What’s your problem?

11.02.2016 | consumerism. design. process. thinking.

  • Posted by Matthew Stone
  • Designers are taught from the start that the problem is defined before anything else. So when I came across this pillow that incorporates a mobile phone, the question needs to be asked, what is the point?

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    The twitter post on Design Milk was liked by many. However, should the designer be putting their talents to more meaningful and productive solutions?


    Do we need any more designer chairs?

    A few years back I attended a talk by Michael Johnson about how design can make a difference. He concluded by saying do we need any more designer chairs? This blog post is dedicated to design solutions that are truly pointless (in my opinion) and those that are really making a difference to people’s lives around the world.

    Another pointless contraption, encouraging the user to view a screen when at home is a potty that comes with a built-in iPad holder. The genius designer even had the brainwave of calling it the ‘iPotty’ – I kid you not. It comes with an integrated splashguard, so you don’t need to worry about the screen being soiled with messy hands. A drawback is that it only supports 43lbs; so adults you’ll have to stick to the ‘iCushion’.

    Useless design solutions (where problems don’t exist in the first place) don’t just stop at home. The food and drink scene has plenty to showcase. One example is Diet Water. Yes, water to help you to diet. How can water possibly have fewer calories than zero? Clearly consumers really are willing to swallow anything to get into shape.

    Not to be outdone, someone decided to produce a solution to package individual bananas. I can only imagine the thought process behind it. How can we package a fruit that comes with a tough and quite thick package of its own? Nature grows the banana in such a way that it is ready-made to be sold in stores. What’s the problem here?

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    On top of this you have celebrity perfume, fashionable handbags and those designer chairs, where a problem didn’t really exist in the first place. Is the amount of poor design decisions due to the way the designers in question have been educated? Does there need to be more emphasis on designing for purpose within our university institutions?


    There is a positive

    Thankfully, there are designers creating notable solutions to some of the world’s biggest and genuine problems.

    Take the MOM inflatable incubator for example. Every year an estimated 150,000 childbirths occur within refugee camps. Of these, 27,500 infants will die due to lack of sufficient incubation. James Roberts, a product design student at Loughborough University, asked himself the question – ‘Does every child born not have the right to a chance of survival?’

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    The award winning solution is an inexpensive, electronically controlled, inflatable incubator constructed to decrease the number of premature child deaths within refugee camps. MOM offers the best and safest possible environment for a pre-term child to thrive in, whilst solving many of the problems of incubating premature children in refugee camps highlighted through his research.

    The WaterWheel is another design solution with a well-defined problem at its core. Women and children in rural areas in developing countries often have to walk miles in order to collect water, which is not only tiring, but also very time consuming. The WaterWheel offers a more practical and convenient method to transport the water. It has a capacity of 45L and features a simple design that allows it to be controlled using a handle.

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    Each feature of the WaterWheel has been vetted through a series of design validation pilots that took place across India over the course of 2 years. The team lived and worked in dozens of villages, carried hundreds of litres of water and engaged with thousands of potential end-users and sector experts.

    In Argentina almost one person dies in a traffic accident every hour. 80% from people trying to overtake on single lane roads. Samsung teamed up with an adverting agency to create a pioneering solution that will undoubtedly help save thousands of lives all over the world. Incorporating technology into their trucks, the Safety Truck uses live video footage to screen oncoming traffic onto the rear doors of the heavy goods vehicle. It allows drivers travelling behind, and aiming to overtake, a clear view of the road ahead.

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    To alleviate the over consumerist society that we currently have to share, we must step up as a design community and spend more time defining the problem, not creating one.

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