At the heart of good industrial design is the ability to apply creativity to solve real-world problems through visualising creative thinking. Because of rapid social and economic progress over the 20th century, such opportunities have been endless. Designers, engineers and inventors have developed hardware to overcome human necessities – the car, the computer, the mobile phone. But good design doesn’t necessarily require developing new devices and concepts. Indeed, some of the most laudable design comes from those who have taken an existing idea or product, turned it on its head, and applied it to a different problem from the one for which it was originally intended.
Ernst & Young estimates that over the next two decades, the global middle class will expand by another three billion people, coming almost exclusively from the emerging world. It is not surprising then that it is in the developing world that we see many examples of pre-existing ideas being used in new ways. One such early example was the mobile payment system, which in the developed world has merely improved the consumer experience. Yet in some of the remotest parts of Africa, it has revolutionised payments between people and business. It has effectively provided the majority of people with banking access, regardless of their social standing or geographic location. So, what’s going on at the moment?
Hold the Drone
In the developed world, we often read about how drones will ship purchased products to your front door. But with good infrastructures and the prevalence of service providers, there is little need for such a service. For the moment, drones remain toys for gadget enthusiasts in the West. But, in Sub Saharan Africa, where critical infrastructure is poor and 85 per cent of roads are unusable during the wet season, there is a real social need for drone technology. In Papua New Guinea start-up Matternet is using drones specifically designed to transport goods and medical supplies to those most in need. The technology has been used by Doctors Without Borders who were helping battle a tuberculosis epidemic in the rural regions of the country. The main constraint was to transport patients’ samples, which needed to be analysed quickly for an accurate diagnosis. The drones helped to overcome this by providing a fast, reliable and cost-effective solution.
Mobile medical help
Mobile phones are being used in various innovative ways with attachments and apps to help medical support. The latest creation in that area is called Peek, a low-cost smartphone adapter that enables eye examinations anywhere in the world. The UK-developed project consists in an adapter that clips to the top of a smartphone, allowing doctors and health workers to examine the back of the patient’s retina when a picture is taken.
Rethinking disaster relief
Creative thinking turning existing concepts upside down often come from creative individuals seeking to break into the market. But this is not always the case. Sometimes such ideas come from the giants. IKEA applied its know-how to create the IKEA flat-pack refugee shelters. With enormous waves of migration taking place due to political turmoil, this solution could save lives.
IKEA has produced 10,000 of its flat-pack Better Shelter units so far, which the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is using. Assembled in four hours with a solar panel on the roof to provide enough energy to illuminate the interior, the basic structure is made in a way that it could be upgraded over time by adding a metal roof, earth walls and so on.
The focus of design in the developed world has been in the virtual world over the past few years. The proliferation of the smartphone and the sharing economy has created a void, which is being filled by endless innovative apps and smart services. But what is too easily overlooked is that there is still limitless scope for creativity in hardware product innovation, particularly in the developing world where not only are there are more social and economic challenges to overcome, but some of the fastest demographic changes are taking place. Good designers are jumping at the opportunity to apply and update old concepts to help the developing world leapfrog its developed counterpart.