The Other Ninety Percent

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

3 thoughts on “The Other Ninety Percent

  1. Out Of Poverty

    Wonderful post, thank you. I like your class project idea of having your students bring examples of Design for the Other 90% projects to class. I only wish there was a team of experts to advise which of these projects work, and why, and which do not work and why. Paul Polak’s book, “Out of Poverty, What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail.” could be a good guideline and dare I say, judge of sorts, to these projects. There is quite a bit of this book that speaks about the Design Revolution Paul has begun. If the book is not possible, you should at least follow his blog posts, which aren’t often, but there is a good many of them to refer to on this subject.
    Hope that helps. I look forward to seeing submissions in your future posts.

  2. o2indonesia

    Thank you for your remarks, and for the valuable Information and links. I’ll look around for the book and check the site. Some of our students at the Industrial Design program (at the Faculty of Arts and Design, Institute of Technology Bandung/ITB) actually chose this direction as their graduation projects, of which are already examined (what work and what don’t) by a team of industrial designers and consultants. Might be interesting too to put these samples on this site. Thanks for the suggestion 🙂

  3. Kevin Murray (@KevinDSMurray)

    Great article. In it’s first stage, Design for the other 90% was about the 10% making design for the rest of the world. It’s great to see a vibrant design culture in Indonesia now. That’s good not only for the 90%, but potentially for the 10% as well. The world needs new design thinking that is more connected to people’s real lives.


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