What If? – Project 4

What If?

“Embracing human-centred design means believing that all problems, even those that are seemingly intractable like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable” (IDEO.org). So why not equip individuals experiencing those problems with the mindset, tools, and techniques of a human-centred designer?

“What If?” is a kid-friendly generative design tool in the form of a card game. The goal of the game is to empower El Cocal school children with the creative confidence and optimism necessary for tackling their personal and communal issues. As part of the Global Vision International (GVI) curriculum, these cards immerse the user into the mindset of a designer by facilitating the application of human-centred design methods and techniques to personal and communal issues that they may encounter during their daily life. Throughout my 3-week immersion into the community of El Cocal, I witnessed and learned about the different personal and communal struggles that residents face on a daily basis. These included employment, education, waste management, security, housing, immigration, the natural environment, community culture, transportation and more. Imagine a community that could approach and solve their issues without the aid of external organizations. “What If?” as a platform can be a catalyst for shifting the mindset of the next generation of youth in El Cocal by changing the way they approach their personal and communal problems.

How it works

“What If?” presents children with a problem relevant to their lives and a human-centred design technique to help solve it. The tool consists of two different card decks: Circumstance and Activity.

On the face of each Circumstance card, a “What if…” question is posed. Each question falls under different categories of personal and communal circumstances that El Cocal children could potentially face.

On the face of the Activity cards, an activity based off of a human-centred technique is presented. The techniques used are based off of Design Thinking’s 5 step methodology: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. The techniques used are then presented in a kid-friendly way, free of any specialized design language.


Day Nine

Cooking Class

With an early start to the day, the Waste Infrastructure and Pilot Model groups headed over to Aneida’s house in El Cocal for a cooking class. On the menu today was Costa Rican Empanadas, frijoles, rice, and a salad. Our tasks varied, from cutting up tomatoes, onions, and making the dough. Aneida was expecting a propane tank early in earlier the morning to power her oven top stove but, unfortunately it had not come on time. So instead, her son prepared a fire in there outdoor grill to cook the rice. The choice of fuel source was a bag full of trash and some tempered wood cutoffs. Throughout this trip, there have been many eye opening experiences, especially in this case where we witnessed the many different ways in which trash is repurposed and disposed. Although it was unfortunate to see this, the experience reinforced the importance that education about waste management will play a crucial role in our project.



After the delicious meal that we helped cook, we moved on to our next job: community interviews. After brainstorming over the past couple of days, the Waste Infrastructure and Pilot Model groups collaborated to generate three potential waste management systems. Since there can only be one system, we turned to community elders Aneida and Don Giovanni for some feedback on which concepts they thought would be most effectively operate in the community. So far, the project has allowed me to extend my appreciation for the power of interviews. The instant feedback we received through conversation got rid of our doubt and speculation, leaving us with new ideas and a clearer path towards our next step.


Dance Lessons

To finish off the long day, the class participated in a dance class hosted at the Hostel. During the lesson we ran through Salsa, Bachata, and Cumbia choreography. Prior to the lesson I felt pretty confident that I would be able to pick up on the dance moves pretty easily. But, I was soon to find out I was wrong. I kept blaming my inability to follow the steps on my footwear choice but, I think it was clear that was not the reason. Regardless, the activity was a nice way to unwind, get a little exercise in, and learn something new.


Day Two

Early this morning, we headed into El Cocal to speak with some of the stakeholders in the community. Day one had equipped us with a basic understanding of the people and environment but, today we took the next important step into gaining a deeper understanding of the interacting factors within the community. Stories from elders like Doña Nicasia and Don Enrique not only gave us a sense of empathy but, provided us with different perspectives of their diverse values, desires, and attitudes.


Mangos, Mangos, Mangos

During our interview with Doña Nicasia, an elder and an active participant in driving change within the community, mangos dropped from the several trees in the yard, sometimes bouncing off the sheet metal roof of their shed. At the end of our conversation, I asked what they did with those mangos. They then answered me by gifting me a box full of the beautiful ripe fruit. This gesture reinforced that feeling being welcome that I felt from day one and gave us a genuine interaction with the type of people we will be working during the next few weeks. These are people who are struggling to receive the necessary daily resources but are still willing to give.


The Youth

Just from walking onto the beach, the state of the current waste management solutions were visible. A hole in the ground accompanied by a burning pit was situated behind the kids playground. The youth have no vision for the community. They go to school, try to get through it and whether they do or not, they will most likely end up working outside of the community.” Don Enrique expressed to us his worries regarding the disconnect between the youth and the ownership of the land and how this plays a large role in progressing toward a modernization of the current waste management system.