I led the system and UX design of açik imece—an Istanbul-based open innovation platform to provide social impact entrepreneurs with design thinking instruction, resources, and networking.
Turkey’s entrepreneurial ecosystem was energized to tackle social challenges through design and technology, but fragmented resources made growth and collaboration difficult.
A comprehensive, digital innovation platform that incorporates on-demand learning, mentorship and networking, and a social impact project incubator.
As UX lead, I managed this project throughout its full development cycle from user research, to wireframes, to completion. I was the sole contributor to everything featured in this case study unless otherwise noted.
Taking on inequity through design
Turkey’s private sector plays a substantial role in addressing a diverse range of social challenges, and an emerging ecosystem of entrepreneurs were looking to tackle them through design and technology.
Despite the growing buzz around design thinking and social impact innovation in Turkey, resources were fragmented, mentorship and collaboration was inaccessible, and online design thinking instruction geared towards Silicon Valley didn’t always resonate for entrepreneurs in other parts of the world.
Identifying the needs of social impact entrepreneurs
In preparation for my time in Istanbul, I conducted extensive research and interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs connected to Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation to better understand what resources are most valuable to early-stage social impact projects.
Two resources were consistently noted as overwhelmingly valuable by social impact entrepreneurs: instruction on project-related design thinking skills (prototyping, user research, etc.), and mentorship and networking through a community.
Early-stage social impact projects tend to be operated by mission-driven entrepreneurs with less of a technical background.
Technical contributions are typically made through design thinking instruction, or acquired through connections.
A new era of social innovation—digital, accessible, collaborative, comprehensive.
Based on my research, I worked with stakeholders to develop a framework that was inclusive with a low barrier to entry, but also one that could provide learning enrichment and long-term support for social impact entrepreneurs based on the funding we had available.
Açik Imece will incorporate a social network, learning module, and “open innovation” platform (like OpenIDEO).
The open innovation platform will feature design challenges created in partnership between imece and industry leaders, and auspicious projects will have the chance to be supported further in a 6-month incubator.
Design challenges (i.e. “Sustainable solutions to tackle packaging waste”) will be created in partnership between imece and industry leaders looking to innovate their domain through a social impact lens.
imece will incorporate a handful of geographic hubs (Istanbul, Izmir, etc.), and a flourishing online community to foster collaboration, mentorship, and networking among designers, developers, and entrepreneurs.
Standout projects with scalable social impact potential will have the chance to be supported with mentorship, funding, and resources for 6 months as a part of the imece incubator.
Inspired by the Stanford d.school, we conceptualized a learning hub that contains an abundance of resources and classes—all through the lens of social innovation, all designed to resonate with Turkish entrepreneurs.
A social innovation hub that incorporates design challenges, a learning platform, and a vibrant community of developers, designers, mentors, and entrepreneurs.
Social impact entrepreneurs in Turkey
In putting together açik imece's look and feel, I drew inspiration from the digital presence of eminent think tanks, international design firms, NGOs, and related entities.
I created a visual language that leaned on near-primary and secondary colors, and flat graphics for a playful platform vibe that gently held the high-res imagery covers of featured media.
Through my research and engagements with investors, partners, and target users, I determined the most important first impressions were reputability and freshness.
So I designed the home page to present imece at a high, polished level by featuring its mission, notable design challenges, and recent news and updates.
Clean, bright, and vibrant - I designed imece's learning hub to let the content do most of the talking, featuring cards with images, descriptions, enrollment and instructor info, and dates/course length when applicable.
To cultivate a sense of community while also allowing for engagement at any time, I worked with imece's learning designers on a structure that included on-demand courses, as well as "Group Courses" taught on a schedule that coincided thematically with design challenges to support participating teams.
Each imece design challenge would be created in collaboration with sponsors and industry partners.
The prompts would vary in nature from more open-ended themes (ie bolstering access to education) to more specific technical challenges (ie creative ways to use cork in packaging design) depending the priorities of sponsors.
Each challenge would be open submission and run on a timeline. A number of teams would be selected into the cohort to receive a grant, workspace, and resources to bring their idea to life.
The product development process would then be community-facing over a number of months as teams prototyped, iterated, and eventually pitched with a chance to be accepted into imece's social impact incubator.
imece (i-meh-jay) doesn't have a direct English translation, but it means "communal effort toward a common goal." So imece's community would be the heart and soul of the platform.
In my research into Stanford's social impact ecosystem, I found that social entrepreneurs accessed their most valued resources - networking, mentorship, and technical support - through a network of active email lists.
So for my design inspiration, I essentially reimagined this network of email lists into a graphical interface featuring their most frequently posted topics.
To facilitate meaningful connections among community members, each posting contains "tags" to dynamically match users with opportunities based on skills and interests.
Tags ranged from skills like 'prototyping' or 'web development,' to topics like 'sharing experience' or 'healthcare design.'
Finally, to support a sense of personal empowerment and buy-in among users, I designed a "my imece" feature where users can manage and organize their platform experience through customizable profiles, and add tags to be matched with opportunities based on their skills and growth focuses.