Take the Challenge: Design for the Other 90 Percent

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Trial and Error: The student teams then develop designs and business models through a rapid sequence of prototypes, user tests and design reviews. Patell writes: "Each of these products arises from a design process that is rich in stories involving empathy for the ultimate users together with a long series of prototypes that fail in ways great and small but which ultimately lead to the 'aha' moment -- the 'creative accident' that reveals important aspects of a big idea. We believe that design thinking is more about doing than it is about thinking. ... In one way or another, these behaviors involve getting your hands dirty, making and remaking prototypes while working with the real customer, the user of your product."

At the end of the course, which Patell teaches with three colleagues (mechanical engineer Dave Beach, design fellow Erica Estrada and former software entrepreneur Stuart Coulson), students have developed a prototype framed in a comprehensive implementation plan, including a business model, technical innovations, cultural rationale and the appropriate next steps. For more information, visit http://extreme.stanford.edu or listen to Patell talk about the course and design challenges.

Success Stories

To date, "Extreme Affordability" has sparked several successful solutions – both profit and nonprofit. Among them:

Driptech: A for-profit drip-irrigation company based on a new manufacturing technology that makes clean, consistent holes in super-low-cost plastic tubing. The result: extremely affordable, water efficient irrigation solutions for small-plot farmers in developing nations. Driptech won the 2009 Tech Award Laureate by the Tech Museum.

D.Light Design: D. Light makes affordable solar-powered lanterns to replace kerosene and diesel lamps in households without reliable electricity in the developing world. Since launching in 2008, this for-profit social enterprise has sold hundreds of thousands of solar lanterns to off-grid households in more than 40 countries.

Nuru International: In Kenya, Nuru acts as a general contractor, identifying the most-effective methods of fighting extreme poverty one community at a time. Founded by former Marine Jake Harriman, Nuru trains the poor to solve their own problems in five areas of development: agriculture, water and sanitation, health care, education and community economic development.

D-Rev: This nonprofit technology incubator uses design-oriented, groundbreaking technology and market-driven approaches to develop and deliver products that will improve the health and increase incomes of people living on less than $2 a day. One example: Brilliance, a high-intensity light that when shined on a baby's skin provides low-cost treatment for neonatal jaundice, which can cause permanent brain damage or death.

The "Be the Change: Save a Life" initiative is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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