Do the jua kali have a design process?
Today I was invited to a PhD dissertation presentation by Lilac Osanjo at the University of Nairobi, who is investigating “The Product Design Practice within the Micro and Small Enterprise Sector in Kenya” and specifically focusing on the case study of sofa makers. Her goal is to extract the design process that the jua kali go through to develop the sofa design choices that diffuse throughout the sector.
A few points of contention arose among the audience. If the jua kali are just copying designs from Nakumatt or catalogs, is that really a design process? Others suggested that Lilac compare the artisans’ process to academic processes or international design standards. “What can we learn from Japan?” a professor asked. But Lilac was steadfast in her belief that the whatever the jua kali’s process of design was, it should be taken for what it is, not for what it’s not. What she hopes to come up with resembles a pie chart: what percentage of the design is influenced by customer preference, affordability, copying, artisans’ skills, artisans’ imagination, etc?
Understanding the existing design and thought process of the jua kali—however they define design—will be incredibly valuable. Not to mention how massive a challenge Lilac is already facing digging through the many layers of Gikomba to uncover patterns and reason.
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Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African