Design and aesthetics matter for all people

Customers in developing countries care greatly about quality, looks and design. Successful products should have a strong focus on aesthetics.

sunbell solar lamp bright products

By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen 

Products – even aid goods distributed at no charge – often go unused in the developing world due to poor quality, unreliability or cultural misunderstandings. The questions is; what does it take to design successful products for both low- and high income countries?

Developing countries tend to prioritize utility over design and aesthetics when buying a product. This is the general – but wrong – assumption when designing products for emerging markets, aruge an article on  Successfully Designing for Developing Countries published in the magazine Appliance Design. On the contrary, customers in developing countries care greatly about aesthetics. Holding on to the opposite assumption “hampers the development of successful products.”

Aesthetics was vital when designing BRIGHT SunBell

The focus on aesthetics was exactly what Marius Andresen, co-founder of BRIGHT Products and design manager at K8, had when designing the SunBell solar lamp and mobile charger:

“Aesthetics arise important. The product must appeal to people, so they feel proud and want to take good care of it. Had we made the lamp like a box it might have been more practical, but it would also have been uglier.”

Developing the lamp, Marius Andresen didn’t distinguish or classify between low- or high income customers:

“I didn’t think differently about refugees, than I did about Norwegian customers. The product should be something, I wanted to own myself and be proud of having. Of all people in the world refugees and low income customers should get a good-looking, quality product that will give them value for money. It should be a product they can aspire to and that take them serious, providing them with dignity and respect.”

Marius Andresen, Co-founder of BRIGHT and Design Manager at K8

Used in Norwegian cabins and refugee camps in Kenya

“The unique thing about the BRIGHT SunBell solar lamp is that the exact same product is used in a cabin in the Norwegian woods and in a refugee camp in rural Kenya,” says Gunn Inger Røkke Ruud. She is the team leader for private sector partnerships and major donors at Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), and responsible for buying products for NCAs online gift shop.

As part of a Christmas campaign, NCA started selling the BRIGHT SunBell in November 2015 and have since then sold over 2000 units to Norwegian customers through their online webshop; The profit is used to fund NCA’s humanitarian projects around the world.

“The lamp is one of the top sellers and greatest success in our webshop. It is highly demanded in the Norwegian market,” Gunn Inger Røkke Ruud explains.

While Norwegian customers make use of the lamp in far away cabins, the exact same product is used for NCA’s humanitarian response and emergency operations.

“SunBell was by far the best solar product for us to use both on our webshop and for humanitarian work. When we distribute the lamp in refugee camps, we have to be sure, that it is a good product that doesn’t fall apart. We need to trust the product and the company”

Gunn Inger Røkke Ruud, NCA.

It was important for NCA to support a Norwegian environmental-friendly and sustainable initiative. Additionally, the products must be manufactured of high-quality with a versatile and appealing design. Elements, which are corner stones for BRIGHT Products.

Multifunctional, high-quality, and reliable

The focus on aesthetics when designing the BRIGHT SunBell naturally spawned the use of high-quality materials, making the products strong and reliable. Reliability, long lifespan and multifunctional design are key elements for successful products in the developing world, a study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) concludes. It furthermore describes how:

“low income populations tended to prefer products that were not necessarily the cheapest available: Factors such as reliability, profitability and multifunctionality often trumped affordability”

MIT study, "Microentrepreneurs may be an untapped market for product design"

With respect to multifunctionality, the first SunBell solar lamp was created with seven different light features including charging capabilities for mobile phones. Olivier Butstraen, member of the BRIGHT design-team creating the first solar lamp, explains how the multifunctionality is intuitive for the user:

“We were often told that the product was too complex with too many functions, and people wouldn’t understand it. In theory this was actually right, but if I can use it why shouldn’t other people be able to use it? Intuitively, you learn to use it by interacting with the product, and no matter where you are in the world, people understand and appreciate the multifunctionality of the lamp.”

Dignity and emotional appeal in BRIGHT products

Products from BRIGHT are developed and designed with the end-user in mind, not differentiating between low- and high income consumers. The point is, that all kinds of people needs values of dignity and emotional appeal in goods and services. Without making any compromise on quality to make the products cheaper, using a multifunctional and aesthetic product design, products can become succesful across different markets around the world.