City Design: Redesigning Failed Shopping Malls

redesigning failed shopping malls

According to Credit Suisse, up to one-quarter of U.S. malls will close by 2022. During the past 60 years, malls served as a major public commons in the U.S. The design and stewardship of commons is a crucial component of public-sector marketing. Redesigning failed shopping malls could be an huge public-sector opportunity.

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With, Not For: Nonprofits and Client-Centered Design

nonprofits and client-centered design

If you design goods and services for your clients, instead of with them, you are forced to make assumptions. Inevitably, your assumptions will be wrong. With bad assumptions you risk your goods and services not meeting your clients needs. That means you are wasting your time and money, and your clients’ time and money. With basic needs like health and sanitation, you are also be risking your clients’ lives. At the intersection of nonprofits and client-centered design lies fulfilling your mission for your clients.

Principles for Designing With, Not For, Your Clients

In the world of computer software, the concept of designing with clients is known as client-centered design.

True to form for the software industry, there’s an accompanying international standard (ISO 9241-210). An official copy of the standard costs more than $100. Instead, this article lists the six main principles of client-centered design:

  • The design is based upon an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.
  • Users are involved throughout design and development.
  • The design is driven and refined by user-centered evaluation.
  • The process is iterative.
  • The design addresses the whole user experience.
  • The design team includes multidisciplinary skills and perspectives.

The good thing about standards is that they try to be universal. The bad thing about standards is that being universal makes them vague. How, specifically, do you “address the whole user experience,” have “an explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments,” and make sure that “users are involved throughout design and development”?

Here are some specific approaches for involving clients in designing your products and services.

Quantitative Methods For Nonprofits and Client-Centered Design

Use quantitative methods to gather structured, numeric data that can be measured and analyzed to statistical significance if need be.

  • Market research tells you about the number of people or communities experience a problem; the cost of the problem in terms of money, time, resources, or lives; what people are currently doing to solve the problem; and how much they are willing to spend on the problem. Governments collect much of this data and make it available for free. This type of data gives you some insight into your market and clients. However, if you only do market research, then you’re still designing for and not with your clients.
  • Surveys give you responses from specific people and groups to a list of questions. You can draw on existing surveys, like the U.S. community survey. You can also conduct your own survey. See my brand strength survey series as an example. Surveys give you more detailed information than market research, but don’t replace working with individual clients.
  • Experiments are the ultimate quantitative approach. The approach you take depends on your product or service, your audience, and your budget. For a simple experiment, you can conduct A/B tests with your web content and advertising. A complex experiment might involve a control group, experimental group(s), and measurement methods suitable for statistical significance. (See this white paper for more information on complex experiments.)

Qualitative Methods For Nonprofits and Client-Centered Design

Use qualitative methods to gather and learn from input from individual clients. There are ways of quantifying the results from qualitative methods, but these are generally not as numerically robust as quantitative methods.

  • Interviewing clients gives you direct access to what they are thinking. You can interview clients by phone or online conferencing. One benefit of online conferencing is the ability to record the interview for later reference. Develop a script or questionnaire to keep your process consistent and focused. In my experience, you usually need just a handful of interviews to uncover useful insights.
  • Observing clients shows you exactly what clients are doing. Observing is more expensive and obtrusive than interviews, because you need to be in the client’s environment recording what they are doing. Observation is more powerful and interviews, though. People can tell you one thing in an interview but do something different in real life. Develop a score card of objects, people, actions, and statements you want to look for while observing. Video recording your observation session is very useful, but not always possible or acceptable to clients.
  • Focus groups uncover the thoughts and attitudes of a particular type of client. For instance, you can hold a focus group with five single parents from a neighborhood to learn about local child care options. With focus groups, you can probe attitudes and possibly try out new ideas on potential clients.
  • Form a client advisory board. Ask several existing clients if they’d be willing to give you an hour or two of their time every quarter. This group gives you a forum to introduce new ideas, gather feedback about existing products and services, and learn more about the evolving needs of your market.
  • Host a design workshop. Invite a group of your existing or prospective clients to participate in a half-day or whole-day meeting where they give input and ideas for design. This is probably the ultimate example of designing with your clients.
  • Perform field tests. Take a new product or service into the market to see how well it works for clients. These tests may give you the most useful and honest feedback on how well you are meeting your clients’ needs.

Examples of Nonprofits and Client-Centered Design

See these examples of nonprofits and client-centered design from previous blog posts:

In these cases and many others, smart people tapped into the needs, desires, and intelligence of their clients to develop powerful and sustainable solutions.

What can your current and potential clients tell you?

Need help designing with your clients, and not just for them? Contact me for marketing services to uncover new client and market insights.


(Image courtesy of Flickr)

Three Ways To Eliminate Low-Quality Charitable Products

low-quality charitable products

Are you designing and distributing low quality charitable products? How do you know? Just because your clients may benefit from, and even rely on, products that are free to them doesn’t mean you can give them crap. It also doesn’t mean they stop becoming savvy consumers just because something is free to them. Your products and services may be free to your clients, but in areas like healthcare and water they can also a matter of life and death.

