Application of the Positive Deviance Method Within the Field of Product Design

Cesar E Venegas, University of Texas at El Paso


Positive Deviance (PD) is a method for social innovation that identifies and utilizes the knowledge found from statistical outliers within at-risk communities who succeed against all the odds, despite not having access to any additional resources. The PD method draws striking similarities to a product design methodology know as Human-Centered Design in which they share very similar principals. Similarities include the importance each method places on identifying the correct problem to address. Since it is not clear, from prior research, if the PD method is useful in the field of product development, this research seeks to explore this possibility. The PD methodology leads to the identification of Positive Deviants (PDs), which are individuals whose insights are more inclined to provide a clear understanding of the true problems their community is facing. Consequently, the PD method can increase the chance of finding sustainable solutions that meet the community’s needs. In contrast, typical design teams tend to look to the average members of a community to help identify the issues they are facing. In doing so, design teams may miss the insight of these positive deviants, which could result in the identification of an inaccurate definition of the problem and the development of an incorrect solution. Seeing that there is potential in the benefit of outliers driving innovation our research study was developed to explore this potentiality. The goal of this research was to understand if Positive Deviants generate the majority of overall and latent needs during the Needs Analysis portion of the design process. The second question the research aimed was to determine if Positive Deviants generate the majority of the solutions and are they of more value than solutions of other community members. To answer the proposed research questions, we used portions of the PD method to define a shared problem within the targeted community via a focus group. The information gathered from the focus group was used to discover outliers within the community. Ultimately, these outliers were interviewed using product design and development techniques. Once interviews were concluded, we identified the needs of each participant (members of the community and PDs) and analysis was conducted. The results of this study show that Positive Deviants (PDs) produced more latent needs than their peers (university students) when addressing the issue of living a healthy lifestyle. Another finding was PDs discovered the majority of general need expressed by the entire group. The study also aimed to understand if PDs would yield the majority of solutions within their population. The PDs did not produce the majority of solutions discovered in the study. Although, the solutions they proposed were of higher quality seeing that they were simple, replicable, and already being implemented by the PDs.

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Recommended Citation

Venegas, Cesar E, "Application of the Positive Deviance Method Within the Field of Product Design" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI13419521.