Pat Dryburgh has been a friend since … shoot, 2008 or so. He designed a lot of the ads for the Fusion Ads network, along with some of the other branding work for the business. And so I was excited when we met in person for the first time last summer.

During our visit, he mentioned he was leaving the agency he was working for to go on his own again. And this spring he took a huge step and left the comfy confines of the west coast of Canada to travel to Uganda. He wrote the post above in March this year and, if I’m not mistaken, he’s still there.

He took a chance to help on a product a friend and colleague was starting. Not surprising, right? If you work in the web/design/dev community, this is a familiar sounding story that we’ve all heard. Except, this one is different. And it starts with where it’s taking place:

All of this is simply to point out one simple truth: Uganda is unlike any country I’ve ever been. And as a designer that both excites and scares the shit out of me.

What I love about this story is that Pat was willing to forgo the regular road that so many of us take. He’s not working on the next photo sharing app. Instead, he’s willing to tackle a problem that will make a major impact on the lives of the people who may be able to use it.

As a product designer, it is my job to uncover the jobs for which a customer will “hire” a product. Through a discovery process that involves user interviews and discussions around business models and strategy, I try to help founders and product managers understand what their customers need and design solutions to bring that value to the customer. Perhaps I am a bit naive, but I believe a significant portion of our collective understanding comes from a familiarity with North American culture — people, for the most part, work roughly 40 hours a week and are looking for ways to save time and get more done, faster. Now two days into my time here in Kampala, I realize none of that familiarity applies.

I hope this a trend that grows, where more designers and developers have a desire to work on real problems rather than first world problems. This is the harder road to travel, even if compensation is good (admittedly, I have no idea what Pat is getting paid to work on this project. But it doesn’t matter). The problems people face in designing products in places other than North America are different. Bigger. Harder to overcome (in a later post, Pat gives a good example when conducting user research, with people who likely did not have Internet access at all).

Anyway, I’m excited for Pat and love to see him take this step.