November 13, 2013 - DESIGN + INCLUSION


About designing for individuals and groups in extreme or unusual situations who are in need of urgent design solutions like disabled people, elderly persons or catastrophe victims.

The mass-production myth is over. New markets from countries as China, India or Brazil are emerging with their own strong cultures. They embody new adaptation challenges for the occidental designer.

Designers, links in this collapsing consumption society, lose their markers. Whilst some seize the opportunity on the Asian market, others, who are looking for more “noble” and humanistic aims, direct themselves toward new fields to quench their conscientiousness and to reconnect with a political conception and an ethical thought of design.

It is therefore why they exhort to another system of values which will not be only based on economical profits and increased production of evanescent objects. They stand for products’ durability, generosity and honesty. It leads them to unexplored and unrewarding branches of design which does not picture design as a glamorous and attractive discipline as many people from the beau-monde like to think. It is about to design for what I call the “extremes”. It means exceptions to what we can consider as the average as our occidental society defines it or all the adult individuals in good physical and mental health who can meet all their needs.

In fact, these extremes considerate as an exception constitute 90% of the world population.

In 2007, the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum of New York shown an exhibition called “Design for the Other 90%”1 about the most disadvantaged populations of the globe.

the other 90 percent exhibition preview
exhibition preview

I define this part of the population as an individual temporarily or lastingly weakened and disadvantaged by one’s condition, status, sex, age or environment and who cannot be completely autonomous with satisfying one’s needs. They are mostly children, elder persons, handicapped persons, ill persons, disaster victims, homeless persons, etc.

Concerning the needs I mentioned lately, here are two definitions which can enlighten us:

In 1943, the psychologist Abraham Maslow ordered human needs in his book “A Theory of Human Motivation”2 by showing the different levels of Man’s fulfilment.


In 1985, Victor Papanek defined what people really need in his reference work “Design for a Real World”3. Here is his diagram:


The designer, by one’s ability to create tools between men and their surrounding, has the possibility to affect the realization and transformation of these individuals’ everyday life. So how can it be done?

In another diagram4, Victor Papanek makes a list of causes and situations within which any person can found themselves and that can dramatically make them fall into an extreme position.


In this way, he underlines the possibility that any of us can swing to a needy or emergency situation anytime. The designer, conscious of this idea, must gather all of his empathy and adaptation skills and realistically comply with the context he is conceiving for. It is always about how to improve an individual’s everyday life but the constraints are even more heavy and strong than the situation is urgent as it often implies one or more person’s survival.

Through this theme, we will try to embrace the different faces of what can be called humanitarian design without touching on them too much. We will explore medical appliances, water and food solutions and many designs for emergency situations and see what kind of constraints the designer is confronted within this kind of circumstances.

1. «  Design for the Other 90% », Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, USA, 2007.
and « Design with the other 90%: Cities », Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, USA, February 4 – May 24 2013.
2. « A Theory of Human Motivation », Abraham H. Maslow, Psychological Review, 50, p.370-396, 1943. Can be read here:
3. « Design for a Real World, Human Ecology and Social Change», Victor Papanek, Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago, USA, 1985, page 313.
4. Op cit. page 313, 314.