Building a sustainable waste management system in Nigeria as a community
January 2017 - March 2017
RSA Design Competition Submission
Product Designer: UI/UX Design, design thinking, user research, ideation, user flows, wireframes, prototyping
Katie Clarke - UX Designer
Uthi Thiyagarajah - Designer
Lori Fung - Brand Designer
Toluwa Awodiya - Design Strategist
Phoenix is a project submission for the 2017 RSA Design Award competition. The project brief was “Circular Futures: Design and develop a product, system or business model for Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) based on principles of circular design and value creation.” Our response to this brief was a new waste management solution for Nigeria. Phoenix is a mobile platform that facilitates waste collection by matching households with collectors nearby. The collectors then drop off the garbage at waste to energy facilities and recyclables to a recycling facility.
Preliminary Research & Circular Design
Our team went through a rigorous research period using design toolkits to help us ideate and discover which issues we wanted to tackle. Along the way, we found that air pollution was a major problem in Nigeria and continued to explore this. It wasn’t until we drew out a user-flow diagram that we found that the burning of waste in Nigeria was closely linked to their air pollution problem and we began investigating both issues simultaneously.
A key contributor that helped shape our solution was learning about Sweden’s waste management system. Their mentality of working towards zero-waste and existing frameworks for waste management inspired us to learn from what they had done. We were particularly interested in their waste to energy processes and considered how we could relate their existing solutions to Nigeria's current waste disposal issue.
Framing the Challenge
Our group was really excited to explore what it meant to transform waste-to-energy in Nigeria but it felt as though we were rushing into creating a solution before fully understanding the problem. We used IDEO’s “Frame Your Design Challenge” toolkit to help us define our direction. Through this exercise, we noticed the dichotomy of who was truly affected by air pollution (the poor) and the people who were causing it (the rich). This lead us to frame our challenge as:
How might we leverage communities to solve the waste management and resulting air pollution problem in Lagos?
App Design & User-Testing
We began the process of designing the app with wireframing and paper prototyping. During user-testing, we observed how people interacted with the app and noted their pain points. Key insights we found were:
- Icons are confusing without text (Confusing Visuals)
- People didn’t understand the rewards system (Everyone expected or wanted a different reward)
- How do I know if the collector actually dropped off my garbage? (Lack of trust)
I incorporated these findings into the next iteration of the app. Icons were accompanied by text, the rewards system was changed from what looked like a “shopping model” to a rebate system and our group came up with a model to verify that a collector has dropped off garbage.
Through user testing we realized that we had made assumptions about collectors having access to smartphones. We needed to focus on creating feature phone and legacy phone designs which would be more commonly used by collectors.
Collector's Side - Smartphone Designs
Defining our Solution
Our solution continuously evolved throughout the design process. At every step of defining our solution we made sure it was grounded on primary research, secondary research and results from user-testing. We simultaneously asked ourselves new questions while building the idea and this process never stopped. Looking back, these were the key elements that helped us define our solution.
- People in Nigeria still burn their waste because it's a cultural norm and there usually isn't a better alternative.
- Sweden's waste to energy processes have had a wide positive effect on their country and other European countries have also adopted a similar framework.
- The Lagos Waste Management Authority oversees around 350 collector service companies and most middle-class families pay for a collection service but the service is inconsistent and unreliable.
- The Cleaner Lagos Initiative was introduced in 2016 to solve inefficiencies in the waste management system and they hope to create 29,000 new jobs and 18,000 indirect jobs. (We believe that Phoenix can help accelerate this process)
Phoenix directly involves households and collectors in solving the waste disposal problem, emphasizes the benefits of building waste-to-energy plants in Nigeria, creates partnerships with the government and leverages existing solutions in Nigeria. Our mobile platform is the tool that connects and centralizes the various components of this new system.
When designing for a system, research is everything. This project pushed us into the realm of service design and learning how to design for a country with 173 million people. Our findings gave us a strong understanding of the external context of the product we were creating and shaped how we ultimately designed our solution and platform. The app is a tool for accelerating the solution, not the solution itself. Our team is passionate about introducing this idea to other third world countries that have a similar problem to Nigeria. I'm excited to learn more about the next steps for bringing ideas such as Phoenix to life.