Here are three lessons from two cautionary tales of low-quality charitable products.

Low Quality Threatens Healthy Babies

Low-quality charitable products can threaten healthy babies.

In India, TED Fellow Zubaida Bai encountered a midwife who used a small farming implement to cut umbilical cords after delivery. The sight stunned Bai. After delivering her own child in a modern hospital, Bai spent a year trying to shake an infection. What were women in villages going through?

She made it her mission to offer a low-cost kit of medical tools for delivering babies in the developing world. At first, she was thrilled to find that such a kit already existed. Her excitement faded when she final received a kit. Its contents were unhygienic, did not follow medical best practice, and turned off expectant mothers and midwives. Also, the kits were only available when there was charitable funds to support them.

Bai worked with midwives, mothers, and medical experts to design a better kit. For just $3, which was $1 more than the old kit, Bai’s company ayzh created the Jamma clean birth kit with proper and hygienic tools packaged in a purse that mothers could keep and use. So far, the kit has helped more than 600,000 mothers and babies.

Low Quality Threatens Clean Water

low-quality charitable products

Low-quality charitable products can also threaten access to clean water.

In Ghana, Kevin Starr saw the pioneering work of Saha providing clean water in arid, rural areas. The Saha nonprofit business model, supported by both donations and affordable client fees, was thriving in multiple locations. Saha’s ongoing testing at the water source and in client homes showed that their system consistently delivered bacteria-free water.

In one village, though, the local Saha provider was struggling after two years in business. During that time, three different charity programs came to the village, distributed free water filters, and left. While the filters worked, clients stopped using Saha. That’s not to say the filters were effective at removing harmful bacteria. Eventually, the filters clogged or broke, and there was no way to repair or replace them. If free solutions kept arriving and not working, they would kill the one effective method for delivering clean water.

Three Lessons About Low-Quality Charitable Products

Lots of lessons spring from these two stories, but in the context of this blog, three items stick out.

Design matters

Both Saha and ayzh invested effort to design products that were affordable, met measurable standards, and appealed to clients. Both organizations designed products with, and not just for, their clients. For both these companies, competing products that were poorly designed promoted infections that were harmful and potentially deadly.

Business model matters

Saha providers charge pennies for clean water, but compete against free water filters. ayzh charged $1 more for their clean birth kit than the competing charity version. Both companies have build business models with products that cost clients more than all-out charity. However, that additional cost fit within clients’ means and assured quality products with ongoing benefits.

Designing affordable solutions with self sustaining business models is the business solution to poverty and the best way to scale.

Sustainability matters

As Kevin Starr said, there’s an opportunity cost to failure. People in poverty have much less ability to absorb that cost. Solutions for vital services like clean water and health need to work reliably and continually.

Saha’s clean water solution works because it relies on local products and labor, receives revenue in exchange for water, and performs ongoing measurement to ensure quality. Clients don’t get sick and possibly die from infection. One-time interventions with products that wear out can’t match this.

ayzh’s clean birth kit keeps mothers and babies safe from infection. It might sound crass, but this helps sustain the market. ayzh receives revenue for the kit, which ensures ongoing support and product improvements.

Probably the kit’s most clever sustainability aspect is packaging the kit in a purse that the mother could keep. One, the packaging is reusable, making the product more environmentally sustainable. Two, it made the kit more appealing to mothers, sustaining interest in the product. Three, after the birth the purse became a promotional tool when the new mother carried it with her. That helps spread word-of-mouth about the product.

In the end charitable work, like business, requires dedication to a market. Anything less is a disservice and potentially harmful.

Read more about The Business Solution to Poverty.


(Images courtesy of Flickr and WikiMedia)

If Giving Money Directly To Poor People Works Best, Then What Are Non-Profits to Do?

impact on nonprofits of giving cash to poor people

People in poverty lack money. It seems obvious that the best way to end their poverty is to give them money. Increasingly, studies support this obvious approach to reducing poverty. Yet the vast majority of poverty-reduction organizations and agencies offer goods and services, not cash. What is the impact on nonprofits of giving cash to poor people?

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Free Photo Editing without PhotoShop

free photo editing without PhotoShop

As a public or social sector marketer, you often need photo editing done but have no budget for professional designers or design tools. Adobe PhotoShop is the gold standard of photo editing, but it’s expensive and complex. Don’t fear. You can accomplish free photo editing without PhotoShop.

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Increase Your Public and Social Sector Impact Through Lean Methodologies

Lean production principles can transform public and social sector
We love picking on the DMV, don’t we?

In the US, public debts keep mounting, taxpayers keep insisting on lower taxes, and vital services and infrastructure keep declining. We need to find a new way of designing and paying for government. Cost cutting isn’t enough. We need transformation. Lean production principles can transform public and social sector work.

Government is interested in lean, as witnessed by this McKinsey article. Another McKinsey study shows that government can be a leader in digital goods and services. Lean methods show the way.

