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Design Revolution - 100 products that empower people

Design Revolution - 100 products that empower people
28 Jul 2009

Featuring more than 100 contemporary design products and systems -
safer baby bottles, a high-tech waterless washing machine, low-cost
prosthetics for landmine victims, Braille-based Lego-style building
blocks for blind children, wheelchairs for rugged conditions, sugarcane
charcoal, universal composting systems, DIY soccer balls - this book
makes the case for design as a tool to solve some of the world's
biggest social problems in beautiful, sustainable and engaging ways -
for global citizens in the developing world and in more developed
economies alike. Particularly at a time when the weight of climate
change, global poverty and population growth are impossible to ignore,
Emily Pilloton challenges designers to be changemakers instead of
'stuff creators.' Urgent and optimistic, a compendium and a call to
action, Design Revolution is an exciting design publication to come out
this year.


Clay Water Filters by Tony Flynn

A grassroots alternative to higher-tech filtration systems, Tony Flynn’s three-ingredient filters take advantage of the inherent properties of locally available materials to provide clean drinking water in the simplest of manners. Flynn, a materials scientist and ceramics lecturer from The Australian National University, combined terra-cotta, coffee grounds (or other organic material), and cow dung to create personal-use water filters that remove common pathogens including E. coli. The filters provide a free, do-it-yourself alternative to the commercial options, which often use the same ceramic filtration process but are financially inaccessible to developing communities.  The filters can be made by anyone with access to crushed terra-cotta, organic material, and sufficient water to create a thick mixture that can be formed into a self-supported pot. The shaped pots are sun dried until hard, then fired on a bed of dry cow dung and leaves for 45 minutes. During the firing process, the organic material and agricultural by-products in the demographics for which DIY filters are most urgently needed. The filters  safely remove 96.4 to 99.8 percent of all E. coli bacteria and can filter .25 gallon (1 L) of water in two hours. Several filters may be used in sequence for particularly contaminated or dirty water. Perhaps the system’s only drawback is the difficulty of perfecting the mixture, wall thickness, and shape of the pots, all of which can require some practice. Those with previous ceramics or craft experience will be better equipped to produce higher-quality filters.  

Sugarcane Charcoal by D-Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the primary cooking fuel is wood charcoal. The fuel is notoriously dirty when burned, and many children in the country die of respiratory infections due to inhalation of indoor cooking fumes. Despite the charcoal’s detriments, Haitians are dependent on it, which is additionally problematic because Haiti is 98 percent deforested. As a potential solution to these issues, a team of engineers and students, led by Amy Smith from MIT’s D-Lab, looked to agricultural waste as a viable resource for the production of cleaner, more sustainable charcoal that could simultaneously create jobs and fuel. The charcoal the team developed is made from dried bagasse, the primary waste product from sugarcane processing. This fibrous material is left after the juice has been squeezed from the cane. The bagasse is burned in a 55-gallon (208-L) oil-drum kiln, where it carbonizes. It is then mixed with cassava root as a binder and compacted using a press designed by D-Lab to form briquettes. The charcoal burns clean, creating no smoke and making it healthier to use and  produce. As it requires no wood, it also preserves the little forest Haiti has left. Though the sugarcane has been successful, D-Lab continues to research and explore other agricultural waste products, such as corncobs, that could be cooking-fuel alternatives. In its new use, sugarcane charcoal gives waste products a function and creates jobs to support its continued production, while using local materials and skills to support new enterprises and sustain emerging economies. Since its initial implementation in Haiti, the use and production of sugarcane charcoal has been field-tested and expanded into parts of Brazil, Ghana and India, places where sugarcane and its agricultural waste are widely available.

Rapid Deployable System (RDS) by Hoberman Associates, Inc. and Johnson Outdoors’s Eureka!

