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A Design Method for
 BOP Users: Products for Social Innovation

Ninety percent of the world’s population belongs to the socio-economic group called the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP), which Prafalad and Hart defined as people who live on less than $2.00 USD a day.

Existing design methods in the fields of product design, service design, and social system design focus on the relationship between users and objects (devices, products, and software). Consulting firms like IDEO and Adaptive Path explore this relationship by adopting an ethnographical approach. This approach emphasizes observation of users and finds problems in the relationship between users and objects. Simultaneously, consultants using it try to propose a more attractive user experience by positing a fictional user through personas and scenarios.

These methods are useful for the design process in developed (wealthier) countries. For example, the iPod is designed to be distributed in the global market, and most of its users exist in the developed countries. In such a design process, a generalized music lover, likely to be living in the advanced countries belonging to global market, is chosen as a persona. When designing for BOP users, however, designers must consider the specifics rather than the general. Product acceptance depends on values and situations related to ethnicity, culture, and religion. Thus design is possible only by adopting a process that enables designers to understand this complexity.

Structural Constructivism

We have used Takeo Saijo’s theory of structural constructivism when designing for BOP users. The core concept is interest-correlativity, the principle that existence, meaning, or value is not absolute, but varies with the physical situation, desire, purpose, and interest of the subject. For example, we rarely notice a puddle in the street, but to a person dying of thirst, it has intrinsic value as drinking water.

Structural constructivism itself is a concept or philosophy, and it is difficult to apply it directly to design methods. We have applied a structure construction qualitative research method (SCQRM), which is described by Takeo Saijo, and which has been used in the field of clinical psychology

SCQRM is a multi-step approach. The first step develops the designer’s interest model, which reveals information about problem awareness. Model development comes before any fieldwork because the designers have to make decisions about things such as the target of observation and the questions to ask during fieldwork.

When multiple designers work on a project, multiple interests exist. Each designer has a variety of interests; for example, financial success, exhibition of skill, problem-solving using technology, and charitable motivations. Designers should develop a model which leads to a largest common solution by revealing each interest and avoiding belief conflicts among designers.

The second step extracts concepts in the field and maps phenomena. Based on fieldwork and considering the designer’s interest model, designers consider the data from a factual perspective and from the perspective of their own opinions. Designers can then develop a hypothesis from the bottom-up based on grounded data.

The third step develops a solution model. This step aims to avoid belief conflicts when generating hypotheses by explicitly including both the designers’ interest and the target users’ interest. Designers engage with stakeholders to introduce a proposed solution. This proposed solution is a tentative model and continues to change as fieldwork and field tests repeat.

However, merely implementing a model does not constitute sustainable development. Designers have to develop a structure incorporating education for the users to popularize a product, service, or social system, and to search for collaborators in the field to produce them.

Case Study

Kopernik, a non-profit organization based in the U.S., hosted product design workshops intended to support non-electrified areas in Timor-Leste (East Timor).

The host had already organized a team based on professional and educational backgrounds. Our team was composed of six people: a product designer with experience in medical products, a concept designer working at a consumer electronics company, a political secretary with a medical license, an engineer working for manufacturing management, a university student majoring in urban planning, and a graduate school student majoring in human-computer interaction.

First, we did preliminary research on Timor-Leste, mainly using static data, in order to develop our designer’s interest model. The social systems in Timor-Leste have been impoverished by the two wars of independence (from Portugal and Indonesia), and the country cannot function as a nation without NGOs and the United Nations. There are many political problems, such as the conflict between the eastern and western areas, and industrial stagnation due to dependence on an oil industry constituting more than 20 percent of GDP. There are also infrastructure problems: 80 percent of the country has no electricity, logistics systems are undeveloped because of hilly terrain, and many people have health problems due to inadequate medical systems.

Next, we developed the designer’s interest model based on their research and philosophical backgrounds (see Figure1). Interests based on research background emerged—not items, but methods or methodologies. The philosophical background was strongly influenced by the work of Paul Polak and Martin Fisher. Martin Fisher focuses on the fact that the people in the BOP cannot afford to buy the products designed for them. He sets the first feature of the nine design criteria at his company Kickstart as “income generating.” From the philosophical background, interests such as social system and fundamental solution appeared. Keywords, such as “Education” and “Means to earn cash,” appeared as solutions based on the interests. We designed interview options for the first fieldwork based on interest correlations.

