Designmatters – Art Center College of Design
Innovation Center, Un Techo Para mi País
Safe Agua addresses quotidian challenges of safe water access for families living in Latin American slum developments. Driven by field research in Santiago, Chile, the team designed innovative water solutions, implemented by the NGO client: 10 Mila community laundries, Relava kitchen workstations, and 1000s of Ducha Halo portable showers.
Department Chairs: David Mocarski, Environmental Design Karen Hofmann, Product Design Lead Faculty: Penny Herscovitch, Environmental Design / Principal, Padlab Dan Gottlieb, Environmental Design / Principal, Padlab Liliana Becerra (Product Design / Principal, Studio Liliana Becerra) Student Team: Environmental Design: Stella Hernandez, Erica Li, Stephanie Stalker, Jessica Yeh Graduate Film: Elizabeth Bayne Graphic Design: Ramon Coronado Product Design: Jacqueline Black, KC Cho, Narbeh Dereghishian, William Tang, Jie Wei Transportation Design: Nubia Mercado NGO Partner, Innovation Center, Un Techo para Mi País: Julián Ugarte, Director Askan Straume, Head, R&D Andrés Iriondo, Head, Project Management
We chose this project for its systems approach to a problem that affects millions throughout the world, and the potential for generating awareness and action. This project would have benefited, however, from greater attention to the responsibility of others, not just slum dwellers, toward conserving scarce water resources.
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
The practical challenge for Safe Agua was to design concrete solutions for utilizing, transporting and storing water for families living in the slum or campamento without running water. These families receive water from a municipal truck one to three times per week. When the water is delivered, they store it in barrels outside their homes. Women must hand carry water for each daily task. Bathing becomes an arduous chore rather than a relief; laundry can take a full day of physical labor; and a glass of water can make a child sick. These perpetual burdens consume people’s time, diminish their quality of life, impact health and dignity, and become an obstacle to earning a stable income and overcoming poverty.
The deep personal, empathetic connections that our team forged during field research with families living in these conditions ignited our creativity and our passion to work with the families to create Safe Agua projects with maximal impact, with minimal resources.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
We believe that at the root of all design is empathy. Therefore, one of our initial goals was to design an engaging research process that would allow us to understand people whose lives differ in many ways from our own. Establishing personal connections between students and families shifted our process from designing for people to designing with people.
Unlike many studio classes, in which an instructor or partner company might assign a project brief that defines the problem to tackle for the term, each Safe Agua team embarked on a process to define the problem for themselves based on their observations during field research.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
Base of Pyramid Users: Safe Agua addressed economic sustainability as a key factor, to be affordable to Base of Pyramid users, ensuring both scalability and replicability. A do-it-yourself (DIY) strategy for the $17 USD Ducha Halo shower and $15 USD Relava sink yields products that are cost-efficient and affordable for the residents of the Chilean campamento where we worked. Beyond affordability, we worked with the NGO client to develop business models that empower local communities and create opportunities for families to generate income.
Student Designers: The academic challenge for Safe Agua was to create new ways to enrich the educational curricula with meaningful outside engagement in order to promote cross-pollination of expertise, new forms of knowledge, and an immersive and experiential learning process that would allow students to develop tangible, “real-world” outcomes. From the perspective of the students’ experience, Safe Agua helped students to see design in a totally different new light, supported by a context of real world challenges and demonstrated that small incremental solutions based on innovative thinking, re-purposing existing materials and maximizing resources can bring about exponential impact in society.
Non-Profit / Corporate Partnerships: A number of important local and international businesses such as Unilever and Sodimac have partnered with the NGO and invested in the development and production of new Safe Agua products and services designed for this underserved BoP market. Thus these companies have an investment in this ongoing enterprise both from a commercial and a humanitarian perspective.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
The extensive two-week field research undertaken by our team of three lead faculty and a multidisciplinary team of 12 students, became paramount in gaining a richer understanding of the challenges and opportunities inherent to the project. This immersion in Campamento San Jose, Santiago, Chile allowed the students and faculty to gain experience with the communities and make personal emotional connections that proved instrumental not only in their understanding of the depth of their creative process, but also in their ability to integrate design, business, and cultural factors into their proposals.
In order to prepare ourselves for the field research, we created a tool kit of methodology cards specifically targeting our project objectives. The tool kit was fundamental for directing the focus of the field research. It provided our students with the confidence and structure to navigate a completely new territory. It also changed the traditional model of design education by introducing field research as a key component of the design process.
Back in the US, the team worked in the studio class, using an inclusive co-design process, by continuing to validate their design process through close contact with our partners and the community of users. Families from the campamento participated in a focus group organized by our partners in Chile to share their specific feedback on each project over Skype conversations. This dialogue between students and families extended to co-testing: as two of the students tested their shower prototype in the US, twenty families were testing it in the campamento.
The earthquake that struck Chile on February 2010 increased the need for emergency relief products and accelerated the implementation curve of 3 projects which, went from concept to pilot implementation in less that a year with local Chilean manufacturers. Feedback from this pilot phase is currently driving the re-design and licensing of the Ducha Halo shower model for mass-production, to reach scale of millions across 19 Latin American countries.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
Viewed as an example for the execution of socially driven design principles, it demonstrates the far-reaching potential for specifically tailored design research methodologies, collaborative processes, and creative solutions to achieve further relevant successes globally.
As a template for action, Safe Agua evinces the role of designers as potential change agents for people living in poverty, or otherwise suffering from seemingly intractable problems yet to be addressed by the power of design.
From the perspective of students’ experience, Safe Agua helped students to see design in a new light, supported by a context of real world challenges. It demonstrates that small incremental solutions based on innovative thinking, re-purposing existing materials and maximizing resources can bring about exponential impact in society.
Specific benefits to the BoP users include: health & comfort; affordable & easy to assemble; dignity & cleanliness for work and school, via 3 products & services, currently in pilot implementation:
- Ducha Halo portable shower: 50 DIY kits distributed after 2010 Chilean earthquake; 200 kits to be assembled in 2011 in Argentina community workshops, at a cost of $7 to NGO and $10 residents; parts stocked by Sodimac hardware chain and featured in DIY TV show
- Mila Community Laundries: 10 laundries implemented in earthquake relief transitional housing; funded by Unilever's OMO brand; community group decides cost per load & collectively run & maintains Mila
- Relava sink: currently in pilot testing; yields improved daily quality of life, ergonomic & health benefits of sanitary kitchen workstation for washing dishes
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
While the Safe Agua project successfully integrated a transdisciplinary team that spanned the design disciplines, in hindsight, we would fully embed business strategy and engineering members within the team from the initial project planning and field research stage. During Safe Agua, we invited consultants in social entrepreneurship and engineering for cost-effective manufacturability to critiques and brainstorming sessions. In these sessions, we came to realize the value of the full integration of these fields throughout the process, from the very outset of the project, embedded with teams of designers. As we move forward with the Safe Agua project, with a new team of students designers conducting field research in Peru in August 2011 and expanding on the Safe Agua Chile innovations, we will incorporate the fields to ensure actionable designs that incorporate distribution and inclusive business models, as well as affordable manufacturing strategies, to reach scale and yield the greatest impact.