I enjoyed going to the recent Pop!Tech conference—the combination of bright minds, warm hearts and the Maine autumn is highly conducive to reflecting on what has been and imagining on what will be next.
During the event, I gave a talk to the audience about my research work. And in the panel session at the end of my talk I took two questions from a member of the audience, which both related to the personal motivations of doing this kind of research and whether anyone has the moral right to extract knowledge from a community for corporate gain.
Given the asker's frustrated politeness, I'll paraphrase what I (and a bunch of folks that came up to me after the talk) took as the intent of his questions:
What is it like working for BigCorps pillaging the intellect of people around the world for commercial gain?
How do you sleep at night as the corporations you work for pump their worthless products into the world?
The short answer is that I sleep just fine.*
Over the next month, in this space, I will confront and address arguments that tend to surface in deep discussions on the role of design research in the context of creating or improving products and services intended for use by resource-challenged communities.
I'll do so by starting with a backgrounder on the role of design research. Then, I will look at the often-overlooked "soft" benefits of design research. Finally, I'll conclude with defining, and examining, the true definition of design imperialism.
But let's start with the catalyst for this four-part essay: the Pop!Tech presentation I mentioned above. You can download it here [PDF, 12MB].