Figure 1. Designers’ interest model before the first fieldwork.

Figure 2 is a phenomena map composed of the result of interest-correlativity interviews in two sets of fieldwork. We extracted concepts from each phenomenon, such as health problems, poor knowledge of public sanitation, family-centered culture, conservative attitude, lack of skills, lack of industry, economic gap between the capital Dili and other big cities, poor roadway infrastructure, and so on.

image of phenomena map
Figure 2. Part of a phenomena map based on fieldwork in Timor-Leste.

We developed a solution model with the concepts obtained from the fieldwork (see Figure 3). First, we focused on “less earnings” as a problem which we should solve. As a solution, we hypothesized a toolkit to make a coconut juice wine using the coconuts that are abundant in Timor-Leste. There are two types of alcohol derived from palm trees (including coconuts) in Timor-Leste: tuak is made from the sap of a palm tree, and arak is distilled from tuak. Palm trees are sometimes used for yeast or sugar. A range of ceremonies are held in this family-centered culture, and people already drink alcohol during them, so the hypothesis to offer more tasty coconut juice wine does not conflict with the conservative local interests.

Figure 3. A solution model based on fieldwork.

Our proposed wanic kit is a toolkit to make coconut juice wine. The main part looks similar to an alligator, which the locals regard as a god, and four attachment tools are connected to it. One is used to punch a hole in a coconut. Another is a plug that embeds a fermentation valve and provides an air-tight seal. There is also a server that allows pouring or drinking directly with a straw (see Figure 4).

illustrated tutorial
Figure 4. A wanic kit, a toolkit, based on the solution model, for making coconut juice wine.

Using the toolkit is a six-step process (see Figure 5).

illustrated tutorial
Figure 5. The six-step wanic process.

This toolkit can solve some problems with the existing palm wine process. First, tuak, which uses the sap in palm trees, is naturally fermented, so the palm wine maker has little control over taste. In addition, once the sap is extracted, the trees cannot bloom or bear fruit, and will finally die. In contrast, the wanic taste can be stabilized by adding wine yeast and sugar, and can be continuously produced as long as coconuts are available.

Tuak is also susceptible to bacterial or air contamination and temperature changes. Wanic avoids oxidization by using the durable coconut as a container, which also maintains a sterile condition inside. We composed a wanic song to teach the process of making the coconut juice wine, and also to teach the concept of sanitation. Each step is also graphically described in a manual, to support easy memorization.

A Business Plan

We designed a business model (see Figure 6) based on some limitations which the solution model identified—complicated geography, inefficient transportation, and so on. The model goes beyond the simple production process and incorporates bottling, distribution, and export.

image of chart
Figure 6. A solution model based on fieldwork.


The concept of globalism, which regards the world as homogeneous, is valid only for 10 percent of the world. For the other 90 percent, designers need to understand specifics in each field, and develop products which the local people can accept. This does not mean eliminating the designer’s interests. It is preferable for designers to have their own beliefs, resolve belief conflicts between them and the target users, develop products to offer the best outcome for both, and construct a sustainable relationship.世界人口的 90% 属于被称为金字塔底部 (BOP) 的社会经济阶层。在针对 BOP 用户设计时,我们使用了 Takeo Saijo 的结构构成主义理论。该理论的核心概念是“利益相关性”,其原理是存在、意义或价值不是绝对的,会随人们的身体状况、欲望、目的和利益而改变。在我们的案例研究中,一家位于美国的非营利组织 Kopernik 主办了产品设计研讨会,旨在为东帝汶的非电气化地区提供支持。

文章全文为英文版世界人口の90%は、ピラミッドの底(Bottom of the Pyramid:BOP)と呼ばれる所得階層に属している。我々は、西條剛央の 構造構成主義の理論を使って、BOPユーザのためのデザインを行った。コアのコンセプトは「関心相関性」と呼ばれるもので、存在、意義、価値は絶対的なものでなく、物理的な状況や欲求、目的、主体の関心に相関するというものだ。我々のケーススタディでは、東ティモールにおいて電気の通っていない地域を支援する目的で製品デザインワークショップを開催した、米国に本拠地を持つ非営利団体Kopernikを取り上げる。


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