Product design and emotional appeal matters to all people

Products – even those distributed at no charge – go unused in the developing world due to poor quality, unreliability or difference in cultural expectations, explained in a study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). So what does it take to design successful products for the base-of-the-pyramid (BoP)?

By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen

Aesthetics was focal point when designing SunBell

In an article on Successfully Designing for Developing Countries published in the magazine Appliance Design it is stated that, the general assumption is that developing countries tend to prioritize function and utility over product design and aesthetics. The study explains that “this doesn’t mean that users in developing nations don’t care about aesthetics. Holding on to these assumptions hampers the development of successful products.”

This means that all people have subjective emotions and considerations towards a product. While rational and logic considerations on price and function are important, beauty and artfulness is as important because it generates strong personal feelings and emotional appeal towards the product.

The issue of aesthetics was a focal point for Marius Andresen, co-founder of BRIGHT Products, when designing the SunBell:

“Aesthetics are important. The product has to appeal to people, so they feel proud and want to take good care of it. Had we made the lamp square it might have been more practical, but it would also have been more ugly.”

Developing the lamp, Marius Andresen didn’t distinguish or classify between top- and base-of-the-pyramid consumers in terms of looks and taste:  

“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. On the contrary; of all people in the world refugees and BoP should get a good-looking, quality product. A product that they can aspire to and that take them serious, providing them with dignity and respect.”

Applicability 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, team leader for private sector partnerships and major donors at Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). Additionally, she is 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; gaversomforandrerverden.no. 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.”

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 both our webshop and 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,” explains Gunn Inger from NCA.

It was important for NCA to support a Norwegian environmental-friendly and sustainable initiative, and ensure that the products manufactured are of high-quality materials with a versatile and appealing design. Elements, which are corner stones for BRIGHT Products when developing and designing solar products.  

Multifunctional, high-quality, and reliable product design

The focus on product design naturally spawned the use of high-quality materials, making the products from BRIGHT strong and reliable. Reliability, in combination with profitable long-term utilization and multifunctional design, are described as key elements when designing successful products for the developing world. A study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) further described how the BoP populations;

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

By investing in the BRIGHT SunBell a household will not only save money on unclean status quo energy sources such as kerosene lanterns, candles and battery torches. Expenditures used for unreliable, low-quality solar products will quickly pay off the SunBell solar lamp, which give access to free, clean and sustainable light and charging for five to seven years. Read more about the profitability of solar light here.  

With respect to multifunctionality, the first SunBell solar lamp was created with seven different light features in one product including charging capabilities for mobile phones. Olivier Butstraen, member of the 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.”

The BRIGHT SunBell solar lamp is the first of its kind to be categorized as a core relief item by the UNHCR.

Products from BRIGHT is developed and designed with the end-user in mind, not differentiating between top- and base-of-the-pyramid. Values of dignity and emotional appeal make BRIGHT Products unique. Not compromising on quality to make the products cheaper, combined with a multifunctional and aesthetic product design, products from BRIGHT is a success across different markets around the world.