Camden, Maine in October is a pretty laid-back place. But when I saw Robert Fabricant, VP of creative at frog design, there last fall, he was a pretty distracted guy. The initiative he had been working on for more than a year, Project Masiluleke, was about to debut at Pop!Tech, the annual in-gathering of digerati and the folks who love them, and Robert was the man at the center of the action.
Frog’s involvement with Project Masiluleke grew out of a conversation between Fabricant and Pop!Tech curator, Andrew Zolli. “Andrew and I have known each other for a while and were looking for a way to work together to drive social innovation around mobile technologies. He knew Zinny (Zinhle Thabethe, Deputy Director of iTeach, South Africa’s leading HIV/TB education, outreach and service organization) from her participation in Pop!Tech 2006 and the partnership emerged from that relationship.”
Instead of doing the usual design firm drill of coming up with cool concepts that never make it to market, Fabricant wanted to do something that would truly make a difference. The Project M idea fit the bill. Fabricant then sold his firm on backing the project for what they’ll only concede is a “significant” sum. Since the project’s launch in December, the number of calls to the National Aids helpline have quadrupled.
Robert is no stranger to the area of designing for social innovation. Among other hats, he heads up the healthcare expert group, a cross-disciplinary team that builds frog’s skills in that field, and shares best practices within the firm. And he’s a black belt in designing for digital platforms, ranging from handheld devices to in-car info systems for such clients as Nextel, GE, Comcast, Nissan, and BBC.
But Robert is more than just a good designer. He’s a humanist, an inspiring leader, and a first-rate thinker. Following Pop!Tech, he and I had an ongoing conversation about design’s role in an imploding economy, as he and the frog team helped Juan Enriquez, a Pop!Tech speaker, hone his talk on a 10 Point Plan for Remedying America’s Financial Ills for a wider audience.
As the market deteriorated, Robert wrote a fine post on the frog blog about how businesses should be thinking about retaining customers–a timely post if there ever was one!
This week, Robert is promising to write about everything from throwing out the playbook for traditional innovation processes to the tricky question of whether designers should be wiling exert some influence on consumer behavior through the products and services they design. They’re fascinating topics, and ones that have particular relevance in this era of fraught consumption. Be sure to chime in with your own thoughts! Keep up with Robert’s blog posts here.