Can your designs help the other 90% of the planet?

Design For the Other 90% | Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

The International Herald Tribune Style and Design Section has an article about the Design For the Other 90% Exhibition. The exhibition is on in The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York right now and features inventions and design to help the 90% of the planet who aren’t as rich as the other 10%. The innovation you can see on their website and the design problems that these inventions overcome are inspiring to say the least.

Alice Rawlston who penned the piece in the Tribune makes the following point:

“whenever we think, or talk, about design, it’s invariably about something that’s intended to be sold to one of the privileged minority – the richest 10 percent.

The $1 million chaise longue. The fast car. The sleek computer. The beautiful book. The super-legible typeface. The toothbrush, power drill or MP3 player that’s ingenious enough to be priced a little higher than its competitors. Museums, books, magazines, and blogs are stuffed with such things. Tens of thousands of designers devote their working lives to producing more.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with designing things like that. But when you look at the bigger picture, doesn’t it seem strange that so much time, energy and resources should be consumed by creating luxuries for relatively few people, when so many essentials are needed urgently by so many more? Why are designers so focused on designing for the wealthiest 10 percent?”

But the Design for The Other 90% Exhibition shows that many, many designers are turning their skills, creativity, knowledge and enthusiasm to doing more for all. It’s also exciting to see that much of the innovation is from designers and inventors within the areas of most need. One of my favourite examples of this is the Bamboo Treadle Pump below.

The Bamboo Treadle water pump is the brainchild of Gunnar Barnes (a Norwegian Engineer who was working with the Rangpur/Dinajpur Rural Service and International Development Enterprises (IDE) in Nepal in the late 70’s). But since its creation the product itself has been manufactured locally in the areas it is needed with local products. It’s an amazing example of distributed manufacturing and distributed creativity. Estimates show that 1.7 million have been sold in Bangladesh alone.

Other areas of critical interest are products like the LifeStraw, the Ceramic Water Filter, and the AquaStar Plus! and Flow Through. All three of these products try to provide solutions to the issue of waterborne diseases, which at the moment the World Health Organization estimate is responsible for the death of 1.8 million people per year. Of course design itself isn’t the only factor in distributing these solutions.

Entrepreneurs are responsible for making these solutions available to the masses. And not just big time entrepreneurs but local entrepreneurs who create the products or who take on micro-loans and rent usage to other locals. If you want to listen to a great podcast on this topic alone, then it’s worth checking out the podcast below from the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders on the Role of Entrepreneurship in Solving World Problems.

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To me the most optimistic side of this design is that its distribution globally will be faster than we have ever seen in history. And if you have any doubt about that take a look at the AMD Personal Internet Communicator which is included in the Exhibition.

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Clarissa Barnes

Thank you for your kind remarks about the bamboo treadle pump.

I would just like to mention, for the record, that my husband, Gunnar Barnes, was working for the Lutheran World Federation program in Bangladesh (Rangpur/Dinajpur Rural[previously Rehabilitation] Service) when he came up with the treadle pump. IDE came along later and did a great job of marketing it in Bangladesh, and introducing it to other countries.

Other groups, like Enterprise Works, have also been working with the pump. Many modifications to the basic design have been made along the way. The original pump did include a smaller cylinder for wells, a bigger one for lifting from open water, and a spout for household use.

No patent was taken out at the time of invention, so as to not inhibit all the small local shops who were turning out the mild-steel cylinders and help the spread. And it has spread!

Thanks for the chance to comment!

Clarissa Barnes

I’m back again – just to clear up the fact that my husband, Gunnar Barnes, was working with ONLY Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service in BANGLADESH when he invented the treadle pump in 1980. He was also back in Bangladesh 1989-1992, at which time RDRS did collaborate with IDE.

The description of the pump at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, as I understand it, was intended to say that the pump ON DISPLAY, came from the IDE program in Nepal, and was constructed in 2006.


Clarissa Barnes

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