20090410-stanford-monsoon-capture1Stanford’s d.school design institute has just published the winners of their quarterly d.prize competition, recognizing the top 4 student projects of the term. The best aspect of the submission process is that teams must write their entries in haiku form.

capture a monsoon,
don’t only collect water,
build an “extreme” team.

20090410-stanford-monsoon-capture2A project called “The Deathstar” won this year’s monsoon challenge from the Design for Extreme Affordability class. This challenge gives teams 48 hours and $20 to design and build a device to maximize the capture of rainwater from a simulated monsoon.

Team Deathstar took advantage of the fact that the “monsoon” comes from a set of sprinklers mounted on a ladder; their solution surrounded the sprinklers and captured water from all 360 degrees, draining through a gutter system to a collection receptacle. Not exactly an option in a real monsoon, but the team did demonstrate innovative thinking. The video proves that they accomplished the third requirement of the competition: have fun!

20090203-beware-this-blogWe’ve hit the mother lode with Stanford’s d.school design institute. Especially with their class on Design for Extreme Affordability, we could fill this blog with just the products of this class and the school’s alumni.

The most interesting thing to come out of our furious d.school link-clicking, though, has been Ambidextrous Magazine, staffed largely by the d.school community. Not so much the magazine as an article from its Spring ’08 “Developing” themed issue. Krista Donaldson’s article, written by a product developer who works in third-world countries, warns us of the futility of “design for developing countries”.

We sat up. “Design for the developing world” is one of the potential taglines for this blog. Is this a collection of useless inventions, with no hope of making a positive impact on the world? The article opens with a yawn at the cliche recipe for news coverage about design for the developing world:


“…nice young (usually white, usually male) Westerner visits (or reads about) poor country, is appalled by something he sees/reads, goes home and designs a solution, starts an NGO, and brings his solution to the poor country.”*


“The accompanying picture shows a clearly impoverished – but happier – user with product in a dark hut or on a sunburned scrubby dirt road.”


“The article…ends with a hopeful conclusion outlining the details of the product’s large-scale rollout plan in several countries.”


The point of this article is that design needs to be in developing countries. “Remote design” fails to address the whole problem: a community unable to save itself. Donaldson believes remote designers fail to seek methods of local production using local resources and the local workforce; fail to evaluate whether their users actually continue to use the products after initial adoption; fail to tailor the solution according to the local culture, priorities, or values.

As a marketer, I can appreciate this perspective. Many social designers could stand to do a bit more market research before pushing a new technology to their target market. But I don’t think it is a requirement to live there in order to produce a great design.

There is one product featured here on CbD that is produced in local factories, saves money for its users without complex adoption, and has enjoyed global distribution support at the highest levels. This is the Olyset mosquito net for malaria prevention which, interestingly, was made possible by a large Japanese conglomerate, not a university design group.

*NGO = non-governmental organization. Kind of like a nonprofit. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a nonprofit. Oxfam is an NGO.

20081227-the-goals4In third-world countries, rural mothers will try almost anything to keep their babies warm. This is because warmth, typically found in incubators, is critical for low-birth-weight (LBW) babies to reserve their limited energy for healthy organ development rather than just trying to maintain body temperature. Problem is, incubators cost $20,000, depend on electricity, and even broken hand-me-downs can only be found in metropolitan health centers. So mothers risk scalding their babies by wrapping them with hot water bottles, boxing them in with light bulbs, or placing them in ovens(!).

20090125-out-of-the-ovenA team of graduate students traveled to Nepal and India to conduct research, and came up with a modified sleeping bag instead of a cheaped out incubator box. Embrace Global‘s incubator alternative features:

  • 1% of the cost of a typical incubator
  • No electricity required (maintains constant comfortable temperature with a refresh-able phase-change material much like hand-warmer packets used by skiiers and campers
  • Washable nylon and vinyl materials for maintenance and ability to pass on to multiple babies
  • Easy repair of button closures rather than zippers or velcro
  • “Kangaroo care”-style portability with straps so mothers can be productive and mobile (often returning to field work soon after giving birth) while bonding with baby

The idea and business grew out of a Stanford class on Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability, a part of Stanford’s d.school design school. Since completing their class project, the team has won several design competitions, including being featured in the Top 25 of the American Express Members Project.

via STANFORD Magazine