Embrace Nest

This product addresses the issue of the 20 million low-birthweight babies born every year. Named a winner in Co.Design’s Innovation by Design awards, the $200 Nest is a sleeping bag made out of phase-change material with a wax pouch insert. Applying a heat source melts the wax, keeping the Nest (and the baby inside) warm for up to eight hours.

Embrace Nest

This product addresses the issue of the 20 million low-birthweight babies born every year. Named a winner in Co.Design’s Innovation by Design awards, the $200 Nest is a sleeping bag made out of phase-change material with a wax pouch insert. Applying a heat source melts the wax, keeping the Nest (and the baby inside) warm for up to eight hours.

See Better to Learn Better

A collaboration between the Mexican government and designer Yves Behar, See Better to Learn Better gives kids in Mexico free, stylish eyeglasses. After taking a look at the eyeglasses in person, I can say with confidence that I’d wear them. The program also offers free eye exams and delivers glasses--manufactured in Mexico--to students at their schools. The overall cost for an eye exam, customizable lenses, and frames? $12. So far, the initiative has outfitted over 100,000 students with glasses.

D.light

We first wrote about D.light in 2009, when the organization announced it had designed the world’s cheapest solar lantern. Last year, it launched the S1, a solar lantern designed for studying that costs under $8. At the Autodesk Gallery, I had the chance to check out the company’s ultra-durable designs in person. D.light says it has already touched 7 million people with its products, intended to help those without reliable access to electricity--and who otherwise would rely on toxic kerosene lamps. By 2020, D.light hopes to reach 100 million people.

D.light

We first wrote about D.light in 2009, when the organization announced it had designed the world’s cheapest solar lantern. Last year, it launched the S1, a solar lantern designed for studying that costs under $8. At the Autodesk Gallery, I had the chance to check out the company’s ultra-durable designs in person. D.light says it has already touched 7 million people with its products, intended to help those without reliable access to electricity--and who otherwise would rely on toxic kerosene lamps. By 2020, D.light hopes to reach 100 million people.

D-Rev ReMotion Knee

Co.Exist has written about D-Rev, a nonprofit technology design firm working to improve the health of some of the world’s poorest people, before. The ReMotion prosthetic knee is one of the organization’s most promising innovations, giving wearers a 165-degree range of motion. The first version of the affordable knee is already being worn by over 3,500 people in India and five other countries.

MASS Butaro Hospital

The Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, designed by the nonprofit MASS (Model of Architecture Serving Society) Design Group, was built on an old military outpost. Now the building is a source of hope for the community, with beds oriented towards natural light as well as natural airflow that ventilates the place without requiring the multiple air changes per hour that most hospitals need. The lava-rock-walled hospital has also been a hub of jobs--4,200 locals were hired to build the foundation of the 60,000-square-foot building, and 1,190 people were hired for in-situ concrete jobs. Now that the hospital is open (as of 2011), it employs 270 people--a boon for the community.

Drs. Julian + Raye Richardson Apartments

Co.Exist wrote about San Francisco’s Richardson Apartments, an apartment complex in Hayes Valley for the formerly homeless that is a model for what SROs should look like, providing outdoor community space, social services, and even job opportunities at a bakery and cafe on the ground floor.

The Watkinson School

Project FROG, an organization that licenses designs for inexpensive modular classroom structures, saw its first project open at The Watkinson School in Hartford, Connecticut, where a 4,000-square-foot building was built using FROG’s energy-efficient design. The school’s building features advanced climate controls, a living roof, a solar array, and more.

OPA Parklet

Parklets, tiny urban parks created by removing parallel parking spots and replacing them community gathering spots, are rapidly spreading from the parklet hotspot of San Francisco to cities across North America. The parklet pictured here, located in San Francisco’s troubled Tenderloin district, features raised garden beds and a landscape based on the topology of real parks.

Code for America

This "Peace Corps for Geeks" brings the power of technology to government through multiple programs--including a fellowship and an accelerator--that allow tech-savvy citizens to bring bureaucracy into the digital age.

Adopt a Hydrant

In Boston, the Code for America-created Adopt a Hydrant program mashes up Google maps with fire hydrant data to let citizens claim hydrants. Once a hydrant has been claimed, its owner can name it--but they also have to shovel it out of mounds of snow during the winter. A similar system is now being used in Hawaii to ensure that broken tsunami sirens are reported.

Home for Good

This Los Angeles program has the ambitious goal of ending veteran homelessness in the city by 2016. A complex action plan includes increasing communications among city agencies, providing instant criminal background checks, and offering housing search assistance--all the things that a well-designed system for helping the homeless get off the street would have had in the first place (today’s system, of course, was cobbled together over many years).

Home for Good has already slashed the number of days it takes to get homeless veterans off the street, from 168 to 93 days.

Ideo.org's Ghana Home Sanitation System

Ideo.org teamed up with Unilever and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor for the Clean Team project. After spending months researching the city of Kumasi, Ghana, where under 20% of people have access to in-home sanitation, Ideo came up with an idea for a rental standalone toilet and cleaning service.

Ideo took seemingly trivial branding details into account, like having different uniforms for salespeople and toilet technicians. The uniforms both generate a sense trustworthiness and help people understand the different functions of Clean Team members.

The next goal: reaching 12,000 households by 2013.

TEDx in a Box

Ever since TED decided to let people run their own independent TEDx events, it seems like there has been a neverending stream of TED-style talks--and in fact there has. Over 5,000 TEDx have now been held.

The TEDx In a Box package, created in a partnership between Ideo.org and TED, provides people, even in remote areas without reliable power, access to the tools that can help put on a TEDx event. The portable box (it looks more like a rugged suitcase) comes with a low-power projector, an inverter, a battery (it can work for up to two hours of talks), a DVD player, a PA system, a powerstrip, a tripod, and two camcorders.

The $2,000 boxes are doled out by TED on an as-needed basis. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

2012-11-06

Co.Exist

Designing For More Than Just Looks: Inside Public Interest Design

Fancy chairs are lovely, but designers can use their skills for far more important tasks. A new exhibit takes a look at product design and architecture that solves broader social and environmental problems.

You may not know the term "public interest design," but you’re probably familiar with the movement, which encourages designers to consider environmental, social, and economic factors in their creations. John Cary, the editor of Public Interest Design, a site focused on the "growing movement at the intersection of design and service," is one of its biggest evangelists.

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Cary discusses some of the movement’s biggest successes, including the beautiful, patient-centered Butaro Hospital in Rwanda and Ideo.org's work on rethinking sanitation in Ghana. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but there’s nothing like actually visualizing these projects, which is why I took a trip to the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco to see a new public interest design exhibition curated by Cary and author Courtney E. Martin.

The exhibition features four products, four places, and four processes. According to Jason Medal Katz, Autodesk’s gallery curator, this emphasis on system design sets the exhibition apart from other similar shows that emphasize objects and buildings, like Cooper-Hewitt’s Design With the Other 90%.

Can’t make it to San Francisco? Take a look at the projects in the slide show above.

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