Tag Archives: design for the other 90%

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…


all the news that’s fit to wear


In lieu of giving gifts to their clients this holiday season, Canadian ad agency Taxi came up with a pretty heartwarming (har har har) idea. They’ve invested the money that would’ve otherwise been spent on gifts in designing and distributing 3,000 jackets to the homeless in Toronto.

Charitable giving is no new concept, but what is unique about these jackets is their insulation. Rather than using down or some synthetic insulation, Taxi has designed the 15 Below jacket with several empty pockets intended to be stuffed with shredded newspapers. Saving cost, allowing easy modifications and using readily available materials, Taxi’s jacket is well suited to keep the homeless warm this year.

via NY Times

dean kamen’s water purifier making a splash


Well, actually, it hasn’t made a splash yet, and it’s got a long way to go before it may. Demonstrated last week on the Colbert Report, Kamen’s Slingshot is a vapor compression distillation water purifier, capable of filtering absolutely anything (according to Kamen) out of water without filters, charcoal, or other replaceable parts. Operating at 2% of the energy that similar technologies require, the Slinghot is targeted at providing clean water to the developing world.

And herein is the challenge. According to CNN, each unit will cost an expected $1000-$2000, which may prove to be out of the reach of the people who need it most. Unique business models, such as microfinance-assisted remote water kiosks may gain some traction, but it’s hard for me to believe that entrepreneurs will be able to gain returns on their investments fast enough. And, of course, even though there are no filters to replace, techy solutions like this prove to be challenging to maintain and repair, which makes it all the more challenging.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Kamen and his team are planning to market these, and I hope they bring as much innovation to the distribution and maintenance plans as they do to their engineering.

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.

pop!tech social innovation fellows

Heather Fleming speaks about her Catapult Design

I could fill a book with all the insights, ideas, and beautiful stories of my time at Pop!Tech this week, but for sanity’s sake I’ll just highlight a few of the most relevant and meaningful experiences and observations. One of these highlights, for me at least, was the expansion of the Pop!Tech Fellows program. This year, Pop!Tech brought 16 young Social Entrepreneurs from all over the world to Camden, Maine for a week of intensive workshops and, of course, to attend the conference. Throughout the conference, they each presented a brief synopsis of their work, and here are some of the highlights:

  • Heather Fleming (shown above), was here representing Catapult Design. Branching out of Engineers Without Borders, Catapult is a design consultancy offering design, engineering and implementation support to organizations working on development and social impact work. They’re in their early stages of development, with only a handful of projects (such as the Hippo Roller and a wind turbine designed for off-the-grid Guatemalan villages) , but have great potential to scale and spread their impact.

electric dirt. seriously.

Well, technically it’s not the dirt that’s sending sparks, but it’s close enough.  Lebônê Solutions, a Massachusetts startup, has harnessed the power of microbes (ubiquitous in mud, cow manure and coffee crop residue) to power simple devices. The fuel cell, costing less than $10 and constructed of (mostly) readily available materials, can power an LED for several hours every night, and is targeted at rural African markets. Cheaper than a windmill and easier to set up than a solar panel, the microbial fuel cell has the potential to be a widely adopted, sustainable, and easily maintained source of energy for those who really need it. 


via Technology Review