There are a number of key topics designers are faced with when starting a speculative project. These topics define a projects direction and purpose.
Sustainability. Transport. Housing. Obesity. Healthcare. Megacities. These stand out amonst the plethora of issues the modern world faces and are all valid areas of direction.
But it is the topic of ‘designing for developing countries’ that really does not make sense to me. First of all is the term itself. Who is to say what a developing country is? What makes a society developed… Mass consumerism?
The second gripe I have with this term is how such projects come about a play out. These projects, traditionally, are western designers thinking that they are doing their bit for the world. Design problems can only be solved in local context, with deep understanding of culture, language and socitey. These remote projects rely on a technology-centred approach, applying developed technologies to the ‘developing world’, not developing new technologies in context with who will be using it – Human centered. The short term nature of these projects, not taking into account for sustainability, local capacity, expertise, etc. means any product design is irrelevant for improving these areas of the world.
I’m all for applying design to the people who may need it. We just need to understand what they want/need, why they need it and how it is going to be sustained. The only way is to hand the design process over to the people who understand that.
Solar Grills for Developing Countries, need I say more?