COVID-19 hit the entire world hard, but it has been detrimental to certain communities in a very specific way: The isolation and educational interruption widened pre-existing skills gaps, making it tougher to stay competitive. That is the case in Latin America, which has seen its digital skills gap expand.
The global issues we face require global solutions, making it more important than ever to cultivate the next generation of designers and their unique perspectives from all corners of the globe. Latin America is no exception: It’s home to a wealth of potential digital design talent that needs to be nurtured and directed.
In this episode, we talk with Alejandra Dancuart—Product Owner at Colectivo 23, part of Intercorp Group and an online learning hub for professionals who want to develop their digital skills—and IDEO Director Nathan Paterson to ask The Big Question: How might we tap into Latin America’s future digital designers?
Alejandra and Nathan discuss how their two organizations partnered to explore and confront that question, the course they brought to life together, and the global-local learning that resulted.
Alejandra Dancuart: Colectivo23 is rapidly becoming a benchmarking EdTech here in Latin America and people look for us for reference to know what are skills they should be learning. Being able to actually answer to that question is something amazing. I feel super responsible, to be honest.
Detria Williamson: We live and work in a world of interlocking systems where many of the problems we face are dynamic, multifaceted, and inherently human. We believe that design thinking can help solve these problems to provide answers, but big answers can only be found by asking big questions. Welcome to The Big Question, an IDEO podcast. I'm your host, Detria Williamson.
I'm so excited today. This is Detria Williamson, IDEO alum, and I am joined in this episode of the big question by Nathan Paterson, director at IDEO, and Alejandra Dancuart, who also goes by Ale, product owner at Colectivo23, and we are exploring a super important question. This big question is about how might we tap into the future Spanish-speaking digital product designers. I'm so excited to have you. If I had special effects here with screams and shouts, it would all be here. Super excited. Nathan and Ale, please introduce yourself.
Alejandra: Thank you, Detria, for having us in this podcast. I'm very, very excited about this. I have to say this is my first podcast ever, so super excited about that too. Hola, everyone. I'm Alejandra, I'm from Lima, Peru. My background is actually not from design, I come from the HR world. I studied and worked in Lima for a bit, and then I did my masters in Scotland, and then I worked a bit in London, and then I moved back to Lima last year to join the Colectivo23 team. I had the opportunity to work in different sectors and meet a lot of humans.
That is what I love in the finance sectors, in retail, in tech, and then in the third sector, but right now, as you were saying, I'm a product owner at Colectivo23 which is a learning hub for professionals that want to develop their digital skills. In fact, our purpose, and it's the reason I wake up every morning, is because we want to narrow the digital skills gap in Latin America that has increased a lot since the pandemic started. I'm very excited to talk about this.
Nathan Paterson: Thank you, Ale, thank you for being here today, and thank you, Detria, for having me. I'm Nathan, I'm a designer by trade. I grew up in studios in Oakland, London, and Tokyo. I worked at Disney Interactive in Tokyo as a digital product designer; Worked there for a few years before transferring to California to lead a new research and design team at Disney Interactive labs. We designed disney.com as an entirely new platform for modern web experiences, and we developed early prototypes for what is now Disney Plus.
Then I joined IDEO about five years ago where I now lead our learning business in Tokyo helping clients navigate change through design creativity and play.
Detria: I want to talk about how did you two meet, have you actually met together, or how did IDEO and Colectivo come together?
Alejandra: That is a great question. I do have to say I did a little bit of research because I wanted to know when did we actually first meet. By the way, we met virtually because Nathan is in Tokyo, so that was a very awesome thing to know when we first met by Zoom. We actually met on September 23rd at 6:30 PM Lima time.
Detria: Oh my gosh, there's your timestamp.
Nathan: Good research.
Alejandra: Totally. It was so cool because this was the first meeting where we also met Charles Hayes from IDEO as well. This was the first meeting where we said like, "Okay, let's go, let's do this adventure together, Colectivo23 and IDEO," but the story goes a little bit back because Cristina, our CEO, was looking for some collaboration as well with IDEO like a year before. Funny story, I think the answer in that moment was like, "Yes, no, thanks but no thanks," but then a year later, here we were in that meeting. Then we did a meeting of like a kickoff to meet all the IDEOans that are going to participate with Colecivo23.
