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Design for the Other 90%

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I was fortunate to have a personal tour of the new Mercy Corps world headquarters building (designed by THA Architecture) from a good friend who was then dispatched to Haiti within the next few days. The Cooper-Hewitt Design for the Other 90% exhibit was on display at the MC Action Center, and it reminded me how some design CAN change and is in fact changing the world. Innovative thoughtful products like the Bamboo Treadle Pump and the LifeStraw help the poor in a multitude of developing countries gain access to safe water for farming and drinking.

WorldBike brings a new meaning to what hipsters would call artbikes, designing low-cost load-carrying bicycles capable of carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo for entrepreneurs and consumers in developing countries.

Good old humble graphic design wasn’t represented among the high impact life-changing products on display, beyond the beautifully designed catalogue and award-winning website. My tour guide however did mention that Mercy Corps is trying to make the new Action Center a more friendly and welcoming experience. Hopefully they will move away from the cold typography, stark banners and way-finding, and make their interactive stations more comfortable. I think they can achieve a sense of urgency and seriousness about changing the world without feeling and looking like a bank.