Design for the other 90% at USC?

Suburban USC Overlooking Downtown's 'Hustle and Grit'

Written by Jared Goodner, NCIIA student ambassador to Univ. of Southern California

I’ve been networking like a madman since I got back from a very worthwhile week over at NCIIA HQ.  Mostly because now I’ve got a great “in.”  I know plenty of guys who would scoff at chatting up a pretty brunette because they didn’t know how to begin a conversation (never me, of course! Editor’s note: mmmHmmm.).  But once you’ve got that convo started, Step 1: Chat em up (If you can make em laugh, that’s better)  Step 2: Pull a coffee date.  That’s a lot like networking.  I’d be careful taking coquetry advice from an engineer, which I am, but beginning that conversation isn’t so difficult if you’ve already got common ground.

I’ve found some common ground in what appears to be a lacking design constituency at USC.  USC (and many research institutions around the country) is becoming increasingly interested in commercializing research coming out of their laboratories (see the Coulter Foundation, NSF I-corp, HTE program).  However, despite a well-funded entrepreneurship center (a subset of Marshall School of Business) and strong engineering department, it seems to me that the campus is missing a core component of commercialization in that it lacks substantial product design talent.  The timing is right for a relationship between the engineering/business communities at USC and the design community at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.

There is sooo much strength in the business savvy / tech prowess / design trifecta! Being that NCIIA’s goals are socially focused, their Course and Program grants provide for an excellent opportunity to develop product design curricula focused on the “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BoP) social strata.  The term BoP refers to folks making under $2.50/day, of which there are 2.5 billion world-wide—that’s a huge underserved market.  There are existing programs that teach this sort of design – Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability and MIT’s D-lab are both excellent.  Paul Polak is also a great inspiration.  So no need to reinvent the wheel!  Use their success as a template and develop programs at your university.

As for USC, perhaps it’s time to meld Pasadena’s quiet hilltops with Downtown’s hustle and grit?

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