Exploring the future of design: Maximize constraints; minimize resources

By | May 5, 2010

If necessity is the mother of invention, is prosperity the father of consumption?

Industrial design as a profession emerged from the roots of the first Industrial Revolution, and flowered into full force during the post war (WWII) boom of consumption and productivity in the 50′s and 60′s – thus it has always had its foundations in highly industrialized nations, where the infrastructure of modern life such as electricity, water, housing etc was fully established.

Kerosene lamp in Rajasthan, India January 2009

But the makeshift solutions in the liminal space where poverty meets high technology – which may seem very primitive, raw and crude to our eyes, accustomed as they are to gleaming automobiles,  iPods and shiny shops full of premium consumer goods – have their own criteria for existence. They could be said to be ‘design for survival’ – one comes up with solutions for problems with only the materials at hand when there are no resources available to get the best that may be available in markets elsewhere.  In fact, in a recent interview,  Professor Anil K. Gupta of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, stated:

When you combine a scarcity of resources with an abundance of knowledge, sustainable solutions are a common result. Those at the grassroots inherently look for ways to co-opt nature and conserve energy. Our Shodh Yatra explorations demonstrate that rural innovations tend toward sustainable solutions with frugality, durability and multi-functionality being part of the mix. Re-purposed technology, such as bicycles, feature often in transformed roles to meet a variety of needs. From agricultural innovations to the gas-powered iron or pressure-cooker-driven coffee maker, we find that solutions developed by producers who are also users reflect the concerns of both the production and consumption environments.

Taken in this context, I would like the posit the following criteria,  not just for the low income or developing world markets,  also as a worthwhile lens through which to look at an emerging form of design in general.  Meaning, can these constraints be considered a “given” or  “first principles” for future product development?

1. Durable and sustainable
2. Reusable and recyclable
3. Affordable and appropriate

Your thoughts?

One thought on “Exploring the future of design: Maximize constraints; minimize resources

  1. Meena Kadri

    Seems like a good start… although IMHO ‘sustainable’ seems redundant within the list itself – if all the other constraints are met then would the result, in fact, be sustainable?


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