Design in Africa

Post from Jeffrey Winters:

Jeffrey Winters

Last September, we ran a large feature about designers who were creating products for the developing world (“Designing for the Rest of the Global Market”). In a recent essay in Fast Company Design, Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen warn of some of the traps for people delivering goods intended for the so-called base of the pyramid. It’s important to recognize, they write, that there are consumers in Africa (and elsewhere) not just aid recipients.

[T]he road to hell may well be paved with good intentions. There clearly is a bottom-of-the-pyramid market, but linking it to “aid culture”a non-market-driven-culturedetracts from the entrepreneurial opportunity. And correlating hunger, AIDS, malaria, poverty, and illiteracy with Africa perpetuates a stereotype that is far from the optimistic, go-get-it-attitude and ambition that we’ve encountered when traveling in Africa.

Skibsted and Hansen point out that if foreign designers constantly linked the North American market with obesity and diabetes, that stereotype would make it harder to create products that appeal to Americans.

There are challenges to designing for Africa (or South Asia or the island nations of the Pacific or anywhere else, really) but there are tremendous opportunities. According to Skibsted and Hansen, the growth of purchasing power in Sub-Saharan Africa over the next ten years will be the equivalent of adding a new market the size of France. Designers who understand that new market and can deliver products that are both needed and wanted will prosper.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

April 2012

Twitter from John Falcioni

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