I have a very fun fact, in Colectivo, we love saying fun facts as well as our normal introduction. I remember that in this fun fact/introduction icebreaker, instead of asking everyone how they're doing, we ask everyone, "If you were an object complete here, what object would you be and why?" That day, I don't know why we decided to ask, "If you were an egg, what egg would you be?"
I remember Nathan saying also that he was a chocolate egg. Yes, I have that very vivid moment on my mind.
Detria: Nathan, the chocolate egg, do you have anything to add to that wonderful meeting? I do not think on the show we have had anyone that has said they've met over eggs.
Nathan: Virtual eggs. Yes, it was a wonderful way to break the ice and get to know the team. We're really excited to meet people doing amazing things around the world, especially when it comes to learning and developing new kinds of platforms and new ways for learners to engage. Charles and I had been excited about everything going on at Colectivo23 for some time, and so when the chance came to meet, it got us both really excited to talk about working together and what that might look like and it started over eggs.
Detria: Just so the listeners know, Cristina is the CEO for Colectivo23, Charles is our managing director over our Asia business and both are just absolutely fabulous, dynamic, what I would say are 21st-century leaders. Really, really happy that we're together and it's a good time to actually transition and talk about why Colectivo23 and IDEO? Why is this the right time? Why have we come together?
Alejandra: That is a great, great question Detria. I was trying to think of an answer that gave a little bit of context, so I thought of doing like in a nutshell context for this. In Latin America right now, well, the whole of Latin America is facing growth in the following years and this is going to be fueled by digital transformation. In fact, there's a piece of data that says that like 55% of organizations are already in digital transformation and the other ones are trying to figure it out. It needs to close first its skills gap in order to remain competitive and achieve its goals. There's where we saw this amazing opportunity because as we entered 2022, we saw a gap in our offering.
We have, in Colectivo23, learning programs about product management, advanced UX, and data and business, but there was something missing. As companies launched their new products and services to the market, in a scramble to take advantage of new opportunities and digital growth, there was this need for product designers, but for professionals who take part of these new businesses opportunities to understand as well how to assign these products and services based on user needs, and I'm going to add something else there, that is not only user needs, but the planet needs, and that's something super relevant right now.
Of course, this digital product design course track or Ruta like we call it in Spanish is focused on upscaling professionals in human center design because they're going to create a prototype and an idea, from idea to an MVP actually, and it's a very cool Ruta. In Colectivo23, we believe that we have to think of a partner to bring this course to life and IDEO is the most prolific design company in the world, so this was definitely the perfect match. I think that's how we created this marriage as one of our team members call it because this is how it comes together.
IDEO is going to lend international perspective for learners, bringing them the cases from the US and from Europe and from Asia so that learners can be inspired. At the same time, the course is led end to end by top Latin American talents, our practitioners because they're no teacher, they are practitioners. They will learn about experiences on the day-to-day learnings. This literally combines these two things and it becomes a global-local learning, so it's like a glocal learning, and I think that's a very cool moment for education right now for professionals.
Nathan: Similarly for IDEO, I think we're looking at a lot of digital transformation around the world as well. We're perhaps tackling it at IDEO from different angles and a big part of it is skills gaps that we notice with our clients and their organizations as they make the transition to become 21st-century organizations fit for many different futures. It's the real challenge here in Japan, but it's a challenge in all of the markets where we're in and that includes Latin America. From our perspective, we're working closely with clients, with senior leaders and they're asking big questions about what it means to become an internet-era version of their organization.
We're also working with a lot of startups and different-sized companies as well and really that question is on a lot of people's minds. Part of it is obviously the kinds of products and services and experiences that they want to develop and IDEO can be helpful there. Also, the kinds of teams, the kind of talent, the kinds of incentives that they want to have in place to motivate and inspire their workforces for the 21st century.
Detria: Nathan, I want to do a double click on that because it does seem like this partnership or marriage as you referred to it, Ale, as is really ensuring that through this partnership, through this course, this Ruta, which has been designed and developed, we actually are pushing the fringes of what is something that's new and dynamic. I watched actually even the title change from digital design manager to digital product designer. I want to know why that shift, where did that come from? Historically, what was this before?
