Design with the Poor - not for the Poor: Idea Competitions with low-income consumers
Creating products and services for low-income consumers is a challenging task. Little information is available about this target group, their wants and needs, their habits and traditions - and about what really works in their particular context.
It stands to reason that consumers themselves are owners of valuable knowledge when it comes to developing solutions for them. Consequently, it has been widely suggested to learn “from the bottom up” by hearing and incorporating the "voices of the poor". However, little is known about how to tap this knowledge and how to actively include this particular target group into product development processes.
The objective of the present research project is to explore how the innovative potential of low-income consumers can be tapped. It also aims to learn about their needs and wants with regards to particular solutions. To this end, idea competitions are conducted in Brazilian low-income communities.
Idea competitions ask consumers to become designers. During a competition, low-income consumers submit ideas about how they envision their dream product or service. Each competitions is held with a specific topic. Through drawings, descriptions or even pictures and videos, consumers are offered multiple ways of expressing their needs, wants and aspirations - and make concrete suggestions for suitable solutions.
Idea competitions are an innovative method to engage low-income consumers and a suitable method for their particular context and reality because they
- overcome barriers of education, language and culture and create access to different types of information: ideas can be submitted in any form, written, drawn or verbally
- create incentives for participation and open, non-tactical sharing of information: consumers are valued as knowledgeable partners, whose contributions are rewarded
- create trust: they involve repeated visits to as well as an involvement and commitment of the low-income community
- promote respect: by seeing the low income population as capable solution developers
Three idea competitions were conducted in three different low-income communities in the metropolitan area of Curitiba, in the state of Paraná (Brazil).
The first competition asked consumers to submit ideas on pieces of furniture that help to organize small rooms and thus amplify the perceived space of their inhabitants. The second competition invited consumers to create a rain water collector. The third competition looked for lighting solutions that save energy.
The various ideas consumers submitted allowed access to explicit as well as tacit information. Analyzing these ideas, patterns and trends could be withdrawn. The ideas and their analysis served as a valuable basis for the development of new products and services in the respective research projects of our partners.