Posts Tagged 'Design for the other 90%'

Shit rules

This post is from Fionn, who works on a betterplace incubator project:

As Joana has already mentioned in ealier posts, Noa Lerner, Holger Schmitz and I are working on a sanitation project for the bottom of the pyramid market segment.It started as part of this WTO-Project on betterplace. We decided to design a squat toilet which requires no H2O and for which, therefore a drainage system is not required.

Our first prototype/ concept enables the residents of slums, who live in cramped  conditions, often in one room, to own their own toilet.  A mechanical syphon will permit the odourless enclosing of faeces and urine in a tank. The tank, when full,  can be transported to a public bio digester. Here the contents will be turned into methane gas.

A nanotechnological finishing surface will facilitate the complete emptying of the tank. The biodigester can be connected, according to need,  to an energy kiosk in which the methane gas can be transformed into electricity. In turn, slum residents will  be able to charge batteries. Small businesses, such as goldsmiths where well-lit work places are needed,  could  operate using the methane gas.

Maybe you remember Joana talking about a little stop and motion film we made from cut out fotos, finaly here it is :


To prove our concept, we recently went to India for two weeks. Here we had the honuer to work together with Dr. Pathak, the founder of Sulab international. His organisation is successfully trying to improve sanitation in India: up to this day, they already installed 1,2 million privat and 7000 public toilets. Together with his engineers , biologists and mathematicians  we work on all the issues which were still open regarding biogas and electricity.

Another part of our field study in India was to talk to the future owners of the toilets. We wanted to find out if they actually would be open for our sanitation concept and how they would like there toilets  to be designed.

Prepared with specialy designed interview tools we went into the living areas, were we not only talked to the inhabitants, but also tried out our first prototype, which we had brought along from Germany.

At the moment we are evaluating the results from our trip to India and prepare our business plan. This we will be presenting at the University of Arts in Berlin in April.

Fionn Dobbin


Design for the other 90%


“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”
Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

One of the developments I find most compelling among poverty reduction efforts are the many new product ideas which address the needs of the „other 90%“of humanity. Last year the Hewitt Cooper National Design Museum in New York put on an exhibition of the same title, accompanied by a worthwhile catalogue. In a similar vain, Design Like You Give Damn, a book published by Architecture for Humanity offeres many inspiring product innovations for markets, thus far neglected due to the small buying power of its costumers.  

But – in the age of the long tail, where a large number of small-budget buyers can bring more profit then a few big spenders – this is changing.  A number of innovations depend on self-generated energy. Thus wind-up radios – belittled in the 1990s, when they were first marketed, have proved to be a very successful in regions where batteries are too expensive and electricity is non-existent.  

One of the fields in which a lot is happening concerns lighting- and solar-applications. The Freeplay Foundation has just developed lanterns which can provide up to two hours of light from just one minute of winding. The LEDs used are rated for 100,000 hours, whereas a filament bulb might burn out after 16 hours. For African populations which are estimated to spent between 10-15% of their monthly income on kerosine, candles and fire wood, these lanterns could make a real difference, enableing people to spent more time on studying after dark, be better equipped for medical emergencies and run their shops later into the evening. The lanterns, promoted by Freeplay Ambassador Tom Hanks, will be tested over the course of the next few months in Kenya and South Africa.  

Efforts to improve self-generated energy were the topic of  a recent Science article, picked up by the Economist last week: They presented the “Eneregy Harvester”, an instrument which looks like an orthopaedic knee-brace.”It tucks behind its wearer’s knee and has extensions that strap around the front of his calf and his thigh. When the wearer walks, the knee’s motion drives a set of gears which turn a small generator”. The energy generated by the harvester could, for example, be used to charge up batteries.

Many of the new Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) products are sold via special financing models adaped to the needs of customers living below the poverty line. Harish Hande, from the Indian company SELCO Solar Lights has developed a special credit system for its poor, rural customers. For his innovative and sustainable approach to poverty reduction the Schwab Foundation has rewarded Hande with the Social Entrepreneur Award 2007. Moreover, the new companies try to really get to know their customers. Whereas many of the older product designs targeting the “other 90%” originated in the Design Departments of Western corporations, without in-depth knowledge of the living conditions of their target groups, the new generation of BoD Entrepreneurs explicitly makes a point of taking their customers point of view and analysing their needs and lived reality.Canadian company Environfit sends market researchers in rural areas in developing nations in order to devise a new health – and environmentally friendly cooking stove. Toxic indoor-smoke is a serious health problems: The WHO estimates that 1.6 million people die of it annually. As half of the world’s population and 80% of rural inhabitants cook on traditional stoves which emit carbon-monoxide, Environfit (in cooperation with the Shell Foundation) saw a new market niche for new, clean ceramic stoves.In order to develop suitable models, the market reserachers analysed the cooking- and living conditions of various populations. How do they cook – while sitting, squatting or standing? Which are the preferred colours? How many cooking pots need to be handled simultaneously? The final results – to be tested in the Indian market – cost between 10 and 200 US$.