Great challenges and opportunities face the designers of products, processes, buildings and environments in the developing world. The IDC’s fundamental approach to research in this arena is captured in the title: “Design with the Developing World.” Listening to the customer has always been important to design, but success in the developing world is most easily achieved when the customer is not just a recipient of the design but an active co-creator in the design. This is driven by economic necessity. Design for the developing world has been described as “design for extreme affordability.” In order to make designs affordable, low cost local production or involvement is required. Success of the design is often dependent on local job creation and local micro-financing. Systematic design research in the developing world context requires tackling the complex social, economic and political challenges faced by our developing world today. The design process is itself a mechanism of social change.

With IDC support SUTD faculty and research staff are able to engage undergraduate and graduate students, as well as post-doctoral associates in interdisciplinary research, which addresses both the human and technical challenges encountered in the developing world. The experience of working with local designers and partners in developing country setting is often a positive, life changing experience for the student. This is one of the desired outcomes for engagement with this grand challenge.

The design of low cost, scalable, and sustainable solutions is a high priority for many large international corporations, but many are lacking in developing world design experience. IDC research collaborations with industry will help corporations to understand participatory design, as well as the critically important social factors of success. Corporate partners can help bring solutions to scale by bringing corporate knowhow to supply chains and production. Corporations can also provide the necessary capital.