This semester I teach an “Eco-Design” class at the Master Program of Industrial Engineering at Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung. Among our main references is Design for Sustainability (D4S) published by UNEP and TU Delft, especially when we were discussing the subject of Design for Sustainability in Developing Countries. I couldn’t help but also included another reference: Design for the Other 90% that was actually an exhibition and is now also a book. What does “The Other Ninety Percent” refer to? According to Dr. Paul Polak from the International Development Enterprises who initiated the exhibition:
“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%”
This statement is similar to the critics of Victor Papanek in his book Design for The Real World (1972), that (industrial/product) designers tend to make products for less than 10% of the world’s population who can afford to buy them, and rarely work for the rest, whose main concerns are the fulfillment of basic human needs: clean water, food, shelter. In this book, he also provided examples of how designed products shouldn’t alienate themselves from people who use them.
An attempt of designers and engineers to make design available for as many people as possible is the site Demotech: Design for Self Reliance where people can freely access information about daily products, tools and machinery: how to build them out of various local resources and materials. Next to those who might need the information, people can also contribute to this site by submitting their designs, suggestions and tips for improvement. The concept of democratic-technology (hence the site name Demotech) indeed aims to reach the majority of people with limited resources, for them to be able to assist themselves.
Having this previous examples in mind, I asked the student of that class to bring an example of a product that is intended for “The Other 90%” and they came up with interesting ones, which I will put in later posts. But, for now, here’s a video about Design for The Other 90% as a prologue:
Here’s another link worth checking: a review of the Copper-Hewitt exhibition at Core 77