Last week I went to Helsinki, Finland for a Nokia Innovation Summit on the use of mobile phones to improve adherence to highly active antiretroviral therapy. Nokia’s Community Involvement group put together and ran the two-day event, which consisted of presentations and brainstorming workshops in an effort to gain opinions and perspectives on the treatment of HIV/AIDS. The summit included approximately 50 participants from around the world—mainly Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Thailand, and the United States.

The summit was the beginning of a project to create a solution that will be tested in a clinical trial. I was invited to represent my team as possible designers for the project.

While there was an agenda, it was very unclear what would come of the gathering. The problems around HIV/AIDS treatment across cultures, borders, politics, and organizations is tremendously complex. Where to even start?

I could not help but think it was a great opportunity for design to facilitate. Who better to guide a group from various backgrounds and expertise on an ambiguous journey toward some tangible result and common understanding? The situation seemed ripe for designers to facilitate. And I wondered what good might come from designers facilitating more conversations like this, whether it be the treatment of a worldwide epidemic to a political crisis to the vision and purpose of an organization.

Designers have the tools, expertise, and experience to dive into murky ambiguity, identity opportunities, and surface with clear solutions. To me, the summit represented an actual case where design could extend itself and begin impacting the world in new ways. While this summit was a good start to exploring the issues at hand, I would really like to see what outcome such an event would have with more design facilitation.