It was a muggy summer day in New York City. After traversing through the meandering paths in Central Park, I quickly crossed the bustling Museum Mile to enter Cooper Hewitt’s smaller but equally green garden exhibit on “Design for the Other 90%.” With roots in a rural, agricultural-centered California town, the Day Labor Station caught my attention immediately. Architecturally it was beautiful and well designed. The intricate construction details, solar panel roof, and integrated toilet made for a completely off-the-grid design that any architect would be proud of. Then I noticed the bright blue Q Drum for transporting water and then the small LifeStraw to purify water. I was captivated by these products and structures that were addressing things I take for granted.
This was my first exposure to the concept of “Design for the Other 90%.” Over the past seven years, I’ve recited this phrase numerous times but I recently needed a fresher to remind myself who this group of people encompassed.
Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, nearly 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted; in fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter.
Ever since I became involved in public interest design, I have been trying to understand how to address this enormous task in a tangible and relevant way. How might we identify the people to work with while simultaneously proving that the work is alleviating this huge deficit?
Last week, I posted about three launching points into social impact design to help individuals identify ways to initiate a project. Through investigating each project, we can most likely easily categorize the issues and identify the people. But what happens when you work on another project, you bring on a teammate or two, and all of the sudden you have an organization?
At that point, there is a unique opportunity for socially-focused design organizations to move beyond just merely being a traditional service provider and take a stand on the causes that matter most to them. Be it food, water, shelter, health, sanitation, or energy, the sheer amount of people needing these basic services should shatter fears of becoming too specialized.
During our second impact measurement workshop with AzuKo, we have begun to chip away at narrowing down who they want to work with amongst the 90% (now up to 6.4 billion people.) First, we began with the big, meta-level causes that AzuKo has identified as the most important:
17% of the world’s population (7.1 billion) are living on less than $1.25 per day. This equates to 1.2 billion living in extreme poverty. If the current rate of progress is achieved, one billion will be living in extreme poverty in 2015. – The World Bank
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services. – Article 25.1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
This is still a really large task for AzuKo’s small team of two. So we then took a micro view and evaluated projects that AzuKo is currently working on–Emmaus St Albans, A Sense of Place, and Cyclone Shelters. Through each of these, we identified four key issues with statistics that matter most to AzuKo and the people they want to work with:
6,437 people slept rough at some point in London during 2012/13, an increase of 75% over the last 3 years. – Crisis
In the three years to 2011/12, 2.1 million people in London were in poverty. – London’s Poverty Profile
31.5% of the population are living below the poverty line (in Bangladesh.) – Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics
The London Housing Strategy 2013 estimates nine million people will live in London by 2020, and one million more by 2030, giving rise to many challenges, not least housing. – London Housing Strategy 2013
In some cities, up to 80 per cent of the population lives in slums. Sub-Saharan Africa has a slum population of 199.5 million. – UN Habitat
Virtually all of the expected growth in the world population will be concentrated in the urban areas of the less developed regions, whose population is projected to increase from 2.5 billion in 2009 to 5.2 billion in 2050. – UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
A one metre rise in sea level would engulf approximately 18% of the landmass, directly affecting 11% of the population. – Agrawala
If predicted rates are witnessed this will result in an estimated 15-20 million displaced persons by 2050. – Thomas-Hope
Although they are still big issues with big numbers attached to them, we are narrowing in to capture the causes in bite-size chunks that AzuKo can then measure impact against. Next up AzuKo will be writing the aims to describe the overall change that they want to achieve towards tackling each of these causes.
The big challenge for all impactful design organizations is to remain relevant on a global scale while identifying the specific issues, people, places, and timeframe. We can no longer choose the traditional commercial, residential, or institutional clientele tracks because these are not relevant to the “other 90%.”
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Image source: Clouds AO (previously Studio Lindfors)
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