Tag Archives: appropriate technology

green is far from black and white…


…so we need to get more comfortable in the grey.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” or so they say, and even the most educated, informed amongst us often struggle to make the “right” decisions. Paper or plastic? Recycle or compost? Keep the old fridge or buy a new one? (buy a new one if it’s 10 years or older, is the “correct” answer here)

Earlier this month Dmitri Siegel wrote a nice piece on Design Observer about environmental and social implications of the canvas bag. While pointing out that from a social point of view it’s great that designers and consumers are embracing new ideas about individual responsibility, canvas (or any reuseable) bags are often worse for the environment than their plastic and paper counterparts. Unless they’re reused 400 times or more, he says, we’re better off sticking to plastic.

Siegel goes on to discuss other method’s of limiting the environmental impact of shopping bags, such as Ireland’s government charging 15 cents for every bag used in the store, or San Francisco banning plastic bags altogether. And as much as I love the variety and beauty of the reuseable shopping bags that have been all the rage recently, and am encouraged by the altruistic intention of those buying and using them (assuming there’s no eco-vanity involved), systematic redesigns like those in Ireland and here in San Francisco are far more appropriate and impactful than a product design. Ireland’s plan, for example, has cut consumption of bags by 90%, and I think a modified approach could potentially reduce it further.

Now if only the plastic bag manufacturer could talk to the stores, and the stores could talk to the consumers, and the consumers could talk to the recyclers, and the recyclers could talk to the government, than we’d be fine. In the mean time, it’s up all of us to challenge our assumptions, and often assignments, that designing a product will solve a problem. The best solutions, more often than not, involve designing the product out of the equation. As long as we keep challenging ourselves to find the best possible solutions, we’ll get where we need to be…


human centered design


Apparently it’s been around for a few months, but this is the first I’ve seen of IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit. Intended to help NGO’s working with smallholder farmers apply human-centered thinking to their work, the HCD Toolkit breaks down the innovation process into 3 distinct phases: Hear, Create, and Deliver. Each of the three phases has a unique workbook, with separate sections for the Design Team and the Facilitator.

IDEO has done a few Design for Social Impact projects, but it seems as though they’ve recently chosen to move their Social Impact work towards education, rather than invention. It’s good to see them open up their process to the public, and I’m excited to see how it is received by the development community. So far only IDE has tested it, but some successful case-studies would surely make it more valuable…

play by the rules


Ethan Zuckerman, blogger extraordinaire, has a great post on his thoughts on designing in BoP markets, in which he defines these 9 principles of innovation from constraint:

  • innovation often comes from constraint
  • don’t fight culture
  • embrace market mechanisms
  • innovate on existing platforms
  • realize that problems aren’t obvious from afar
  • understand that what you have is more important than what you lack
  • build infrastructure on infrastructure
  • objects need to become familiar and pervasive, then they become hackable
  • the really amazing innovation happens when objects change function

It’s definitely worth a read, and is chock-full of good examples of designs from the developing world, like the plastic bag soccer ball shown above.