Alejandra: We did have a Ruta, we still have it, it's called digital product management, but then we were analyzing the actual digital skills gap in Latin America and what were these new roles that were appearing. We did a quick search first, like LinkedIn, let's try what's on the market. We saw that only in Latin America there was like 4,000 positions open for product designers, so we wanted to do a double click there and see exactly what did that entail, what did that mean for the market and for professionals who wanted to go into product design.
In Colectivo, we believe in training this generation of digital talent and making sure that the Latin American talent can compete globally and thrive in their different digital roles. Also, this made us question that when you speak about roles, there is not this absolute truth. We are aware that product design is a role that is needed and product managers are also needed, but what we actually were looking for was about the skillset that designers bring to the table, and how that can be also translated or extrapolated, I don't know if that's the word in English, to other disciplines and other sectors.
We wanted to create a Ruta that even though, yes, you're going to learn, obviously, about product design, it goes beyond the product design role and focus basically in human-centered design at its core.
Detria: Nathan, and I'm curious, are you seeing this, the shift in terms of, not even necessarily skills gap but skills need by demand of even our clients? Are you seeing this globally?
Nathan: Yes, we are. There are some very fundamental skills that I think a lot of designers have that many people can benefit from. This makes just as much sense moving into the 21st century that's making things more tangible, building empathy for all stakeholders, not only users but everybody who's involved. Building experiments and prototypes to think and to gather feedback, crafting human stories to motivate and inspire others, both inside your organization and outside. Design is not about making things look good.
Like science, it's a much broader set of opportunities to build the future that we want and use our agency to create positive impact. Nowadays, a lot of that is being delivered through digital design.
Detria: Why human-centered design? What is the X factor for this course? Is this what makes it different? Can you help us link that for our listeners? Why is this important as part of this course and why now?
Alejandra: Thank you, Detria, for that question. When I'm thinking about why human-centered design, I think the first thing I think about is that a couple of weeks ago when we did the kickoff of our Ruta, we like to invite, obviously, people that are going to be participating in the Ruta, and the kickoff was actually with Sandy. She mentioned something that really struggled with me because this is something that we have in a Ruta and is that the pandemic has brought design to be so relevant right now because all the things that we knew before have changed, like all the rules and all the norms about life, really.
Not only in design but in life in general. She said something that was really interesting and it's that people right now are responding to these changing experiences and they have a lot of big questions about a lot of things like about their life, about their jobs, about the experiences that they're having, about how's the world and the planet going forward, about social injustices. About a lot of big questions that need definitely big moments to try to answer them. I think human-centered design is the way right now to try to answer these questions.
I think it's actually an amazing time for designers to be alive right now because they have a great opportunity to like think bigger and create and prototype about these big questions and think about. I'm drawing on something Momo said, he's from Ikea and he's also going to be an inspiration shot in the Ruta. He was speaking about, not only human-centered design but planet-centered design. I think that was amazing because it's not only focusing on the humans that are in the world but how do you design for humans and the whole planet? I think human-centered is so relevant right now. It goes, again, beyond the product design and that's something we're going to see throughout the Ruta.
Nathan: That's main reason why we're so excited to be collaborating on this particular course is because it's giving so many more people the kinds of skills that can help them to have more agency. Design is really universal and it's a universal need in the world right now if we're to build responsible systems for shared prosperity for all of us and to keep in mind everything that people need and want and desire of their lives. Giving people the kinds of skills that can help them to, as Ale said, prototype ideas and put them out into the world and make the world a better place for it is so much the better.
Detria: This all sounds really good, almost a little too good. There has to be or there had to have been some barriers in terms of securing this type of course, designing this type of course. Can you talk a little bit about any barriers that you may have experienced?
Alejandra: I'm glad you brought that question up because we definitely had a couple of barriers. I don't want to say barriers. We had some challenges.
Alejandra: [chuckles] Yes, but I think we've try to overcome in a creative way. I think that the major barrier that we found to get deep into one of them, especially in the early stages of our Ruta and how we were going to do this was the language barrier. Because many of the terms we use in human-centered design, well, in general, in digital transformation to put it as a general term are in English by default. When we are speaking in Spanish, we even use Spanglish to refer to them. We say we're doing a curso design thinking.
