Design Concepts …and Kangas!

Monday 26th July

First day back after a long weekend away and fearing the girls may have a spot of the Monday Blues, I wanted to start the week with a laugh. I put my dignity on the line and popped my head around the door of the classroom where all the girls where assembled.

“Good Morning” I said.

“Good Mooooorniiiiing” they all replied.

So far, so normal.

And then I entered, resplendent in a brightly coloured ‘Kanga’ I had purchased from Kinango market that weekend.

Screams of laughter!  Great!  That’s the kind of mood we need for formulating great ideas!

I started today’s workshop with a slideshow of photos from my visit to Kinango, so as to highlight the virtues of cultural exchange! I was keen to express all the things I experienced which were completely new to me (yet probably very ‘everyday’ to them); eating Ugali with my fingers, sweeping the compound at 7 am, collecting water for the day, washing clothes at the reservoir. There were also inclusions of things that I simply found curious or captivating as a foreign visitor; friendly strangers with warm invitations to take lunch with them, charming hand-painted school murals and signposts, Matatos (buses) doubling as delivery vans and people’s relaxed attitudes to discarding litter. The litter issue was, to my dismay, demonstrated almost immediately after I handed out some sweets to a group of young kids. A dozen discarded cellophane wrappers tumbling in the breeze toward the maize crops as the kids jumped around, their lips smacking with sweet glee.

The slideshow was followed with a brief presentation to illustrate the process of Product and Branding Design in the UK, using examples of undergraduate work from the Product Design Programme at UWIC. The Kwale girls enjoyed seeing the diverse range of innovative student projects and although the Cardiff projects were of a decidedly different breed to the type we were engaged in at Kwale, the students could see that the process for innovation was the same.

We talked about the potential for design as a tool for economic development in Africa, in particular, harnessing and promoting the indigenous crafts and tacit knowledge of Kenya’s Jua Kali workers. How design can ‘add value’ to a product or service and how branding and internet-based marketing can create new markets.

After a short break, I then met each team individually and in turn to discuss the results of Friday’s brainstorming session, to take ideas forward and to start visualizing their concepts.

At this stage, we were still encouraging ‘Crazy Thinking’ within the groups as well as practical design solutions. Due to time constraints, the meetings had to be kept to 30 minutes each but with a tight deadline and a plate of ‘Haribo’ sweets to power us on, we started broad by generating a quantity of ideas very quickly and then narrowing our design focus toward the close of session by selecting two or three concepts for further development at the next meeting.

Here are the ideas that the students selected:

Water group A:

• A low-cost, wide-catchment, retractable water harvesting ‘mat’ for rural households;

• A ‘filtration sieve’ to curb contamination of river-ways by litter.

• Grey Water recycling system for standard stone and ‘Makuti’ wash houses;

Water Group B:

• Bamboo guttering and water harvesting system for use with ‘Mukuti’ roofing.

• Water (condensation) collection system for use with trees and plant-life.

• Human-powered, mechanical water pump to draw water from far away water sources, wells or boreholes.

Fuel Group A:

• A ‘Kwale method’ of generating fuel from bio-matter (such as yellow, green or white ‘charcoal’) suitable for small-scale home production.

Fuel Group B:

• A system for making a fuel-efficient, homemade ‘Jiko’ stove from freely available materials.

Malaria Group:

• Mosquito Net Repair Kits/Patches

• Mosquito Trap based on the construction techniques of “Chungu” clay vessels and utilising all locally available materials

Prototyping: Seeing is Believing

Tuesday 27th July

Today, I met once again with the five groups to help them develop their ideas into more refined concept proposals.

Each of the teams – myself included – were keen to develop design solutions that can be adopted by people of all social and economic circumstances. Solutions that can be shared as open-source as well as, perhaps, providing some people with the opportunity for generating a source of income. We have been exploring government, community, and NGO intervention in the delivery of our concepts but ultimately, we would like to develop ideas that can be assimilated from freely available materials by even the poorest members of the Kwale rural community.

‘Water Group A’ elected to drop the ‘river sieve’ idea in favour of the water harvesting mat and grey water recycling system, both of which we are developing for initial prototyping and testing tomorrow.

‘Water Group B’ likewise are developing two concepts: the bamboo guttering and the plant-life water harvester.

‘Fuel Groups 1 & 2’ are continuing to develop their methods for a bio-fuel and a ‘Kwale’ Jiko (most likely made from ceramic and stone). Prototypes will be tested tomorrow all being well!

