Human-Centered Design v. Youth Unemployment

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One founder explains how her company is using the principles of human-centered design to empower Gen Y to find jobs. 

By Adrienne Rochetti (Co-founder & CEO, Akimbo)

The dialogue around youth unemployment is often saturated with daunting numbers that paint a grim picture: 73 million, the number of unemployed youth across the globe in 2013; 32%, the portion of employed young people that can only find part-time work; 600 million, the number of jobs that need to be created over the next decade.

The solutions being proposed often call for sweeping policy changes and systems overhauls…things highly unlikely to happen overnight and make an immediate impact on an individual’s life. This has had a highly defeating effect on Generation-Y, creating a whole sub-layer of problems they must face in addition to the lack of opportunity. As for pursuing your dreams and following your passions, these have seemingly become ideals of the past.

As a member of Gen Y, I became increasingly frustrated by the top-down nature of how attempts to solve this problem were being made. Not only was my generation being left to struggle in a difficult economic landscape that we did not create, but we were having our problem framed, and solutions dictated to us by people who did not fully understand the complexities or depth of our struggle.

Through the access that I had to real-life stories from the frontlines of the problem, I came to understand that the power was in people and not these overwhelming numbers. Their lived experiences showed the many faces and complexities of the problem and thus the multiple touch points where solutions needed to be provided. This prompted me to create my company, Akimbo, an online platform helping young people build their professional brand, enhance their skills and experience foundation, and connect to new opportunities. We have also started several programs and initiatives designed to empower young entrepreneurs with resources and inspiration.

Human-Centered Design

I wanted Akimbo to be a true laboratory for collaborative innovation through which we could co-create our solutions for unemployment directly with the youth population. Since I was fresh out of the Social Entrepreneurship classroom at the New School when the idea for Akimbo was being developed, my brain could not escape an echoing of lessons on human-centered design. More specifically, these words powerfully resonated with me and remain a guiding principle for Akimbo to this day, “At its core, the human-centered design process is based upon the fundamental belief that gaining a deep understanding of the needs, hopes, and aspirations of potential customers and the lives they live yields incredible inspiration for new solutions.”

From Theory to Practice

In the very early stages, the incorporation of human-centered design into our process was highly informal. There were happy hour meet-ups and lunches at our office to get young people discussing the issues. We went to Washington Square Park and begged busy NYC college students to talk to us. Then we harnessed the power of the patterns in these shared fears, experiences, and dreams to construct our approach to tackling the problem.

Another principle of human-centered design that we have adopted is that of rapid prototyping and testing, directly including the end user in the heart of the design process. For example, we have launched a program called “Akimbo Labs.” These offline meet-ups serve as a space to release new features and gain real-time feedback in order to make adjustments before taking the final version to market.  Additionally, we open this space up to our members to let them use it as a forum for rolling out new ventures and moving their ideas forward.

The Impact

I firmly believe that leveraging the power of human experience for problem solving and solution development holds relevance for all entrepreneurs. For Akimbo, it has become an important piece of our overall brand story and a guiding compass for our strategy. It has enabled us to tear down the traditional boundaries of the company-customer power structure, building a sense of community and shared ownership among our members. Additionally, it has opened our eyes to new populations who could benefit from our solution. Finally and most rewarding, our internal design philosophy has become physically evident in our end product, as our users always tell us that we have “brought back the human element.”

AR PicAbout the guest blogger: Adrienne Rochetti is the co-founder and CEO of Akimbo. Previously, she served as the Director of Business Development for Let All The Children Play Foundation and also worked in Global Business Development for the NBA. She received her Master’s in Nonprofit Management from The New School  and holds a BS from NYU.