A healthy dose of cynicism and optimism

Published:  June 5, 2015
Aidan Connolly

Bosnian-American industrial designer Amina Horozić has spent the past decade working at every kind of design job imaginable: she’s designed cars, speakers, computers. She’s been a design researcher and written a book. These past few years have presented her with a new question: how can a designer make positive change in the world? After her talk on the issue at agIdeas,  desktop sent her a few questions to find out what she’s been thinking about.



So, your first trip to Melbourne? How was it — same, different, alternate universe-y…?

It was lovely! Everyone is so friendly, I felt quite at home—and the coffee, everywhere, was just exceptional.

It was interesting, then, to hear your defence of design for social development at agIdeas: that the problems facing the global south are too multifaceted; that no single solution will be perfect; that there are many forces who are happy with the status quo. All of which are true. Why do we in the developed world tend to be so cynical of these sorts of projects?

I wish I had an answer for you. Personally, I always feel better knowing I’ve tried to make a positive difference even if I have failed, over not bothering to try at all. That’s what sustains my hope: that one of these attempts at affecting change may actually stick and leave an impact.

I know that any designer worth their salt is empathetic with the needs of the persons they’re designing for, and therefore has a good gauge of reality and obstacles that they’re trying to design around. A healthy dose of both cynicism and optimism is needed to design an appropriate solution—cynicism in order to understand and anticipate the roadblocks and worst-case scenarios, and optimism for the energy to design and push through them.

Courtesy Frog Design and the Nike Foundation

Courtesy Frog Design and the Nike Foundation

Courtesy Spring Accelerator

Courtesy Spring Accelerator

Let’s talk about SPRING Accelerator, a project designed to help lift girls out of poverty in East Africa and South Asia. 

We’ve worked with our partners to design SPRING as a pioneering accelerator that will support businesses whose products and services could transform the lives of adolescent girls. It will give entrepreneurs tailored support to grow their businesses, overcome barriers and empower adolescent girls. The goal of SPRING is to enable early-stage ventures to reach more than 200,000 adolescent girls with innovative products and services that will improve and change the way they live.

Some of the SPRING Accelerator’s entrepreneurs will include businesses that have physical products at the core of their organisations. As fuseproject is well known for our products’ mass market success and enabling organisations to grow through, and with, design — we have designed the accelerator experience to assist the entrepreneurs to do the same with their businesses.

So, SPRING is a business accelerator. How do your product design skills affect your work on SPRING?

My role is to help entrepreneurs analyse their products and identify areas of opportunity, as well as highlight aspects of the product that need change. Of course, we aim to identify those aspects that are successful and could be scaled across a product portfolio.

So, the way my product design skills impact SPRING is through sharing of my expertise with the SPRING entrepreneurs—enabling them to make appropriate adjustments to their products, and thereby their businesses.  It is one of many aspects of their businesses we are helping them to assess, analyse and potentially reframe. The goal is to design for business growth, and to direct the growth and development of products and businesses so they can have a positive impact on the adolescent girls in the region.

SPRING credits its focus on girls to what Nike calls ‘The Girl Effect’. What has the experience been like for you, as a woman, trying to help young girls out of poverty?

It’s fascinating how many issues our global sisterhood shares—whether we live in San Francisco or outskirts of Dhaka. We are all trying to build safer, cleaner and more welcoming and inclusive communities. And I think it’s that fact that makes this project so easy to relate to, and understand, for everyone involved.

There’s a lot of different stakeholders [in these projects], but there’s also current ingrained systems in place that aren’t exactly placing the focus of their agendas on girls’ health and well being, financial or otherwise. Not to mention the harsh realities in which the majority of the world lives.

What are the challenges of bringing design thinking to impoverished areas, where there are lower rates of literacy and people spend a much larger amount of time doing things like cooking, finding water, and so on?

We have some assumptions, and some known facts like lack of certain resources—both in human capital and raw materials—but we won’t be certain of exactly what the challenges will be until the program starts unfolding. We will find out soon enough as to what obstacles we will encounter, what will stand in the way of implementing new designs and new business models, and where and how we’ll have to be creative in order to affect change.

Courtesy of the Nike Foundation,

Courtesy of the Nike Foundation,

What designers or projects do you think are doing great work at the moment?

There’s so much good work being done these days, it’s overwhelming! Patricia Urquiola and the Bouroullecs can do no wrong in my book. I also love what’s been coming out of Form Us With Love, Nendo, Gam Fratesi, Formafantasma…I could go on for days on this topic. It’s an exciting time to be designing and to be a designer.

What projects would you like to be working on in 5–10 years?

If you told me ten years ago that by 2015, I would have published a book, gotten an MBA and be working at fuseproject in San Francisco I’d laugh and tell you you’re crazy. So to answer your question, I hope that in 5-10 years I’m working on something that would positively surprise, and fulfil me, just as much as the last decade has.

Aether Speaker. Lead by Casper Asmussen, designed by Amina Horozić, Mika Nenonen and Chad Harber.

Aether Cone. Lead by Casper Asmussen, designed by Amina Horozić, Mika Nenonen and Chad Harber.

Aether Speaker. Lead by Casper Asmussen, designed by Amina Horozić, Mika Nenonen and Chad Harber.

Aether Cone. Lead by Casper Asmussen, designed by Amina Horozić, Mika Nenonen and Chad Harber.


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