We use the word as it comes in English and in Colectivo, obviously, because we want to be inclusive for the whole Spanish speakers in Latin America, we translate these terms, but it does not necessarily translate to the exact translation of the term. It was a challenge to know how are we going to do this Ruta with the most up-to-date and relevant information and experiences about human-centered design with experts that are all around the world because now we discuss our glocal learning, so global learning means there's people that are going to be speaking other languages.
How can we make this super accessible for our passengers? Because we don't call them students. In Colectivo, they're passengers in the bus of learning because Colectivo means bus in Spanish. I think I didn't mention that before, so now I'm mentioning it. How can we make this accessible for every Spanish speaker? Something that we saw and that we are doing right now because we validated with our free events and our kick of me was that technology is such a beautiful thing, and virtual learning right now to make us to have life translation and life skills captions.
We even had sign language in Zoom with a specialist that she's been trained for that, to do sign language in Zoom meetings, so that was amazing. That way, we can have someone, to give an example of Nathan, someone in Tokyo giving feedback about a design review to a Peruvian or an Ecuadorian designer about their prototype in a live session, and we have the translation and the closed captions, but also the togetherness and the level of trust that can be built in this amazing session that it's almost as magical. Everyone is in their living rooms, but we are so close.
Nathan: Yes, it's almost like human center design in order to design the course itself. I love how you flipped it, Ale, that they could be barriers. They're really just challenges and we're prototyping our way through them and trying lots of different things and being openly apologetic that this is probably the first time we've tried these things on Zoom in front of a live audience so we apologize in advance when things go wrong because they probably will and that's okay. That authenticity that builds trust, and that's a big part of the experience. Everybody is along for the ride.
The way that Ale and the team navigate Zoom and have everybody throw dots in the chat to make sure that they can hear us okay and that the live translation is working and all of those kinds of things. All of these techniques, these mechanisms, they all help to build a really compelling and human-centered learning experience, and it's been really one to work together on those.
Detria: Actually, speaking of going into this fresh, it's new, it's the first time that we're doing it, and you mentioned just constantly prototyping, constantly asking ourselves new questions as we go along the way. I'm curious, Ale, did Colectivo23 go in with any hypothesis when starting this?
Alejandra: Yes, of course. I think we had way too many hypotheses at first. I remember that the team meeting and doing an amazing, I don't know what to call it brainstorm session because every time we meet with an amazing team, it end up being a conversation. I love it. I learned so much in my Zoom meetings with the team, and we're all vertical, so every time we can meet in person, I think it's been only two times, it's been amazing. I'm trying to think of the one hypothesis, and I think it would be that Colectivo23 aims to close the digital skills gap in Latin America.
We know that, well, we didn't know at the time, but we know that powerful partnerships such as IDEO could bring this world-class education and create a talent for Latin America together. We wanted to know, really, is that something that can help? Because before IDEO, we were all Latin American, we were in the local part of the global part. In the global part, we do have case studies and examples, but we've never had, well, we are about to have real-life examples of real human individuals coming live to the Zoom session to teach us about their experiences on their side of the world.
I think yes, the hypothesis was that we wanted to know if this powerful partnership was going to actually be able to bring this world-class education in the Latin American talents.
Detria: Nathan, any builds there? Did you feel like, from an IDEO perspective, there were any hypotheses going in?
Nathan: I think ours were similar. We were curious what kind of impact it might have for us to collaborate on something like this, and for IDEO to learn a lot about what Colectivo23 is doing so well in terms of the platform and bringing all of the practitioners and the inspo shots and the design reviews and all of the passengers together to create a new learning experience. We loved the idea that they were excited about bringing real designers into the conversation. We've seen with our client work and our learning programs at IDEO that it's really when you have design practitioners or practitioners generally as the facilitators of the learning experience that there's a real magic that happens.
I think it's especially true for digital product design, but it's really true for anything. I think as soon as it's a practitioner that is the one providing knowledge and insights and experience and case studies, the Q&A just lights up because the information is always changing, and as we've talked already, the name of this course, everything has been evolving in real-time. It's the same with the knowledge as well. Our designers at IDEO are always learning on each project and that's a big part of what it means to work at IDEO and what it means to be a designer, I think, is that you're constantly learning, we celebrate lifelong learning.
