Notes from “Product Development for the Other 90%”

Recently, I listened in on a webinar called “Product Development for the Other 90%,” hosted by Engineering for Change. It featured the work of AIDG, which from 2004 to 2010 ran an R&D division with universities and engineering groups, to create products for the developing world. The webinar was presented by Peter Haas, the founder and executive director of AIDG.

With his experience in poverty issues, technology, and entrepreneurship, Peter pointed to 6 innovations that had successful design processes. I hope this helps teams currently working on humanitarian designs!

1. Humdinger wind energy

The designers were trying to make a product that was <$1. When designing for the other 90%, costs become extremely important.

The organization set up a remote monitoring system, which allowed people away from the community to continuously stay in touch and get data in the testing. They could Skype directly with the tower and ask voltage/weather conditions. This is a great model for how to get continuous feedback and communication from the environment that you’re designing for.

2. Embrace

Design That Matters created a Car-Parts Incubator (baby incubator, http://designthatmatters.org/portfolio/projects/incubator/). It was cheaper than the Western incubator, which usually costs $20,000. It seems like a good idea, but…

The folks at Embrace Incubator made one better. They asked, “What keeps the baby warm?” and took the design down to the core, creating a much cheaper final product: a baby blanket.

Peter suggests designers to strip off 90% of the materials, see what you can do.

The good thing about Embrace is that it is dedicated towards commercialization (large-scale, addresses local innovations). Furthermore, the press around Embrace is clear that this is a design in progress, making it clear that there is more work to be done.

Currently: Embrace partnered with GE and is supposedly in production now. This type of partnership necessary for medical devices (http://www.healthymagination.com/progress/technology/embrace/).

3. Seimens protostove

Created in collaboration with a university professor who’d already been doing testing for 4-5 yrs, and who wanted to commercialize it at large scale. The protostove saw mixed success, and it faced challenges with distribution and production. For example, it needed many parts, and it might’ve been better to be mass produced in China and then distributed.

The good thing about the protostove is that it’s well-designed and beautiful. Peter suggests, “Don’t give people junk” just because they are in the emerging market. If you can design something beautiful, try to design something beautiful.

The look of your product does make a difference in sales.

4. D.light

The good things about D.light are that it adapted existing technologies, had short R&D cycles with clear goals, and brought things to market.

5. IDE Treadle pump

The great thing about the IDE Treadle pump is that it allows small farmers to invest and then make back their investment.

6. DME

This is the stove for Haitian market to reduce charcoal by 50%. It looks similar to the African jiko stove! But the jiko just hadn’t been introduced in Haiti, so the organization brought a near-similar product to Haiti. The cost of production was $7, and the stove sold at $9 (similar to costs in Africa).

The lesson learned is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look at what’s already in existence.

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