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The politics of design for the developing world.

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Wired has put together a list of designs for the developing world. It includes a gravity fed drip system for farming, a passive vaccine cooler and no waste/no spoilage milk jug for dairy farmers.

I like the designs, and I think that you will too. Form actually follows function, there is a relentless paring down of inessentials and they are intended to empower people. Those are all factors of good design. They are also mostly built to last despite tough handling and environmentally friendly, re-using water and sometimes relying on solar power. This is by necessity. If they are too be any good at all in most developing country contexts then there aren’t reliable (or any) power grids, water supplies and sewage systems.

And that suggest that one reason why changing developed country lifestyles to be more enviromentally friendly is the successes of the past, the creation of ccentralised systems for power, water, water and sewage. Without these successes (and vaccines) it simply wouldn’t have been possible to create large cities. But these systems create a great deal of interdependence between components, as a result its hard to change. One lesson from good design for the developing world is that self dependent systems are likely more robust and environmentally sustainable (because self sustaining). Centralised systems have a political logic, the same political logic that seeks to centralise poltical power in the nation state.

While the artefacts of the designs are stand-alone, the production processes are not. Instead they rely on the same centrally controlled systems, complexely inter-dependent systems for capital, production and distribution. While the products tend to escape the political logic of globalisation the production processes do not.

Addition:After writing this post I discovered Jason Kass writing about the same set of concerns in the New York Times Opinion pages.