Key rules for design in the developing world

Amy Smith is a senior lecturer at MIT. She is a leader in the Appropriate Technology movement, in which engineers from developed countries work with people in the developing world to create practical, affordable solutions to everyday challenges. She proposes 7 key rules for design in the developing world:

1. Try living for a week on $2 a day. It helps to understand the trade-offs that must be made when you have only very limited resources. From her experience in the Peace Corps in Botswana she learned to carry water on her head, and noticed how heavy the bucket was; and she learned to pound sorghum in to flour and felt the ache in her back. As a designer, she came to understand the importance of technologies that can transport water or grind grain.

2. Listen to the right people. Probably you do not know what it is like to carry fifty pounds of firewood on your head. Do not pretend that you do. Talk to someone who has done it. She believes that the key to innovation in international development truly understands the problem, and using your imagination is not good enough.

3. Do the hard work needed to find a simple solution. As Leonardo Da Vinci said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and it is the key to this type of design work.

4. Create “transparent” technologies, ones that are easily understood by the users, and promote local innovation.

5. Make it inexpensive. Her friend Paul Polak has adapted a famous quote to the following: “Affordability isn't everything, it's the only thing” and there's a lot of truth in that. When you are designing for people who are earning just one or two dollars a day, you need to keep things as cheap as you can and then make it even cheaper.

6. If you want to make something 10 times cheaper, remove 90 percent of the material.

7. Provide skills, not just finished technologies. The current revolution in design for developing countries is the notion of co-creation, of teaching the skills necessary to create the solution, rather than simply providing the solution. By involving the community throughout the design process, you can help equip people to innovate and contribute to the evolution of the product. Furthermore, they acquire the skills needed to create solutions to a much wider variety of problems. They are empowered.

From our viewpoint, appropriate technology is a type of technology oriented to satisfy the needs of the world’s poor. It is designed under specific requirements such as: to be manufactured with local available materials, to be accepted by the users and to be ergonomic. I believe that sustainability may be reached by the development of appropriate technology in emerging markets. From a business point of view, appropriate technology may be a good proposal to generate value, job opportunities and new business models. In order to facilitate increases in income along the entire supply chain (at business level), all technologies and products would be manufactured in the countries where these technologies will be implemented, distributed by local agents and sold by local dealers.

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