collect about our end-user and how would we include them in the process?  My guess is that the schedule would not be 7 or 8, 50-minute periods a day.  Most academic schedules are designed with teachers, curriculum or institutions in mind.  While their needs are important, do we end up designing a new schedule with outcomes in mind?  Which outcomes?

What are your thoughts about Tim Prestero’s design model?

2 comments on “Designing for Outcomes

  1. I work mainly with students who do not learn easily in traditional classes. I enjoy creating new ways for them to learn the necessary material in my class. But then I wonder if I am really doing them any favors since they will go on to other classes that are not as accommodating. Is it possible to make small changes a bit at a time or will the whole education system have to change in order benefit from new ideas?


    • Linda:

      Thanks for reading my blog I appreciate it, as well as feedback and comments. I think we have to START CLOSE IN. I would suggest reading the poem by David Whyte. One of my favorite poems. In my view of the education world, he answers the question you ask. We all have to start somewhere and not wait for the tidal wave of change, which may not come. I think it is possible to make small changes, impact student learning and help them adapt to the world they face outside your classroom. What if a student looks back on his or her education and says, “my favorite teacher was Ms. Bullock because she listened to us, cared for us, helped us learn, and created a classroom that was engaging.” I don’t mean to suggest that traditional classrooms can’t be engaging. They can. However, I think we have to use what research has to say about good teaching and learning, our experiences, and our intuition to craft a learning environment that meets the needs of all learners. It has to find a way of embracing the voices of the learners.

      I hope this addresses the question you ask. Let me know what you think of the poem.

      Bob Ryshke


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