‘Fuel group 1’ are struggling with the problem of devising a reliable method for compacting and binding the fuel briquettes without relying on the assistance of a machine press. We are currently looking at the possibility of using clay moulds to form and compress the organic slurry into shapes that will remain rigid yet quick-drying when left in the sun.

During the meeting with Fuel group 2, we decided to break out of the class room and check-out the Jikos at the neighbouring girl’s high school for inspiration. These Jikos fuelled mainly with firewood typically cater for 500 boarding students daily! We learned about the construction of these giant cylindrical monsters which are built on location and permanently sited. Whilst we are only concerning ourselves with fuel-efficiency on a small domestic scale, seeing the large Jikos at the school helped to improve this group’s understanding of the typical make-up of these stoves and helped prompt conversation. We will be experimenting with stone and clay constructions which should retain heat from even a minimal amount of fuel. We will also be experimenting with ‘funneling’ the heat toward the point of cooking and ensuring a good intake of air at the base of the heat source.

The ‘Malaria group’ decided that the ‘Mosquito Net-Repair Kits’ which where expected to sell for around 30 bob (a new net costs 350 – 400) couldn’t really be justified in a culture of make do and mend where people are pretty adept at fixing holes in nets with needle and thread. However, we all really liked the idea of creating a home-made mosquito trap based on the traditional construction methods of the Kenyan Chungu clay pots. The mossies would fly in through an opening in the clay vessel and once inside, would either get stuck in a liquid or viscous solution (like fly paper) or drown or otherwise find it physically impossible to fly out again. The clay vessel would obscure any grim sights as the trap fills but could also be opened for emptying and cleaning.

We spent a little time researching what attracts Mosquitos; a very complicated problem it turns out especially when there are over 2,500 species of the things, each with their own distinct characteristics and preferences. Still, we hit on two insights that may be pertinent for our project and certainly worth trying out. One being that mosquitos can be attracted using a sugar, water and yeast solution. Another insight being that they really like three-day old socks!! …and certain kinds of cheese! That ‘yeasty-cheesey’ smell is common to all three so there may be something in it! We are testing these solutions as we speak. I have a collection of dishes and bottles next to my bed, each containing different concentrations of the yeast solution.


After hitting on the yeast-based solution, we sketched out some possible designs for the trap and then made some quick prototypes in Play Doh to better understand how it might work and also, because Play Doh is a good substitute for clay in this case, we could imagine how the vessels might be made using hand methods. The students really seemed to enjoy this task; their first experience with Play Doh! One girl even went as far as making a delicate Play Doh mosquito to sit on top of her trap!

Each team has now reached a stage in the design project where we need to enter the realm of prototypes; making models, role-playing, experimenting, playing with ‘stuff’, testing theories. Seeing is believing.

More prototypes will be constructed tomorrow, some of which employing the skills of local craftsfolk. I will try to add pics if time/internet/schedule allows. The design concepts as they stand will be presented to the class as a whole for an interim evaluation on Thursday 29th July. All of the students are to be mobilised on Thursday PM for, among other events, an AIDS awareness event at Kwale Prison. I will then continue to develop the design concepts until the girls return on Tuesday 3rd August where upon the final design proposals will be shown and a final project evaluation carried out.

Check out this coal iron.  Saw it outside a laundry shop in Kwale town.  Great huh?

Oh my word!  Where has the time gone!

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5 Responses to Design Concepts …and Kangas!

  1. Glynn says:

    This is turning into a fantastic diary of how you are plugging the Cardiff design process into a different culture – there is a great deal of potential for papers from this!
    Also, the girls are clearly doing themselves proud. I wish some of our students applied themselves to their studies with such enthusiasm.
    We also need to see a picture of you in your Kanga 😉

  2. Gato says:

    You must have accidentally forgotten to include that picture of you with the Kanga… I hope to find it next time I visit the blog.
    Good luck!

  3. Amelia says:

    Well that is a good way to start the week and bound to get the imaginations firing, as Glynn writes lots of great material for papers this project will so marvellously contribute to ‘Shadow Play” under Alchemy and Enchantment and Redolence for the future. I think not only have you enchanted the girls but will enchant us all when you return to tell the story. You are a wonder!

  4. David Hathaway says:

    It sounds a wonderful place to be and well done to you and the girls. Where’s the picture of you and the kanga?

  5. diykenya says:

    Excellent Work, Great Photos, Well Done everyone!

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