Innovating for Outcomes in a Real World

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Timothy Prestero, founder and CEO of Design that Matters, a nonprofit that collaborates with entrepreneurs and volunteers to design products for the developing countries.

At the end of his brilliant TED talk, Timothy Prestero, founder and CEO of Design that Matters (DtM), a Cambridge, MA-based nonprofit, summed up his work by saying:

I have to think like an existentialist. I have to accept that there are no dumb users, that there’s only dumb products. We have to ask ourselves hard questions. Are we designing for the world that we want? Are we designing for the world that we have? Are we designing for the world that’s coming, whether we’re ready or not?

I got into this business designing products. I’ve since learned that if you really want to make a difference in the world, you have to design outcomes. And that’s design that matters.

I report on innovation and collaboration. There’s a piece in between the two that needs to be reviewed. It’s about impact. Impact on, as Prestero says, the world we have rather than the world we want.


Firefly, designed by DtM and described in co. materials as “a cost-effective, intuitive phototherapy device designed to treat newborns with mild to severe jaundice in low-resource settings.”

His initial innovation, NeoNurture infant incubator, has won awards and made the cover of TIME magazine. And never went into production. Net result of the collaboration and innovation? Not one baby saved.

When Prestero went back to rethinking what he was doing, and what lessons he and his team learned, the outcome was very different and far better. So it’s not just the collaboration and the innovation that in the final analysis counts. Save yourself a lot of hard lessons and listen to what Prestero has learned through his trials and errors.

Bottom line: If you are going to innovate and collaborate for a better world, make sure you’re starting with the real world in mind, not the ideal one you wish you had.

Source: “Timothy Prestero: Design for people, not awards,” TEDxBoston, June 2012