Developed primarily for use by military and crisis-relief workers, the RDS provides “quick-up” structures for modular expansion that are durable, efficient, and easy to assemble and disassemble. The systems can also connect to existing shelters to add space for short-term needs. The RDS comes in a variety of sizes and is  comprised of articulated parts such as arches, legs, leg sleeves, and a connecting hub. A separate floor and cover complete the shelter’s construction. The RDS is made from extreme rugged materials and has a weather-proofed surface, making it durable in the harshest environments and allowing it to be used as a long-term structure in the developing world. Its PVC-coated, high-tenacity fabric can sustain winds of up to 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) and 2 inches (5.1 cm) of rain per hour. The system also has passive ventilation systems and components that are interchangeable with other RDS units. The structures can be erected in just minutes for use as medical suites, operation centers, food service locations, and areas for first responders. The largest RDS shelter measures 695 square feet (64.5 sq. m) when assembled and collapses to a 3-by-3.5-by-6-foot (0.9-by-1.1-by-1.8-m) bundle.

Whirlwind RoughRider by Whirlwind Wheelchair International

In the 1980s, paraplegic engineer and wheelchair designer Ralf Hotchkiss traveled the world, working with doctors and patients to design and build wheelchairs from locally available materials. He found that in many areas the need for the chairs was urgent and severe. In an effort to continue his work and bring reliable, affordable mobility to the handicapped in developing countries, Hotchkiss founded Whirlwind Wheelchair International with Peter Pfaelzer, an engineering professor at the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at SFSU. The organization works to create and support enterprises for local wheelchair production, in order to make it possible for every handicapped individual in the developing world to have access to a chair that is affordable, durable, and empowering. Their RoughRider wheelchair fulfills the group’s mission through an open-source design that makes the end-user central during the production process. RoughRider is a low-cost wheel-chair that is optimized for the needs of users and the limitations of manufacturing facilities in developing countries. While most wheelchairs are designed to maneuver only on smooth surfaces, the RoughRider’s wheels, frame, and mechanics make it suitable for more rugged conditions in both urban and rural areas, enabling the user to be independently mobile. The wheelchair is collapsible to fit in small spaces and includes functional features like low armrests, toe protectors for barefoot riding, a curvilinear frame to better fit the body and discourage the visual stigma of clunky chairs, and multiple rear axle positions to optimize stability. Its front set of smaller, caster-like wheels allow for increased durability, balance, and maneuverability over rough terrain. Its versatility enables a range of everyday activities including working, playing, traveling, going to school, and doing household chores. Additionally, its frame and components can all be assembled by anyone with basic manufacturing skills and materials. The need for parts, joints, and skilled labor is kept at a minimum to ensure both quality construction and easy maintenance.

Playground Fence by Tejo Remy and René Veenhuizen

Dutch designers Tejo Remy and René Veenhuizen are known for their clever designs that encourage new user experiences and create connections between people and objects. When commissioned in 2004 to transform the playground space at the primary school De Noorderlicht in Dordrecht, The Netherlands, their goal was to inspire new interactions while adding no new material to the space. With those objectives in mind, they looked to the existing infrastructure of the school’s standard metal fence as an opportunity. Remy and Veenhuizen reimagined it not as a two-dimensional barrier, but as a three dimensional, inhabitable space that would create new experiences for students and passersby on either side of it. By altering the shape of the vertical fence, adding convex and concave curves to the bars, the designers created meeting places, seating, and play spaces within its structure. Distortions to the traditional rhythm of the fence yield new geometries that are both aesthetically appealing and functional. As a result, the fence becomes a part of the playground for the children rather than an exclusionary element, and provides an opportunity for parents and other community members to engage with students.


Emily Pilloton, author of this book, is the founder and Executive Director of Project H Design, a global industrial design nonprofit with eight chapters around the world. Trained in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and product design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Pilloton started Project H in 2008 to provide a conduit and catalyst for need-based product design that empowers individuals, communities and economies. Current Project H initiatives include water transport and filtration systems in South Africa and India; an educational math playground built for elementary schools in Uganda and North Carolina; a homeless-run design coop in Los Angeles; and design concepts for foster care education and therapy in Austin, Texas.

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