by Justin Porcano
Justin Porcano is Senior Industrial Design Manager at Accenture and co-founder of Save Sight Now, an organization committed to curing childhood blindness.
Created with Justin's wife Rosalyn, in honor of their daughter Lia, and supported by SF Bay Area industrial designers in our community (including Dominic Peralta, Susan McKinney, Chad Harber, and more), Save Sight Now will hold its 3rd annual Gift of Vision fundraiser on December 1, 2022. Sign up and spread the word!
There is nothing more powerful and broadly applicable than a solid design process.
At its core, industrial design = creative problem solving. As industrial designers, we typically apply our problem-solving methodologies and processes towards creating physical products, ultimately in support of a desired experience. Along our professional journey, we learn hard skills and develop our soft skills. However, our soft skills are by no means ‘soft.' They include leading teams of multi-disciplined designers and engineers, conducting effective and thorough research exercises, the ability to effectively communicate ideas and strategies to clients and partners, defining project scopes and production schedules, and having the ability to understand our user’s needs and empathize with their challenges.
Never in a million years did Justin imagine he would have to apply those skills to such a personal and consequential challenge. In 2018, Justin’s 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Usher syndrome type 1B – a rare genetic disorder that results in profound deafness from birth, a compromised vestibular system (leading to severe balance issues), and the progressive and rapid onset of vision loss in early childhood. It is an assault on the senses.
As designers, we have an inherent need and want to help, and problem solve; and this instinct is multiplied exponentially when the problem is so personal and unforgiving. Justin leveraged his industrial design soft skills and recruited his close friends – mostly industrial designers – to help him solve this problem.
The ultimate challenge for Justin and his team of designers was: How do you raise funding to monetarily support promising medical research that can save the vision of Lia (his daughter), and thousands of other children rapidly going blind due to Usher syndrome?
- Step 1 – Conduct Research to Understand Feasibility. Is attempting to save her vision possible based on current medical and therapeutic research? Where is the field of inherited retinal disease research and are people working on this problem? The answer was yes and yes.
- Step 2 – Understand the Challenge. What are the largest therapeutic challenges for finding a treatment? If we had all the money in the world to fund research, what would researchers’ highest hurdles be? Identify, communicate, and partner with subject matter experts – the researchers – to learn and understand the challenge. In this case, MYO7A, the gene associated with USH1B is too large to deliver with current gene therapy techniques (AAV), and there are no existing reliable animal models to test therapeutic strategies.
- Step 3 – Define the Goal. What is the focus of our mission? Identify and fund researchers working on large gene delivery systems and the creation of animal models for testing therapies.
We used common research processes to identify and define our problem. Our primary design challenge was to develop a sustainable and scalable concept for successfully communicating, soliciting, and receiving funding. So, we created Save Sight Now.
Save Sight Now became our mechanism for collecting funding, but more importantly, it became our identity and brand. Our product is Save Sight Now, and when asking people to donate their money to a cause, and trust you and your mission, nothing is more impactful or valuable than empathetic storytelling – a critical design skill.
We deployed – and continue to deploy – many applicable soft as well as hard design skills. Here are just a few examples:
- Storytelling and Branding – We came up with a brand language demonstrated by our logo that was direct and easy to understand – no gratuitous BS – and able to traverse multiple mediums. Our color palette matches our fiscal sponsors to communicate the relationship we have with them. Time is critical to our mission, so we not only made sure to communicate that in our logo, but also support it with our tagline and messaging: 'Save Sight Now: The future depends on the present.'
- Road mapping and Scheduling – In order to prioritize funding targets and allocate budget, we had to create a future roadmap informed by the current research landscape and evolving therapies. This roadmap was closely tied to defined milestones that allow us to stay on track and make critical decisions; similar to defining a production schedule with critical stage-gates.
- Presentation skills – We are constantly presenting our story and our strategy to potential researchers, donors, publications, and sponsors. Building a communicative presentation is invaluable when demonstrating our plan and who we are, as is the ability to pitch and speak in front of pharma execs when asking them to invest time and resources into our project.
- Asset Creation – Everything is supported by the assets we create. We use Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign daily to build marketing materials, press kit decks, newsletters, branding campaigns, social media images, presentations, fundraising campaigns, and branded swag. Our basic design skills and tools are fundamental to our success.
We would love the help and support of our design community to further our mission. That could take many forms, like donating your time to brainstorm new ideas for spreading awareness, helping with campaign ideation and asset creation, defining a social media outreach plan, creating a replicable physical product to sell, or simply helping us raise awareness about our mission by leveraging connections you have within your network.
This is a community that exists on the edge of innovation, it would be amazing to see what we could do when we apply our design thinking skills to such an underserved and critical challenge.