Design Thinking + Wicked Problems
InterDesign-Water South Africa
Can Design Thinking help address the complex challenges our world faces?
An InterDesign is a 2-week Design Thinking sprint where designers from all over the world create solutions to problems of social significance.
InterDesign Water was focused on finding creative solutions to address the drinking water and sanitation issues in the peri-urban and rural communities in South Africa.
I led a team of 6 designers from the Netherlands, South Africa, France, Canada and the US with a focus of improving sanitation. After spending time with the people living in the slums and rural communities we were moved to try to create solutions that could be implemented immediately by the people themselves. We had seen unintended the consequences of bringing foreign technologies into communities, tearing them apart. We decided to apply our design thinking skills using locally available materials and indigenous skills. We created several solutions. The Mahlunga water dispenser is one of them.
Because water is scarce and must be carried great distances from its source mothers had children repeatedly washing their hands in a common dish of water which greatly increased the chances of spreading diseases. We needed to create a single use water dispenser that used very small amounts of water. Using found materials such as discarded water bottles and the skill of making wire figures and toys we came up with the Mahlunga water dispenser. The dispenser is filled then hung upside down. When a child needs to wash her hands she presses up on the wire water flows out and over her hand.
The water dispenser is named after a local woman who tested it for us.
“Will you come back in a week?
I am going to make one myself.
I want to show it to you.
I take care of the disabled children in our village.
I think I can get them to wash their hands”
Johanna Mahlunga – Soshangvue SA
On the final day of the Design Thinking sprint the 5 InterDesign teams, including ours, presented to a gathering of social workers, public health experts and other government officials. The other teams had created solutions that required outside funding and employed complicated technologies. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from social workers and those who worked with the people living in the slums and rural communities. Many have taken the simple design of the Mahlunga water dispenser into those communities. One social worker said, “ Your team gets it!” meaning solutions to complex challenges can be creative, local and require little or no investment.
Interested in using Design Thinking on a wicked problem? Contact me.