These days, our design lab is filled with the sounds of running water and the clacking of robots testing pumps as our d-team puts the finishing touches on a breakthrough irrigation product we’ll be launching in September. We’re working with Stanford’s Institute of Design on this project, and will soon be joined by two graduates for the summer. Andreas and Evram are the latest in a long list of talented individuals who’ve joined the Proximity Design team as the result of an ongoing, eight year long partnership with Stanford’s d.school.
In 2005, the Stanford d.school began offering a course called “Design for Extreme Affordability,” that challenged graduate students to develop well-designed products and services for the world’s most disadvantaged people. We embraced the course early on as one of its first ‘clients.’ At the time, foot-pumps were available in India and parts of Africa for over $100, and we needed to drastically reduce this price tag if our products were going to be affordable for Myanmar’s farmers. The first challenge we posed to a Stanford team was to create a pump for $25. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the course of eight years, Stanford teams have been instrumental in developing key products. It was a Stanford team that first drew inspiration from kiddy pools and suggested we design a freestanding water storage basket, which six years later became our “Sturdy Boy” water tank. It was a Stanford team that proposed the award-winning tri-pod frame structure that we ended up using in our HB4 pump, which in addition to completely re-thinking the structure of existing treadle pumps, also reduced its price to $25. Not only does Stanford have fast prototyping abilities that allow teams to make a lot of progress very quickly, the creativity of their students is constantly motivating us to push the envelope. Human-centered design is now at the core of what we do, due in part to the contagious innovative thinking of the d.school folks.
Luckily for us, the love is mutual. David Beach, co-instructor of the “Design for Extreme Affordability” course, explains, “Proximity is an amazing organization… For us, the fact that they have experience on the ground, deep insight…that they are involved at the highest levels of crafting a path forward for Myanmar as a country…. They couldn’t be better partners.”
In addition to making us blush, Beach does point to some of the factors that make our partnership with Stanford’s d.school a truly symbiotic exchange. Strong partnerships, grow, evolve, and endure, and we can’t wait to see what breakthrough, innovative products our work with the d.school will bring to rural Myanmar.