A conceptual examination of product design, appropriate technology and environmental impact
Revised June 2005
This paper explores the role of product design in industrialisation in both industrialised and developing countries. The skills required for successful design and the design process are described. The concept of appropriate technology and the role of product design in producing appropriate technologies is examined. The final section is about the issue of industrialisation and the environment and the role of product design in the supply of products which do not have a negative environmental impact, in their production, use or disposal.
The paper is an extract from a wider study originally written as a thesis for a masters degree in development studies. The rest of the study (not published here), provides an overview of the role of industrialisation in development, industrialisation theories; strategies and choices, and environment issues. The thesis presented the results of field research into one particular market and region; the provision of refrigerated vaccines for immunisation of children in Sub-Saharan Africa [The 'Cold Chain System' of the World Health Organisation (WHO)]. A premise was that countries were expending considerable sums in purchasing these products from mainly western countries; thereby foregoing employment and using up valuable foreign exchange reserves.
A conclusion of the field research was that there was already adequate manufacturing capacity and expertise to compete in this sector and indeed the local firms were already producing superior/appropriate products in a related product sector (domestic refrigerators), in terms of robustness for local conditions. However investment in product design/engineering was one important 'missing link' in producing the more specialised Cold Chain refrigerators. The imported products passed the strict performance and reliability testing required by the WHO. A broader finding was that countries need to invest in design in order to compete in increasingly open international markets, and that such 'micro factors' are crucially important for economists and policy makers advising macroeconomic reform.