Published on 14 March 2018

Over at the three-day Brainstorm Design conference last week (part of Singapore Design Week), some of the top names in the business world shared how design forms an integral part of their business strategies. We share some of their illuminating insights.

By Melanie Lee


Credit Stefan Chow for Fortune Brainstorm Design

Elizabeth Laraki, Facebook’s Director of Product Design, Social Good and Goodwill talked about how Facebook is committed to designing tools to help people do more good on the social platform.

Laraki zoomed in on its Safety Check feature and how this has been widely used in natural disasters and terrorist attacks by users wanting to reassure loved ones that they are unharmed. She also brought up Community Help, which connects affected users to food, shelter, transportation and fundraising responses. These two valuable tools are now parked under a community portal called Crisis Response.

“People are already doing a lot of these behaviors on Facebook today,” Laraki said, “so part of it is recognising what behaviors people are doing and looking at really understanding why they’re doing these things, and then evaluating if there is an opportunity for us to really make a difference,” she said.


Credit Stefan Chow for Fortune Brainstorm Design

Leung Shanying, Director of User Experience Design of Alipay talked broadly about how the concept of cashless has really taken off in China (there are currently 520 million Alipay users), and joked that he’d barely touched his wallet this past year. However, he also brought up a pertinent point that designing a cashless society in China also needs to accompanied by a sense of social responsibility.

“The gap between the rural and the urban areas is still huge,” he said, “so I also need to encourage my designers to think about how you can bring equal opportunities to everyone.” One example he brought up was Alipay coming up with QR codes, which allows street sellers to bypass physical cash and conduct their businesses more efficiently.

Alipay’s parent company, Ant Financial, also came up with an in-app game called Ant Forest which rewards its 280 million users for environmentally friendly behaviours such as walking to work or taking public transport. When users accumulate enough points, Ant Financial plants a real tree. Over 13 million trees were planted under this scheme last year.


Credit Stefan Chow for Fortune Brainstorm Design

Joe Gebbia, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Airbnb, is a design graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, and strongly believes that Airbnb’s set-up has created ways in which stranger danger bias can be overcome. Since its inception ten years ago, 300 million travelers have found accommodation in 81,000 cities.

Gebbia has been working on extending Airbnb’s successful business model to address displacement and revitalise communities. For example, with its Open Homes programme, Airbnb hopes to help 100,000 refugees find a roof over their heads while they settle in new countries and rebuild their lives. During natural disasters, Airbnb has also helped with locating emergency housing for victims.

Gebbia also runs Airbnb’s design research lab Samara. Its first project involved collaborating with award-winning Japanese architect Go Hasegawa to build a shared home for Yoshino, a rural area in Japan where seven out of the eight homes remain empty. The Yoshino Cedar House has become the perfect platform for guests to feel connected to a local place while also being a space for the local community to gather. The tourists also help support local craftspeople and artisans.

“A company operating in the 21st Century has a responsibility to go beyond the call of day-to-day business,” Gebbia said. “It takes more than writing a check or cutting a grant to an organisation. It’s taking whatever you’re good at as a company and going out into the world and solving problems.”

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