Big Problems

I feel that designs that tackle big, hard-to-solve, worldwide problems are examples of great design as the issues we face are complex and require bold and innovative approaches in order to achieve success, or even to just create an impact.


Recently I watched Slingshot, a documentary about Dean Kamen, the man behind the Segway, who has now turned his eye to the world’s water crisis. I was struck by the complexities that were involved in creating a product that could work for a vast range of environments, with access to limited electricity, different social climates, varying demand and limited revenue. I found his team’s dedication and innovation to be very inspiring, as they encountered hurdle after hurdle, especially when it came to distribution.

Eventually, they solved the problem by realising that distribution networks exist even in remote parts of the world, through Coca Cola. I have some experience with this, when in an arid and sparsely populated savannah in Zambia with no shops, a man sold me a bottle of Coca Cola from a small cart for 5 cents, much to my shock. After the initial encounter, I saw Cola and Pepsi everywhere, painted on random village walls, sold by children and adults where the only food available was that which was grown locally.

The point of my anecdote is that, even having experienced this, the idea of Coca Cola’s distribution network being utilised for other products did not even occur to me until after watching. Not only would it mean that creating new networks would not be necessary, but using the gaps between cola cans and bottles utilises wasted space and so there was almost no downside for Coca Cola themselves.


GravityLight is another example of an innovative solution to a widespread and lasting product in developing countries; access to light. Families can spend up to 30% of there tiny income on kerosene lamps, creating a poverty trap. The gravity light is powered by a attaching a weight, like a bag of sand, to a pulley and as the weight slowly drops, the combination of kinetic and potential energy powers a generator.

The concept is simple, and extremely effective. It could be used anywhere, and would save families on low incomes an incredible amount of money relative to their earnings.

The two examples I’ve spoken about tackle entirely different problems, but both are aimed at developing countries and have widespread applications. In both cases, my view is that great design has come about through sincere and persevering dedication to helping people all over the world to have a better life. With the care and consideration behind these products, I cannot hesitate to call them examples of great design.



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