Design is powerful magic — It can help solve some of the world’s most urgent, critical problems. Patrice Martin is co-founder of IDEO.org, an organization that works to improve the lives of people in poor and vulnerable communities through design.
Patrice shares about her past struggles to be taken seriously as a petite woman, what she’s observed as a difference in creative confidence between men and women, and some of the incredible projects her team is focused on. Her conversation with Majo is living proof that design, when done well, can change the world.
Flip the reason for why you can’t do something and make it the reason why you can.
— Patrice Martin
Majo: What did you do at IDEO?
Patrice: I worked on all kinds of things, I mean that’s what’s amazing about IDEO is that you can just have a diversity of questions to take on. And so I was there for eight years, and I got to be there as they developed beyond product design and looked at how a design process can be applied to experiences and brands and systems.
I got to be in on that evolution of taking on more difficult and complex questions, and how to apply a design lens to very different types of problems.
Majo: For those who are listening, can you tell us a little more about what design thinking is and how you applied it to different problems?
Patrice: I find it’s essentially an approach to how you look at the world and how you find opportunities. It’s really fundamentally rooted in two things: One is empathy– so, how do you go out and really understand the challenge or problem you’re working on from the people who are living that experience every day and from everybody who has a stake in what that solution might be.
And the other is to build and do a lot of experiments, so that when you have an insight around an idea that you’ve learned from an empathetic stance, you can then put something tangible and concrete back into the world and see how it works or how it doesn’t work and how it should evolve.
It’s essentially cycles of learning that switch between empathy and experimentation. And it’s a mindset of being very generative in the way you look for inspiration and create ideas, and a process for getting those ideas to come to life.
Majo: And it can virtually be applied to most anything.
Patrice: Yeah, absolutely!
Majo: That’s what’s really cool about it, it’s so flexible. I actually use a lot of design thinking in my client work. I encourage women to use that mindset in how they look at their careers.
Patrice: Ooh yeah, that’s interesting.
Majo: Can you tell me a little more about your transition to IDEO.org?
Patrice: I got more and more interested in how far you could push design. I came from an industrial design background that was very focused on a product, but then got to think about design as a problem solving tool, a way to think about finding new opportunities.
At the time, IDEO had been slowly starting to build some work around social impact and poverty. My now professional partner, Jocelyn Wyatt, she had come into the firm and was trying to kick this up. And I was curious about it, but also felt like, I’ve never really done work like that, I haven’t traveled to Africa… like, I don’t know that world.
But I was still curious about what design would look like in that context. What does it mean to apply design to problems like water access, or getting people the sanitation that they need? Jocelyn and I got more and more engaged in those types of questions and how to apply design to the context of poverty.
And then I got to travel to Kenya on a project that IDEO was doing with the Gates Foundation and really got to experience how challenging that work is and how complex and difficult these problems are. And yet, there is such an absence of design and creative thinking in the way that we’re looking at solving them. And that just really lit me up as far as something I wanted to spend more time doing.
- Patrice shares a funny childhood story about persistence that anticipated one of her strongest personality traits as an adult. [5:05]
- High school years: Finding her identity in art. [7:36]
- Thinking of technology as a medium to create experiences, plus other formative experiences during college. [10:56]
- Patrice’s experience at IDEO — applying a design lens to complicated questions and issues. [17:55]
- Her transition to IDEO.org, the organization she co-founded that focuses on social impact and poverty. [21:46]
- What she’s learned as a leader, how to set up an environment where people thrive, and her spot-on insights on the difference in creative confidence between men and women. [26:30]
- Designing for good: Some of the exciting projects Patrice and her team are focused on. [34:01]
- On the importance of being part of a community of mothers who are figuring out the work-life balance together. [43:35]
- Patrice’s final words of wisdom and advice. [52:47]
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