Lean Focuses on the Process

In Lean Thinking, authors Womack and James describe the lean approach as focusing on

all the specific actions required to bring a specific product (whether a good, a service, or increasingly, a combination of the two) through the three critical management tasks of any business: the problem-solving task running from concept through detailed design and engineering to product launch, the information management task running from order-taking through detailed scheduling to delivery, and the physical transformation task proceeding from raw materials to a finished product in the hands of the customer.

Don’t be put off by the business-oriented language if you work in the public and social sectors. Your organization performs these same activities to serve your clients. You just call them different things.

Why focus on the end-to-end process like this? Because you can uncover, and then eliminate, wasteful practices. Eliminating waste saves you money, allowing you to meet the needs of your clients without exceeding your financial resources.

Here’s one example. A UK social services agency found they spent 85 percent of their time managing and maintaining their bureaucracy, instead of serving their clients. By redesigning their end-to-end process, they switch to spending 80 percent of time actually helping clients.

How can you understand your process from end to end? Pretend you’re a client. Staple yourself to a request for service or payment and observe the process as the request moves through your organization.

Public and Social Sector Obstacles to Lean Approaches

Lean is not easy, nor quick, although you can see some improvements from the very start. Taiichi Ohno developed the Toyota Production System, which is now known as Lean . After 50 years of following Lean, Ohno felt the company was maybe halfway done.

Lean is a mindset, a culture. Changing mindsets and cultures is difficult. Implementing lean methods in public and social sectors have additional challenges identified in the McKinsey article:

  • Disconnect between buyer and user: Buyers may be government agencies, foundations, or individual donors. User or end-customers may be individuals or groups receiving goods or services. This disconnect often forces public and social organizations to focus on improving two different processes.
  • Lack of clear process ownership: A public sector organization rarely invents and controls the processes it must follow. Regulations and policies govern much of what is done. Organizations may start their lean journey focusing on what they do control, and later move towards influencing regulation and policy.
  • Lack of customer or process mindset: Public and social organizations may be more focused on policy and regulation than on delivering value to customers. Lean forces focus onto delivering value while also maintaining compliance. This additional focus can feel like an additional burden instead of a benefit.

Key Concepts in Lean Methodology

Lean is a large field. You can earn a master’s degree in lean management. I’ll try to do justice to some key concepts in a few bullet points:

  • Waste: Ohno identified several types of waste to eliminate: delay, overproduction, defects, excess inventory, and activity and transportation than doesn’t add value.
  • Kaizen: This means continuous improvement through waste reduction. It often takes the form of kaizen events, where process owners and workers make improvements to their workspaces and activities.
  • Flow: Instead of performing batches of similar work, perform a process from start to finish as a continuous flow.
  • Pull: Once you’ve established flow, only initiate the flow when you have demand from a customer.
  • Just-in-Time: When you have flow and pull, you can add to inventory and perform tasks as items and work are needed.
  • Kanban: Use visual cues to indicate pull, items in flow, and problems preventing flow such as need for additional inventory.
  • Cells: Instead of organizing departments according to job type or function, create multi-function cells that can carry out a flow from end to end.

Lean production principles can transform public and social sector work. You can continually eliminate waste, improve effectiveness and raise efficiency. In the public and social sectors, this means free up resources to meet both client needs and budget constraints.

One great thing about lean methodology is that you can start with one concept, one change, and measure your improvement. So, which lean concept would help your organization today?

Lean Thinking and other books mentioned in this blog are available in the bookstore.

(Image courtesy of Flickr)

Free download! Door hanger design template for Microsoft PowerPoint

Public and social sector marketing and activism relies on many types of feet-on-the-street promotion including public information campaigns, get-out-the-vote efforts, community meeting attendance and volunteer recruitment. One method of promoting a cause or viewpoint is going door-to-door. What if no one’s home? My free door hanger design template for PowerPoint helps you create your own door hangers so that you can leave information with the household or business.

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Impact Investing: Return on Investment From Marketing Social Goods

Impact Investing Return on Investment From Marketing Social Goods

Can you do well while doing good? This is the ultimate question for a marketer in the public and social sector. Doing well in the public and social sector means more than just money. Earning money leads to sustainability and scale, two qualities that communities desperately need and funders desperately seek.

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How to Take Back The Night from Light Pollution and Enjoy The Stars Again

reduce light pollution

Light pollution at night is a growing urban problem. Most of us city dwellers can no longer see the stars at night, and this will only become worse as we become more urban. Dark skies at night is a common pooled resource that we can reclaim when we reduce light pollution though proper governance of the commons.

What, you may be asking, are dark skies good for?

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Designing and Promoting Organizational Change: Three Marketing Methods To Move The Elephant

Marketing, especially in the public and social sectors, often targets changing the behavior of individuals and groups. We all know that changing behaviors is hard. If change was easy, we’d all lose weight, save more money for retirement and get enough sleep at night. As a marketer, how do you design and promote organizational change?

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