Why is it so hard to succeed?

By Lorrin Windahl.

I thought I’d share with you an article I read recently. It’s a couple of years old now but I think it’s still fairly relevant. The article, by Julie Lasky for Metropolis Magazine, is entitled ‘The (Limited) Power of Good Intentions’. It’s a short article that discusses the reasons that the good intentions of designers are often unfruitful.

As a short summary, Lasky recognises that there has been a large increase in designer’s interest and participation in SRD projects recently. It seems every Tom, Dick and Harry designer is taking a bite of the apple. However it appears that success in this arena is often quite allusive. Lasky suggests the following reasons for this failure.

Measuring of success and scale of the project – often investors and the media are preoccupied with overly ambitious, large scale projects that have the potential to affect a great number of lives. Nonetheless smaller, more modest projects often have a higher chance of success. A good example of this is the PlayPump. After attracting $16million in funding they tried to scale up the project too quickly and they ended up failing to meet expectations and reaching long term success.

Collaboration – in my opinion the most important aspect of SRD. I have seen countless projects undertaken by people with the best intentions but who have failed to get the local community involved. This includes local government, business leaders, community leaders and the end users. And I speak from experience. I once tried to organise a community meeting in a  village in Uganda but failed to get the local community leaders and local government involved. No-one turned up. I learnt my lesson. PlayPump is another good example of this. As the Frontline documentary about the PlayPump illustrated, women found them difficult to use when children were in school and the local community was not responsible for their maintenance. Often the pumps would lay idle waiting for someone to come and fix them.

I think Mariano Amatullo, director of Designmatters, summarised it in the article best when she said:

People have great intentions, and they don’t realize how hard this work is and how much management it takes to make it successful. It’s not enough to have a brilliant idea and design a great product or campaign if you’re not, every step of the way, figuring out touch points to evaluate and then testing them to make sure it’s going to fly and be owned by the community. It takes patience and skill and diplomacy.

To read the full article go to www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=4456

Playpumps -2 by Andres Marin and used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/.

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