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Designing Like We Give a Damn

Design and User Experience
Location: 2002 Level: Intermediate

One billion people live in abject poverty. Four billion people live in fragile but growing economies. One in seven people live in slum settlements. All around the world there are talented designers who want to use their skills to help those in need. Now, thanks to the Open Architecture Network, they can.

The Open Architecture Network, (OAN), harnesses the best of Web 2.0 design concepts to allow architects and designers of all persuasions to collaborate with and inspire each other on designs that are changing people’s lives. Since the site was unveiled at the TED conference in March 2007, more than 8,000 people have joined the network to improve living conditions for people who have been victims of war, poverty, and natural disasters.

OAN was the brainchild of Architecture for Humanity, a non-profit organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crises. In July 2006, Hot Studio, a user-centered design firm based in San Francisco, volunteered to lead the design effort for this new collaboration system.

To kick off the project, we flew to Biloxi, Mississippi, one of the cities ravaged by floods from Hurricane Katrina, to talk with people who lost their homes, and those who were leading rebuilding efforts. We’ll talk about how this intensive ethnographic research inspired our own design process, and led to tangible features that can be found on the OAN today.

In this case study, we hope to dispel some of the hype that surrounds Web 2.0, and show how user research can create breakthroughs in our thinking. It can lead us to design things that are about more than just employing the latest technology. It can ground us in the needs of real people, and help us to design things that can truly change people’s lives.

Photo of Katrina Alcorn

Katrina Alcorn

Hot Studio

Since the late 90s, Katrina has led information architecture, user research, and content strategy efforts on projects ranging from online magazines to Flash demos to applications for enrolling new health care members. Her work includes projects for InformationWeek, Sun Microsystems, Charles Schwab, Blue Shield of California, Architecture for Humanity, the United Methodist Church, Gap Inc., LeapFrog SchoolHouse, and Adobe. In 2003 she was hired to build and lead a new user experience team at Hot Studio, an award-winning design firm based in San Francisco. Today she leads Hot’s group of about ten user experience architects.

Before her foray into the Internet, Katrina worked as a freelance writer and editor for several newspapers and magazines in Hawaii and California, and as an associate producer for an award-winning national PBS television series. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and documentary filmmaking from the University of California, Berkeley.

Photo of Maria Giudice

Maria Giudice

Hot Studio

Maria Giudice is the CEO and Founder of Hot Studio, Inc., a San Francisco-based, human-centered design studio dedicated to making the complex beautifully clear. Maria is considered a pioneer in the field of information architecture and was prominently featured in the 1996 book Information Architects by Richard Saul Wurman. In 2002, she was included in the book 1000 Most Creative Individuals in the USA. Maria has coauthored two best-selling books about web design: Web Design Essentials and Elements of Web Design. Since 1997 Maria has lead Hot Studio’s team of individuals dedicated to creating design systems that are both beautiful and highly functional. Maria has more than 20 years of experience working with and mentoring people from many different disciplines. Maria holds a degree from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, and has spoken about design and the power of collaboration at conferences around the world.