Why impoverished communities need design
If a poor community needs a school why do so much research and put so much effort into creating a new design? They just need a building, something with four walls and a roof.
This is a very common misconception; people who don't have anything just need the basics, nothing more. It misses the true mission of humanitarian work - giving people and communities the tools to improve their lives.
Many charitable organizations and well intended people have fallen into this ideology that giving anything is an improvement. Take a minute to look at your own life. Say you need a professional outfit because you have a job interview coming up. You don’t have money to buy your own but an acquaintance graciously gives you a lightly used suit that would work well. The acquaintance is so happy and proud of themselves for being able to help you, and they hand over the suit with a smile. You feel a sense of relief as it seems your problem has been solved, but when you get home you find that the suit is two sizes too small and you can’t use it for the interview. This scenario is is many ways identical to providing a community with a poorly designed building. It seems great until the community ‘tries it on’ and realizes that it really doesn’t meet their needs and they can’t use it.
Many examples of this can be seen throughout the developing world. A well intentioned organization might go into a community and build a small medical post with exam rooms. The organization is happy they were able to provide a needed amenity to the community, but once the villagers ‘try it on’ they realize there aren’t enough windows and the doctor can’t see the patients. The building doesn’t meet their needs and will therefore go unused.
Seeing design as an integral part of providing for impoverished communities is beginning to become more common. The success of organizations such as IDEO, Building Trust International, Project H, and MASS Design Group highlight that the proper design of buildings and objects plays a critical role in the continued development of impoverished communities.
The fact is that spending the time and money to properly design a structure is a way of ensuring its success. Detailed research and stringent design provide customized solutions to the specific problems each impoverished community faces. This greatly increasing the chance of the project properly meeting the needs of the community and being a success.
Design is a critical component of humanitarian work because it greatly improves the chances of the project being a success to the organization, the community in need, and the community that made it financially possible.