Preparing for a World With 9 Billion, Designers Are Rising to the Challenge
April 14, 2014 | 1603 views
Each year at the Skoll World Forum, nearly 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders and strategic partners gather at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to exchange ideas, solutions and information. We asked a number of speakers to discuss the critical issues, challenges and opportunities underpinning their sessions in advance of the Forum to ground a richer debate both online and in Oxford.
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I recently had lunch with 4 engineers from Kenya. They are the design team at Kickstart International, an impressive organization with an ambitious mission to lift millions of people in Africa out of poverty. Their solution is a line of foot-powered, durable and affordable irrigation pumps (think bike pump) used to irrigate 1-2 acre subsistence farms across the continent. Their impact hypothesis is simple –extend the growing season with irrigation so farmers can sell crops when demand is high and supply is low. Small businesses will abound with rippling impacts.
Over lunch, Alan Spybey, one of the four engineers, explained their product development process to me. First they work a piece of metal on a lathe to create a mold – that takes a few weeks. Using a decidedly analog contraption on the roof of their workshop, plastic is melted by friction and extruded into the mold. After curing, the prototype part is shaved to fit, tested in the workshop and if effective, tested in the field. Few prototypes make it to testing and fewer make it to the field. Put simply, the company’s design process was limiting their time-to-market.
After spending 3 weeks in San Francisco, learning about digital prototyping and 3D printing, Spybey and his team discovered the power of design technology to not only expedite their design process, but to optimize it at every step. During their first week in San Francisco, the team created a digital prototype for a specific piece of the pump, ran computational fluid dynamic (CFD) analyses and simulations to optimize the design, and by the end of the week they were ready to 3D print the part and begin testing.
This rapid design process is quickly becoming the norm around the world. We’re in the midst of a design-led revolution where the very process of design itself is being retooled. As a result, we are changing the way we design and redesign our world for the better. Designers now have access to information that was previously inaccessible in the design environment. They can understand the potential impacts of their design on the larger system of which it is a part. They can analyze and test thousands of iterations in a matter of minutes. They can collaborate in unprecedented ways, inviting more voices and massive collaboration into every step of the design process.
This is not the future – it’s happening today. But like all revolutions, it takes time and starts in small pockets, quietly gaining momentum in design firms, maker spaces, innovation hubs, universities and in the hallways of large corporations. Designers and engineers from San Francisco to Nairobi are re-designing our world at an unprecedented pace.
The question then becomes: what are we designing? Are we designing the future we want?
We will be living in a world of 9 billion people. The challenges of 9 billion are well known – energy and climate, water, land and resources, health, education, urbanization. We know these challenges are only becoming more epic. Designers around the world are rising to the challenge – focusing their talents, ambitions and careers to ask the right questions and design scalable (dare I say) epic solutions.