Design Challenge Series Part II: Poverty in Philadelphia

Welcome to Part II of our design challenge series. If you missed the last post, our design challenge is a short sprint where small teams focus on complex issues facing society. The teams had just four days to define their problem and create a solution to present back to the company.

The brief given to the first group was broad and challenging, and this next one is no different. In fact, the two problem areas are practically intertwined.

Design Challenge Brief 2: “How might we use design & technology to better the lives of those living in poverty in the city of Philadelphia?”

Poverty is a serious problem in Philadelphia. The city has the highest rate of deep poverty of any of the nation’s 10 most populous cities.

People in deep poverty live well below the poverty line. The annual salary for a single person at half the poverty line is around $5,700; for a family of four, it’s around $11,700.

Philadelphia's deep-poverty rate is 12.2%, nearly 185,000 people. That's almost twice the U.S. deep-poverty rate of 6.3%.

That number includes about 60,000 children, around 37%. Children born into poverty can have a difficult time raising their economic status later in life. It’s estimated that 42% of children born into deep poverty remain there as adults. In 74 of 267 Philadelphia District schools, over 90% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch.

Education is often seen as a solution for escaping poverty, but Philadelphia schools are struggling. Problems with funding and a lack of qualified teachers have put the education of thousands of students at risk.

Schools with better funding are able to provide a better education to their students. Underfunded schools tend to have bigger classes sizes, older textbooks, and a higher teacher turnover rate. Schools with a lack of money also tend to not have extracurricular activities, which have been proven to be a crucial part of children’s educational and social development.

These findings motivated our second group to find a solution specifically for the children affected by poverty. Meet Sophia, our second group’s target persona.

Sophia was created to represent the underprivileged students of Philadelphia. In order to find a solution for her, the group created a user journey documenting Sophia’s mindset during major moments in her life.

Like many Philadelphia children, Sophia was raised in a single parent household. Her mother works multiple jobs to provide for the family, and doesn’t have supplemental money for extracurricular activities that could benefit her daughter. After she enters the school system at age 5, she’ll spend the next 5-6 years experiencing the deficiencies of the under-funded public school system, such as outdated technology and decrepit facilities.

The team decided that the best time to help Sophia would be when she’s 10 years old. Still young and somewhat hopeful, Sophia hasn’t yet experienced the other pitfalls that derail so many Philadelphia high school students. Despite her youth she’s still old enough to develop hobbies and interests. At this time in her life, Sophia needs…

• Positive mental stimulation

• A different perspective of her life

• A way to learn new skill sets.

Sophia may not be able to afford extracurricular activities, but she does have access to community centers, libraries, and several other free public spaces. What if the next time she visited one of this places there was a technology starter kit waiting for her, ready to introduce her to technology at the right time and place?

The second group created The Box to give kids like Sophia an after-school program they can take home. In impoverished areas, many schools don’t have the funds for financing any tech-based extracurricular activities, so The Box would fulfill what Sophia doesn’t get in school. The kit would contain materials that promotes divergent thinking, encourages autonomy, exposes children to technology, and build self-confidence.

The materials inside would vary by complexity depending on the age group, and kids would have the ability to customize their device and share with friends.

In the past couple of years, we’ve seen the STEM toy market grow in popularity. Imagine if there were a way to provide comparable solutions at an affordable cost in order to reach the children that need it most. If the Sophias of the world are introduced at a young age, they’ll have something to strive for, and the results could be surprising.

Impoverished families face a multitude of problems; our brief design challenge only touched on a few. If this post has motivated you to get involved, here are some ways you can help.

The KIND Institute:

An after school arts program for children as well as a gallery space. They can have access to education in visual arts, music, and language.

The DREAM Program:

A mentoring program that builds communities of families and college students that empower youth from affordable housing neighborhoods to recognize their options, make informed decisions, and achieve their dreams.


They seek to drive hunger from our communities today and end hunger forever.

Children’s Village:

Children’s Village is a non-profit that provides early childhood education and school-age academic enrichment distinguished by excellence and family diversity.

Thanks for reading. Next week we’ll be sharing the third and final part of our design challenge series: Designing for The Blind.