To socialize hardware, think about social structure. Communities doing things on the ground are key to the physical activities that people participate in. That’s partly helped by networking – finding out (A) who else is near you who likes the same things as you, and (B) what building and tinkering is going on near you (in case it catches your interest). Uniiverse sounds interesting for that.
It’s also helped by information flow. This is my own focus – the socialized information. I’m hoping we’ll make the most of th possibilities of socialized information, by building a comprehensive library of how-tos, guides, designs and topical info (which is what Appropedia, a wiki for appropriate technology, is about).
I might be that person who only has a hammer and find that everything looks like a nail – but my feeling is that access to quality information, inspiring stories and great designs is actually central to making things happen.
Try living for a week on $2 a day.
That’s what my students and I do when I teach my class about international development. It helps them begin to understand the trade-offs that must be made when you have only very limited resources. More broadly, it was in the Peace Corps in Botswana that I learned to carry water on my head, and noticed how heavy the bucket was; and I learned to pound sorghum in to flour and felt the ache in my back. As a designer, I came to understand the importance of technologies that can transport water or grind grain.
Listen to the right people. Okay, so you probably don’t know what it’s like to carry fifty pounds of firewood on your head. Well, don’t pretend that you do. Talk to someone who has done it. I believe that the key to innovation in international development is truly understanding the problem, and using your imagination is not good enough.
Do the hard work needed to find a simple solution. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”—and it is the key to this type of design work.
Create “transparent” technologies, ones that are easily understood by the users, and promote local innovation.
Make it inexpensive. My friend Paul Polak has adapted a famous quote to the following: “Affordability isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and there’s a lot of truth in that. When you are designing for people who are earning just one or two dollars a day, you need to keep things as cheap as you can and then make it even cheaper!
If you want to make something 10 times cheaper, remove 90 percent of the material.
Provide skills, not just finished technologies. The current revolution in design for developing countries is the notion of co-creation, of teaching the skills necessary to create the solution,
rather than simply providing the solution. By involving the community throughout the design process, you can help equip people to innovate and contribute to the evolution of the product. Furthermore, they acquire the skills needed to create solutions to a much wider variety of problems. They are empowered.