Designs For Change

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Jonathan Ford

DESIGNS FOR CHANGE Pearlfisher FeatureIn the last article we wrote for EDE ONLINE, we touched on the amazing advances in new technology that are radically changing how, why, what and when we eat. But, as a global and interconnected community, we all need to still be mindful that for millions – on a daily basis – it’s more a question of ‘if’ they can eat. But here too, technology is having a part to play. And, to me, this is probably the more interesting focus as truly creative and low-tech ideas and innovations are showcasing a very different – but just as radical – form of progress.

As a designer, I have always been fascinated by how great design makes things better. But, I've always been drawn to ideas that work beyond the type of brand design I do. And there are currently some amazing gadgets, systems and strategies coming out of the developing world that could revolutionize the lives of millions of its citizens. I believe that these innovations could also teach us in the Western world to take a step back and look at how we maybe re-apply technology to age-old problems – and, ultimately, to remember that often the most simple is the best.

DESIGNS FOR CHANGE Pearlfisher FeatureWe are all very aware of the depressing statistics for the number of people in the world lacking regular access to clean water and millions dying each year from contracting water-borne diseases. And whilst not new, many of us may not be aware of tools such as the LifeStraw: a simple water filter that cleans the water as it is sucked it up from the polluted source and small enough to be carried and shared. Simple, cost-effective and one of the best examples of the design effectiveness of re-evolving existing technology.

The transformational power of the rocket stove is also worth a mention. The beauty of it lies in its wonderfully efficient design that harnesses the properties of heat and combustion to create a clean and hot burn using half as much fuel as conventional means and accepting anything from wood branches to dry grass to dung. The design for the stove is simple, meaning it can be built quickly and easily using local materials. Dr Larry Winiarski created the stove in 1980, taking inspiration from the ‘hypocaust’, the under-floor heating system favoured by the Romans.

Interestingly, the Western world has already adopted this idea back and an Internet search will now throw up any number of stoves to buy or kits to make one as more people indulge in wild camping and look for greener ways to cook.

What we need to remember is that inspiration comes from all sources and that often we can just re-apply the technology that we already have. But, in other cases, we need to all take responsibility for a more sustainable and less impoverished future and look for new ways to design for change – for all, for a better future.

Several years ago I was asked to bring my creative thinking to the Haller Foundation a very small, incredibly resourceful charity based in Kenya that uses sustainable ideas and methods to help the poorest people help themselves to live off the land using the most simple yet powerful ideas. I was asked for my expertise but actually I was very humbled by just how much creative thinking had already been put into practice on my visits to Kenya.

The current project I am involved with is the Urban Slum Food Garden – a very low tech – but high impact innovation to show people who are living in the poorest of dwellings, in urban slums, how they can live healthier and better lives by using freely available resources – natural materials, waste, sunlight, recycled packaging to create enough food, water and energy to provide for themselves and their family, and create microeconomies.


The stunning simplicity of the idea – or ecosystem of ideas in one – is that it can be easily replicated, and can spread, as people are made aware of what it can do for them. When you understand how organizations such as Haller and its Slum Food Garden work then you realize that it is pure, uncompromising and creative thinking that the developed world could benefit from.

My aim as a designer and creative is to pass this message on and show how simple low-tech ideas can make a big impact and be adopted on a bigger scale - and just how the world can be made a better place through challenger design thinking.

Jonathan Ford is Creative Partner at Pearlfisher. He recently spoke about the Slum Food Garden and 'How analog design solutions offer a template to scale' at the annual PSFK conference. To find out more, click on this link

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