Design for the unknown problem

Sarah Nashold, design researcher at SonicRim, is a close friend of mine and I was on the phone with her going on about my recent obsession with jugaad, India, grassroots innovation and emerging markets when she stopped me cold with a question. What is jugaad? Not in the sense of a dictionary definition, but in the context of design.

Design being essentially problem solving, and jugaad essentially solving problems, why where the two words not synonyms, she asked. And here is my struggling attempt to answer her.

The basic concept of design, as in the design of a product that will solve a problem or fulfill a need – whether known already, or that derived through insights from research – implies that there are criteria, usually predetermined, that will be fulfilled, or constraints, that will be met. Design criteria could range from what kind of product it will be, even if its final form and use is yet to be developed, such as ‘a handheld that will allow the user to communicate by voice or text’ or ‘a gasoline powered vehicle’ and constraints could be elements such as price points – it should not cost more than $50 to make or materials – it should be made of recyclable plastics only. While these are simple and crude examples, and I realise that in actual practice both design criteria and constraints can be far more complex, they will serve to help differentiate from the concept of jugaad.

Jugaad, when defined as ‘solving a problem’ is at once far more complex and far simpler than the process of design. In the simplest terms, it is in fact designing a solution to solve a problem. Or ‘coming to a solution’ or ‘arranging a solution’ and of course, my favourite, ‘making it happen’. Alan Gutierrez, whom I also discussed this with suggests the term ‘jerry rigged‘ – which while accurate for many types of ‘jugaad‘ can’t quite capture the whole. Jugaad is an abstract concept, and there are many types. Just like a policy or service or a system can be designed, you can use political jugaad or personal jugaad to get things done. Similarly, while jugaad is often a last minute sudden solution that is required, one that may well be jerry rigged, you can also jugaadofy [hinglish often uses english suffixes for hindi words] an elegant and permanent solution.

While I will still continue to struggle to explain the concept with any degree of satisfaction within the constraints of the English language, I believe that more than an artifact or a process, jugaad is first and foremost an attitude. One that is closely intertwined with the qualities required for disruptive innovation; a willingness to do what it takes to meet an objective, reach a goal, to fulfill a promise. A vow, one could say, to make it happen, under the most stringent constraints and within the most rigid criteria. Ironically, while it is believed that rigidity and stringency are among the most fundamental barriers to ‘design, creativity and innovation’ – hence the concept of crazy, anything goes skunkworks – I think that it is when you have the barest minimum with little or no leeway that you must be the most creative in order to achieve your goals.

I am still not satisfied with this and will return to struggle with it again.

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5 Responses to Design for the unknown problem

  1. neelakantan says:

    “Jugaad” means, “do something and make it work”. Usually applied in a crisis situation when you go to that all knowing nerd and plead “do some jugaad” and he comes up with a quick and dirty solution to solve your problem atleast in the interim!
    Jugaads are not usually associated with well planned articulated thoughts, but jugaad is the answer to murphy.

  2. Niti Bhan says:

    Hmm, Neelakantan, your answer is in fact the perfect ‘jugaad’ solution 🙂 I was trying for a well planned articulated thought, and you provided in your comment a ‘quick and dirty’ solution – but would you say that your definition applies for the interim :)- how do we explain jugaads that work well for a long term solution?
    I like your ‘jugaad is the answer to murphy’ – that does indeed capture the essence of when and why you need jugaad. For the unexpected.

  3. Jugaad sounds like kludge with accountability.

  4. Niti Bhan says:

    Alan, the key part, I think is the ‘with accountability’ part of it. That is what I believe differentiates it from a ‘slapdash’ or ‘make do’ solution, jugaad is more ‘polished’ almost like pulling together a deal where every single piece falls into place and all the details are taken care of. a certain panache, I’ve always thought – but perhaps that is my own brand of jugaad 🙂

  5. Sounds like a kludge where the author is convinced that it is an elegant hack. Panache might be the defining quality.
    It’s the nature of some of the web programming I see in PHP. It’s hard to look at the code, but it works.
    If it doesn’t work, the author makes it work. If it doesn’t work enough, the author makes it faster. I might never be impressed by the code, but I’m impressed by the results.

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