As a Digital Product Designer who cares for our home here on Earth, I am somewhat frustrated with the powerlessness I feel when thinking about global warming, our use of carbon fossil fuels, destruction of the natural world etc. I’m sure I’m not the only one. After thinking about it for the umpteenth time I decided to use my problem-solving skills I utilise when creating solutions to product problems on this global issue we face.
This epiphany came to me while I was watching an excellent TED talk by John Doerr & Hal Harvey which you can find below.
Yes, I may have repurposed the title a little for this article but for good reason. If you are a designer or design-focused you may have read a book called “Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days” https://www.thesprintbook.com/. During a design sprint on the first day, you sit down with different experts one by one to discuss the project and understand it from their point of view. Instead of taking notes, we use something called “How Might We” which reforms a note into an actionable question. So changing “How to” to “How might we” will create an open-ended optimistic outlook forcing us to think about opportunities and challenges rather than forcing a solution.
With this in mind, I decided to treat the TED talk as an expert interview and wrote down HMW (How might we) questions as I watched. If anything it helped me engage with the conversation a lot more and take the information in like a sponge. By the end of the discussion I had a long list of HMW questions, here are just a few of the key ones:
- HMW get carbon out of the atmosphere?
- HMW reduce grid, transport, building, industrial emissions?
- HMW improve battery technology?
- HMW increase funding for R&D (Research & Development)? (surprisingly underfunded for such a global issue…)
- HMW make green energy cheaper?
- HMW find and focus on the decision-makers?
- HMW change the basics of chemistry from hydro-carbon?
- HMW ensure policy-makers consider carbon emissions?
Nobody knows everything, ideally, I would speak or watch more experts to get different insights and a more well-rounded knowledge base.
Now that we have a general sense of the problem and what needs to be answered we can define the long term goal and questions to focus on. The goal is quite clear in this case and is mentioned at the beginning of the TED talk. The long term goal is to reach zero carbon emissions globally by 2050 decreasing output by 10% year on year. That is one hell of a goal but I’m optimistic it can be done, we managed to put a man on the moon in 10 years so big challenges have been proven conquerable.
We have our goal and expert knowledge, the next thing to do is think about what will stop us from achieving this? Then write the obstacles out as questions to be answered:
- Can battery technology be improved?
- Will green energy become cheaper?
- Can decision-makers make the right call? *
- Can we increase funding for R&D? *
- Will hydro-carbons be replaced?
- Will policies be carbon considerate?
- Will countries follow a plan of policies and be accountable? *
All of us as human beings now have our long-term goal and this article has outlined some of the questions that we need to answer. The next step would be to map out a very high-level journey of your potential solution and apply the top-voted HMW questions to the applicable steps… As a Digital Product Designer, there are maybe 2 or 3 questions that I think I could attempt to answer with a digital solution (marked with an asterisk). What questions can you tackle?
Let me know in the comments about the obstacles you think will prevent us from reaching the long-term goal or maybe you have a solution you think will work towards the goal and answer one or more of the questions.