Today's post is a little different, it's different in the sense that I'd like to add my two cents to the humanitarian design debate sparked by Bruce Nassbaum's article on whether humanitarian design is the new form of imperialism. I'm not going to write a dissertation so don't close your browser just yet. Bruce voices his concern about the"western" designers who might be missing the mark in their quest to do good for the underprivileged. He raises a point about collaborating with the right partners and learning from the best local people in order to appreciate the bigger picture and actually help the people in need (as opposed to imposing western beliefs and values). He provides the One Laptop Per Child initiative as a example of a failed test run, in his words, it "failed in its initial plan to drop millions of inexpensive computers into villages, to hook kids directly to the Web and, in effect, get them to educate themselves."
From what I gather, Nassabaum is clearly not against the concept of helping others by designing products that they can use to help themselves. No, his concern is whether the right issues are being attended to, the right problems being solved. My answer to that is Yes & No. Growing up in a country that sometimes requires people to fetch clean water. While I never fetched water myself, I have witnessed images like the one seen below and the hippo roller is definitely an upgrade.
On the other hand, people living in congested cities(the hippo roller was specifically designed for rural areas so we can conclude that some thought went into the process) might not benefit from a roller and that's where collaboration
I can also see how the One Laptop Per Child is an initiative that, given poor infrastructure, will not work. Issues such as lack of electricity remove the benefit of OLPC. However, the concept behind OLPC should not be discouraged. It is forward thinking that should not be shunned. The human race is an ever evolving one. The fact of the matter is that, one day, the hippo roller might become obsolete in very areas that it is being used. But it will have served a purpose. Just as the One Laptop Per Child will one day serve a purpose in villages with electricity. Baby steps people, baby steps.
You can check out more examples of humanitarian design on Project H Design.com or google "humanitarian design" to learn more about this awesome discipline of design. Likewise, you can participate in the ongoing debate by searching for "humanitarian design" on twitter.