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OpenIDEATOR Insight: Cansu Akarsu

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Istanbul-based Cansu Akarsu is currently finishing up her bachelor degree in Industrial Design. Her innovative Let Vapp Suggest concept was a winner on our recent Voting Challenge. She embraces the flexibility of working in new contexts – with her studies taking her from Turkey to the Netherlands, South Korea, India and Denmark – seeking to make positive social impact along the way.
What first drew you to get involved in OpenIDEO?
I had known about OpenIDEO for a year, following the challenges from the sideline. When I heard of the Voting Challenge I finally had time to be an active member. Wait a second, designing the experience of voting? I have never voted in my life! No problem, it was the right moment to practice how an outsider’s perspective worked for innovation.
And how's the ride been so far?
Throughout the challenge, two things really motivated me: getting instant feedback from my virtual OpenIDEO collaborators and knowing that somebody was looking over my shoulder as I made updates. The Refinement Phase was especially intense; l almost forgot that we were living in different time zones, until Paul added ‘It's 1am here’ in his comment!
Users mostly liked how I built the core idea of Vapp with user scenarios. I owe this partly to being an outsider, which required me to do some role-playing just to understand the voting process better.
Can you share some insights about your student life in Turkey?
Standing in the heart of industry in Istanbul, my home university collaborates with small enterprises that are growing by appreciating and applying design. We are also currently preparing to host the International Design Alliance Congress in 2013.
The biggest impact of my personal experience during my first years in the design school come from the trips we made to the villages in the Eastern part of Turkey. I realize now that interacting with the local people has played a big role in my goals to create a social impact through my projects.
And what about the sanitation-related project you've been working on?
Two projects I developed in South Korea, as an exchange student at KAIST, were given jury special awards by INDEX: Design to Improve Life Challenge in collaboration with Unicef in 2010. The first project, Soap Shish, is a modular soap stand for schools in the developing world. Inspired by an ‘abacus’ and using the colorful and slippery features of soap bars, Soap Shish attracts kids to play with it, and at the same time, to clean their hands – an activity they otherwise tend to find boring. This locally manufacturable product aims to create hand washing as a habit, while preventing the soap bars from being taken away. Check out the fun user-test video.
The second project, padBACK, is a menstrual protection method and its production start-up kit for rural areas around the world. The production and the waste management creates a cycle starting and ending in soil. The pads are made of local fibre plants and biodegradable non-woven fabric. After being used, they are turned into compost. The project aims to keep adolescent girls at school during their period while supporting local entrepreneurship.
What are your future plans around design + social impact?
My recent design experiences, especially participating in OpenIDEO helped me set ‘having a positive social impact’ as a primary goal in my coming projects. After graduating this June, I will seek opportunities to travel to relevant communities and get hands on experience collaborating with local people. Following some experience in the field, I would like to undertake a Master Program that allows me to foster my leadership skills through a primary role in building cross-disciplinary frameworks, international teams and new idea extractions during creative design sessions.
Witnessing my passion for participating in OpenIDEO is now a big encouragement for my designer friends here. You will hopefully see more Turkish people active in the platform! I also hope to create a team of ideators who can brainstorm together on the upcoming challenges.
Cheers Cansu. We hope to enjoy more of your collaborative action in future!
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