John Paul

Designing for the BOP

As readers of this page are now well familiar, companies worldwide are rapidly becoming aware of and pursuing markets at the base of the pyramid (BOP). I’m often dismayed, however, by how many of these efforts are essentially just scaled-down or lower-cost versions of existing products or services. Although these can succeed and positively impact BOP markets, the real potential lies in radically new and innovative solutions designed to meet the specific needs of poor people.

I haven?t found too many groups designing such solutions from the ground up. One notable exception has been the ’Design for the Base of the Pyramid’ project at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design. The initiative is developing “human-centered design strategies and concepts for new products, services and businesses capable of generating sustainable economic improvement in the lives of people living at the BOP.”

Another example comes via WorldChanging. Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises is a new book from Architecture for Humanity, a grassroots nonprofit organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crises. As ?the first book to bring the best of humanitarian design to the printed page, Design Like You Give a Damn showcases a selection of approximately 60 projects from the past decade and includes narrative descriptions of how each project came to life, along with detailed, full-bleed four-color photographs as well as other illustrations and architectural drawings.? Several activities featured in our Activity Database, including the roundabout outdoor water playpump and anti-malarial bednets, are among the examples highlighted.

By designing around specific needs, such initiatives demonstrate what can be accomplished when ?social? is firmly placed before ?enterprise?. Hopefully, industrial design programs will follow the lead already taken by business schools, and begin to integrate this philosophy into their curriculums.