A designer's approach

Rural Spark integrates design with implementation in the field to match vision and people

Agile Design

Rural Spark uses an agile design process to be able to move quickly from vision to context. Developing new energy networks in India requires modern technological knowledge which is mostly found in western countries. Entering the (informal) markets at the base of the pyramid requires new ways of designing products and business models. Because of the enormous cultural differences, these products and business models cannot be designed outside the context.

Rural Spark uses an unique agile design and development approach where rapid prototypes are implemented in the context, already involving all stakeholders. This approach allows for direct feedback from the actual context with all stakeholders present. In line with the famous line by Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, Rural Spark goes beyond co-design.

Our vision of new sustainable energy and information networks requires behaviour change in the villages, we take designing for these behavioural changes very serious and developed a ‘first person perspective on

designing for systems’ approach. In this approach we take the design goal (the needed behaviour change to realise the intended impact) as a personal goal. Through quick and low-fidelity prototypes we ‘try out’ our ideas in the field and only decide to scale if the products prove to lead to the intended impact.

Design products that people really want

Apart from our high personal commitment, in the field we don’t approach people as participants of a user research or prototype research, we approach them as real customers. This leads to true feedback from the customers, they don’t give the answers they think we expect, they behave as value-consious consumers. The ‘first person perspective’ leads to innovations driven by the impact they have and the ‘customer approach’ ensures realistic feedback. Rural Spark only develops products and services really wanted and used in the actual context, based on new technological developments. This is why an agile design process, with short feedback cycles from R&D till implementation in the field, is chosen to approach this nonnative market at the Base of the Pyramid.

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Hidden Design

The approach used by Rural Spark is further developed by the Dutch design agency "Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken". They apply the approach described above in many other projects, confirming that hiding the fact that you are designing new products, allows people to reflect on new proposals.

Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken hence named this design methodology "Hidden Design", and was nominated for the Rotterdam Design Prijs in 2013.