The Importance Of Design Aesthetics On Products Designed To Fight Poverty

By Timothy Whitehead, Loughborough University, Loughborough Design School

The Importance Of Design Aesthetics On Products Designed To Fight Poverty

Over recent years it has been recognised that business can help alleviate poverty, by providing income generating products and services to many living at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). The advance of Design for the other 90% and other recent initiatives such as Human Centred Design and the recognition of Design Thinking have generated an increased interest in this field. However, when treating the poverty stricken as customers and not charity recipients it is important to also cater for their aspirational needs.

I am currently in the concluding stages of a PhD at the Loughborough Design School and have spent two and a half years investigating factors critical to product success within developing countries. There are a number of obvious design requirements, such as the functionality of a product, usability, sustainability, affordability and durability. However, we also need to consider the affinity users have with a product, the emotional attachment, which can sometimes be hard to quantify and understand. Results from the analysis of 63 products, interviews with 18 Design/NGO consultancies and a visit to Proximity Design in Myanmar, concluded that this part of the process is often neglected and designs which take this into account have greater uptake and longevity.

A typical assumption is that ‘if it works effectively why does it have to look nice? The function is more important’. Although the function of a product is fundamental the design can directly affect the use and uptake of a product or solution. According to Ruth Mugge if people feel strongly attached to a product they are more likely to handle it with care, and repair or replace it.

An example of this affinity can be seen in Hydrologic’s SuperTunsai water filter. Hydrologic is a for profit company based in Cambodia which designs and manufactures household water filters for low income users. Previously, they produced a household water filter, known as the Rabbit costing $13.50. This is a ceramic gravity feed filter system for the home. However, according to research carried out by PATH in India, users described the product as looking like a ‘trash can’, and didn’t want to be seen using it. In response PATH worked alongside Hydrologic to redesign the product taking into account users’ aspirational needs. This resulted in the SuperTunsai which was the same filter, just restyled. The re-design increased the cost from $13.50 to $23.50, but outsold the existing product 3/1 and increased user uptake by 42%. This example demonstrates the importance of designing products to meet users’ basic aspirational needs. Further reports can be seen here.

In addition, when talking with users in Myanmar it was found that they too had similar aspirational aims, one woman commented that ‘if a product is for my house it must look good’. Another stated that; I don’t want to be boastful, but I like things that make me look good in the village’. This desire to look good and be highly regarded within a community is the same all over the world – design and brands are important. That is why companies like Apple are successful in developed markets, they produce high quality goods, which are well designed and consequently people aspire to own them.

This means that when designing a product for BOP customers in addition to functionality, usability, affordability etc. it is really important to take into consideration the aspirational needs and design products that they will be proud to own.

Timothy Whitehead t.*********@lb***.uk Loughborough University, Loughborough Design School

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