Design and poverty: a review of contexts, roles of poor people, and methods

We review a broad range of literature, with close examination of 30 design studies in this field

Santosh Jagtap


Scholarcy highlights

  • Forty percent of the world population subsists on less than 2 dollars a day, and twenty percent on less than 1.25 dollars per day, living in extreme poverty
  • Whilst Mahatma Gandhi called the problems faced by these resource-poor people as ‘the worst form of violence’, Amartya Sen defines them as lack of freedom and inability to make life choices
  • Many engineering and design departments in universities around the world promote development projects, and offer courses and even full programs in such areas. This has led to many design investigations in the context of poverty in developing countries. Design studies in this field have been undertaken in many different design sectors in urban and rural regions of several developing countries, engaging and positioning poor people in different roles, while considering aspects related to their income and gender
  • Whilst the studies have dealt with several contextual aspects, while considering different roles of the poor people, there is a great diversity in how they are conducted in terms of methods employed and whether they are descriptive or prescriptive in nature
  • There are many descriptive studies whose findings suggest to design holistic solutions to address many different challenges that are typically observed in low-resource settings, highlighting the need to focus on designing systems rather than just technologies, while taking into account larger social, cultural, institutional and structural issues of poverty
  • Whilst the literature has attempted to address a variety of research questions, there remain many aspects that are not currently investigated
  • Kang, tested a method of collaborative design workshops with a handcraft community, and Rodriguez et al evaluated their role-play technique with students, which was aimed at gaining insights into unfamiliar healthcare contexts in rural areas of a developing country

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