Better Design for Developing Markets

There’s a new (to me) trend of companies that are making extremely well designed products that are inexpensive and are selling really well here in the US, but that are also created to help impoverished people solve major problems.

Awhile back I read a design manifesto about this, one that I wish I could find again online but I’ve searched everywhere and can’t find it. The gist of it, as I recall, is that design for charitable purposes often suffers because the designer is focusing too heavily on making a product that will solve the basic need (food, water, education, etc.) but is not designing for elegance or any of the things the market in a developed country would want from a product. These designs often fail because, while they accomplish the task at a superficial level, they are often deficient in important factors like usability, durability or practical considerations.

Here are three companies that seem to be doing a great job at addressing the needs and wants of both audiences.

Their products are marketable in developed countries, but are inexpensive enough to mass-distribute in places where people are unable to purchase them. I’d love to know more about this business model and about similar companies. If you’re familiar with these types of companies, please comment!

Biolite – They make stoves powered by twigs or small, burnable item. You can cook over them but the cool thing is that they also charge a battery that can be used to power small electronics. I’ve used mine several times and it works very well.

Sawyer – Their simple water filters are inexpensive and easier to use than competitor’s products that are much higher priced. I bought a couple and they’ve worked flawlessly. I’ve even seen young kids using them with no problems.

Lifestraw – This is another take on water filtering. You stick it directly into the water source and drink. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I love these companies not just for their products, but for what they’re doing to improve the world. They seem to be the perfect mix of capitalism and humanitarianism.

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