The Torino World Design Capital 2008 website has just published my opinion piece written for them, here’s a longish excerpt to encourage you to read the whole article.
Poverty, culture and the environment are the three global megatrends that are already on the radar of every forward global company.
Volume not margins
The poor have become “the other 4 billion” customers as markets saturate in developed nations and companies must seek new pastures. They form an entirely new market for products, goods and services designed specifically for their needs, their constraints and income limitations. Volume of transactions, not profit margins are the foundation for any successful business model, service or product designed for this segment.
One size does not fit all
As the world’s new consumers from the rapidly developing economies of India, China, Brazil and other overlooked or underserved markets gain access to global information networks, they become more demanding and sophisticated in their wants and needs. Products must be more than just localised for international markets, they must now be designed to fit local cultures, social and economic preferences and conditions. One size does not fit all in this world. Whether it is ever smaller cars, dustproof, rugged mobile phones with flashlights in India or cheaper computers specially designed for rural peasants in China, local needs must be met as markets grow too large to be ignored.
Global problems, local solutions
The issues of climate change and scarce natural resources need solutions today, answers to the challenges that face us, not just questions. Solutions, products and services that use the minimum of scarce resources, recycle or reuse materials, leave a minimal footprint on the environment and are sustainable have been extensively documented amongst the poor. But to our educated eyes they seem crude and primitive. So they are very often overlooked or ignored. Only the latest technology can provide us with solutions for the future, we seem to say.
What can we learn from these local inventions and innovations as we look towards creating a sustainable eco-friendly lifestyle? The technically proficient, the engineering experts, the world class designers are all who practice in conditions of abundance. They create with no shortage of materials, funds, resources, fuel or energy. If we need to design products and systems under maximum constraints using minimal resources, husbanding our natural resources and rationing our use, where better to begin seeking answers but amongst those who already live under these conditions?