I think what we want to do is bring that essence into the Colectivo23 learning experience as well so that it's lifelong learning and it's all about how things are constantly evolving and we're always updating the information and sharing it through a very, I guess, visceral experience.
Detria: Speaking of things being exciting and the energy and certainly, you can feel from the participation and the live and the active engagement from our leaders from these shared communities around the world. There's no debate of the energy or excitement that you can feel from you, Ale. I've really enjoyed actually getting to know you, not only through the podcast but through this time, through this partnership. Talk about what makes this exciting for you. You play a very key role in the team, you play a key role in this course, and really, you serve as I would say, a new 21st-century modern designer, so what makes this all worth it for you, what makes it exciting?
Alejandra: Oh my God, everything.
Everything is super exciting. I think from day one that we started talking even about the possibility of launching this Ruta in collaboration with IDEO, our hearts, they were just feeling a little better in the whole team, not only mine. I think everyone was super excited. I don't know if I speak for all the team, but we've grown reading stories and seeing cases about everything IDEO was making. Here in Peru, I need to drop this here because it is such a relevant and important project that IDEO has made. We have, in our schools here, that is these schools that bring world-class education at a very accessible price with different learning.
IDEO helped in tackling the education, the skills gap that we had also in children. Being super excited about IDEO. Now, fast forward 10 years to being able to work hand by hand, it was super excited. Also, Colectivo23 is rapidly becoming a benchmark in EdTech here in Latin America and people look for us for a reference to know what are the skills they should be learning. Being able to actually answer to that question is something amazing. I feel super responsible, to be honest. There's a huge responsibility here for everyone who's going to take the Ruta.
Also, on the other hand, to partner up with IDEO, which is one of the best companies in the world to launch a learning program about design, I think there's a magical synergy here. I also want to do a double click on different excitement, not only for myself but for the whole team. When I speak about team, we have a lot of team members, not only the core Colectivo23. For example, and this is amazing, I feel like it's a party. We have the Colectivo team, but we also have the practitioners that are the super experts that come and bring their experiences to the table and have amazing conversations and discussions during the sessions.
We also have the passengers that they are also professionals and bring their experiences to the table and there's also discussions happening. As well, we have the inspiration shops like Nathan, and the IDEOans that also come with their experiences and bring a lot of value to the table. Everyone is in a lot of parts of the world, but again, we are a community-driven learning hub. It's all about the community and how we learned from each other and for each other. That's the thing that most excites me about, it's getting to know this cohort and how this is going to work out for the future collaborations, dropping it here in these podcasts with IDEO. I'm super excited about that as well.
Detria: This has been such a rich and fulfilling conversation. Nathan, I want to thank you for really reminding us that design is a universal need in the world, ultimately for us to have shared prosperity, and how this course fits within that, and, Ale, for your heart speed, as you mentioned, as part of this partnership, and really reminding us for the need for top global experts to actually design and create this type of learning, this type of glocal learning. With that, Ale, I want to ask, is there a big question that keeps you up at night?
Alejandra: Oh my God, yes, I think there are so many questions that keep me up at night. I think if I wanted to choose just one, yes, this is very, very difficult. I have five, but I'm going to say one. I think it would be around how might we design learning programs that can focus on sustainable lifelong education and inclusion. This is because this keeps me up at night. I think every night is what I was talking about before that it's no longer human-centered design, it's about planet-centered design and how do we put that into the equation, not as a nice to have but as a non-negotiable. Yes, I think that's one of the things that keep me up at night for sure.
Detria: Ale, and I would love it if we could have a part two and talking about really centering around our planet and that as a non-negotiable. Nathan, thank you so much for your time today. Ale, gracias por su tiempo.
Nathan: Thank you very much, Detria.
Detria: The Big Question is brought to you by IDEO. To find out more about us and how we create positive impact through design, head to ideo.com, and then make sure to search for The Big Question in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click "subscribe" so you don't miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at IDEO, thanks for listening.
Combine the outlook of a visionary with the rigor of a high-performing athlete and you’ll begin to get a sense of IDEO ALUM Detria Williamson. She has spent more than 20 years as an innovative brand experience marketer who gives companies a brave push forward, bringing the discipline and mindset needed to create new brand ecosystems while building on the resonance and value the brand already has to its audiences.