Designing for a cause

Let me start of by saying that I thought the latest 1hr competition, to design an emergency shelter for Haiti and Chile (here and above), generated some really great concepts, showing true ingenuity and skills.

But having said that, it made me wonder if we, through competitions and events such as this one, end up generating more good self esteem than actual results. Both on the side of the spectator (myself included) and that of the creators.

Good intentions are undoubtably floating about in the design community, especially in times of crises. So my question is this:
What can we designers do to ensure that our intentions have the impact they merit?

As it is, I think we’re serving ourselves more than those we actually want to help.

What do you think?

For the record this isn’t an attack on core77 or any of those who took part in the competition, I’m only using it as a starting point since it’s what got me thinking in the first place. /end small print

First of all thank you thank you for starting this tread.

This subject should generate a good discussion amongst us designers or so I hope :wink:

I’d like to start with the following quote: ’ the road the hell is paved with good intentions’ very true but on the other hand we need to dream and have ideas/intentions otherwise there’s nothing to live for. I want to change the world. And I think most creative people want to do the same. One small step at a time. Creative people also have high selfesteem and big ego’s. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is what motivates them. What makes them get things done/change things. 'I can do it better!). And yes we do feel good about our ‘creations’. For me it’s like a drug…I always need more, and better stuff.
Most of my ideas 99.9% never make it into real products (this is quite normal in a healthy development process). The one hour design challenges should also be viewed with this in mind. It is spitting ideas. Most of them aren’t feasible or practical.
But I do hope that some of these ideas inspired other people to think different. I hate people who keep reinventing the same things over and over again. And only for this sole purpose does the one-hour-design-challenges have a meaning.
I’d love to do some field-research, since designing a shelter for Haiti is quite easy in my comfy chair and me MAC. So yes…it is a bit ego-caressing.

I’d would be great if these challenges could lead to (good) products in the end.
But that would require funding, research and lots of time. I for one would love to donate some time and effort into further developping some of the ideas in real products. I think there’s some real potential there. core-people?

Many Grtz



I’d like to add, “Genius: one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” I use a 100/5/1 rule. For evey 100 ideas, 5 are worth pursuing and 1 is worth implementing.

And don’t forget the work involved to implement. Beyond the typical ID duties, there is engineering, manufacturing, marketing, sales (or funding if you are a non-profit) and distribution. All of which are necessary to create a single idea. Quite frankly, the idea is the easiest part of the process and is dependent on hundreds, if not thousands of acitivities “unrelated” to ID.

So in answer to the OP’s question. A tremendous amount of work done by a very large amount of people from many different areas dedicated to the same idea. A difficult task but certainly not impossible.

Getting informed opinions from the people experiencing a crisis first-hand is a good place to start. Maybe using interviews and researching disaster aftermath and responses would be fruitful.

I liked reading about some of the research methods that Kara Pecknold describes in her article in the most recent ‘Innovations’ magazine, regarding co-design workshops with Rwandan women. Not a crisis per se, but she describes how she originally thought about the problem - from a comfy-chair design studio perspective - being inadequate once she actually went there and observed.

Another point: lots of times the products aren’t necessarily the problem esp in the cases of disasters like Haiti and Indonesia. Its the logistics, timing, deployment, and delivery services that aren’t up to snuff.

Slippy has a good point. This is an article I read the other day about logistical and economic issues in regards to these types of innovations.

I’m not sure if there is anything like this but something along the lines of a Designers Without Borders would be really cool. Something that would not only bring some great designers to impoverished locations to do case studies for creating innovations but also possibly include bringing along a group of design volunteers to help and learn from each other. It would be a win-win.

edit. Designers Without Borders does exist. I guess I should have researched while tyoing the post. :slight_smile:

Some really good points raised, such as that competitions like this one have their merit: at the very least, they challenge and inspire. And as long as 1 out of those 100s of ideas are worth pursuing then it’s worth it. So yeah definitely, we need the ideas that are off the mark – that’s where the greatest ideas come from.

At the same time, I think we can similarly benefit from first-hand knowledge in the creative process and not just outside-the-box thinking, and especially so in potentially life-saving cases.

I really like what iab said, that we need:

I’ve been playing with the idea of finding a way for people to pool their resources together more easily, for any type of project. I’m sure there are sites out there that help you do that, so if anyone knows, please share the links.

Btw, LabRat’s link reminded me of this book which showcases just those type of projects: Design for the Other 90%

After posting in this thread I found this. Design21

I’ve been checking it out since. This maybe something along the lines that you’re thinking Fred.

Very interesting indeed. Designers without borders mostly deal with getting communication (internet, phones,…) in developing countries. design21 seems to go wider. Should look into this.



Thanks, that’s brilliant… right along the lines of what I was imagining. That site lead me on to something very relevant to what we’re talking about here, namely this:

IDEO has created a Human Centered Design Toolkit in the shape of a book which explains their methodology of designing for the user. It’s based on real life projects in rural areas all over the world – it doesn’t get much more to the point than that! And, it’s available as a free PDF download here:

Since it comes from IDEO I think it’s safe to say that it’s something all designers should benefit from reading.

Quote: “The HCD Toolkit contains the elements to Human-Centered Design, a process used for decades to create new solutions for multi-national corporations. This process has created ideas such as the HeartStart defibrillator, Cleanwell natural antibacterial products, and the Blood Donor System for the Red Cross–innovations that have enhanced the lives of millions of people.”

There you go! Not every company is evil…-did I just write this?-

IDEO to the rescue! as usual?


It’s easy to get feedback. Take a prototype or the actual product, post launch, to users and see how they actually use it, and how it effects their lives.

God how I love IDEO :smiley: