Introduction to the Impact diagram

When we talk about the Impact parameter within Design to Improve Life, we are referring to how a design affects its surroundings, e.g. the positive and negative consequences it has on its surroundings and users. In short, the part of the design that is developed with the intention of improving people’s lives.

However, Impact also focuses on the challenges that the design should address; how and to what extent the challenge negatively affects people’s lives and surroundings based on the three sustainability parameters: Social, environmental and economic. An assessment of the negative impact of a problem or challenge is an important benchmark when the students are designing positive Design to Improve Life solutions.

The Impact diagram is developed to assess and evaluate Design to Improve Life challenges and solutions from the perspectives of the three sustainability parameters.

The equilateral triangle diagram symbolizes how all three sustainability parameters are equally important and should thus be valued equally when you are evaluating a design. You have to be aware of several facets, when you are evaluating a design or a challenge, and we will now recommend a few subjects the students can discuss:

Environmental sustainability
How does the design affect its natural surroundings and the environment? Is it reusable/ recyclable or is it easily composted? Does the design contain toxic materials? Does it protect biodiversity (plants, animals and people)?

Social sustainability
How does the design affect the society and its people? Is the design meant for a local area or for global use? Does the design change the society locally/globally? Can others benefit from the design? Does the design focus on human rights?

Economic sustainability
How does the design affect the local or global economy? Does the design generate profit? Does the price of the design match the target group’s economic capability? Does the design have potential for systemic development? –How? Is the design economically stable?

How do you use the Impact diagram?
The students can use the Impact diagram in two ways:

  1. In the Impact diagram the students use the axes to mark the strengths/weaknesses of a Design to Improve Life solution (1=weak, 5=strong). When they have made a mark on each of the three axes, they connect the three spots to form a triangle. This triangle can vary in size according to how the students evaluate the design. The larger the triangle, the stronger the design is within each sustainability parameter. A design is not necessarily bad just because it is not strong on all axes; however it is important that the students discuss how to improve the design to make it as strong as possible within each parameter.
  2. Using the Impact diagram, the students have to vote on a design’s sustainability principle. Instead of discussing the design immediately, the design teams reflect individually (op post-its) on where they believe the design is strongest. If a person thinks the design focuses more on the environmental principles e.g. through sustainable materials, the person should write this on a post-it and place it in the environmental corner of the triangle. When all the teams’ members have placed their post-its with accompanying arguments on the triangle, the students jointly discuss the placements, and if one of the sustainability parameters has more votes than the others they discuss why. Ultimately, the students can discuss how to strengthen the areas where the design is weakest.

The following techniques use the Impact diagram:
1. Timeline
2. Winners’ Review

How is the Impact diagram used in Sum Up?
The diagram can be used in connection with the preparation and completion of Sum Up and has several additional purposes:

  • Assessment and evaluation of the negative impact a challenge has on people and their surroundings in the Prepare phase.
  • Setup of Impact goals for how the design teams’ future solutions should change negative impacts to have a positive effect on people’s lives and surroundings in relation to the three sustainability parameters from the Perceive phase.
  • Assessment and evaluation of the final solutions in relation to the established Impact goals in the Produce phase.

Assessment of the negative impact of a challenge
In the Prepare phase the Impact diagram is used to assess challenges. At this stage the students discuss to what extend a challenge negatively affects the three sustainability parameters. The assessment is used when the design teams are prioritizing the challenges they have covered in Open Space (technique 4) and Mindmap and Focus (technique 6). A challenge could potentially be assessed to have a large negative effect on the environment, while another challenge might negatively affect the social sustainability. Based on these assessments, the design teams discuss which challenges hold the most potential in relation to the design teams’ interests and resources.

Setup of Impact goals for the final design
In the Perceive phase the Impact diagram is used to establish goals for how extensive the positive outcome of the final solution should be on all three sustainability parameters. The goal is not necessarily to create maximal positive impact on all three parameters, but the teams have to justify why their Impact goals look as they do.

The Impact goals are hung on the wall and should be visible throughout the design process, as they should be used as benchmarks in the Prototype- and Produce phases during the Sum Ups.

Assessment and evaluation of the final solutions
In the Produce phase the diagrams, which the design teams have developed in the earlier phases, is used to assess the Design to Improve Life quality of their solutions. In the final Sum Up, the design teams present their diagrams and a joint Impact diagram is developed.

After a design team has presented their process and design solution, the other students brainstorm on what they think is good/bad/ missing in relation to the three sustainability parameters. They write their arguments on post-its, which can have different colors depending on whether they are good or bad comments. The post-its can also include suggestions. When the students give their individual feedback, they place their postits on the presenting design team’s Impact diagram and verbally justify their arguments. When Sum Up is completed, the design teams should have received feedback on their Design to Improve Life solutions’ positive impact on people and their surroundings, and should have gained new ideas for how to strengthen their designs’ sustainability.