This is a project completed with the team at iDE Cambodia in 2014. Our small team developed two projects over the course of 4 months spent working on the ground in Cambodia.
My partner and I had both been working in design consulting for a few years and thought it was the right time to make the leap. We had questions. What else can we do as product designers? Where are our skills most in demand? We stumbled upon iDE Cambodia, an international NGO with a large presence in Cambodia.
We were paired with one of iDE's social enterprises, Hydrologic who manufacture low-cost water filtration products for the rural community. One of the most interesting aspects of the experience was learning about iDE's approach, which is a little different than most NGOs. They aim to create social enterprises operated by locals, with the hope that one day iDE will no longer be needed and the businesses they launch can sustain themselves independently.
iDE and Hydrologic have manufactured this product, known as the Tunsai ("rabbit") water filter for over 10 years. It spawned an entire market of competition and vastly increased the availability of clean water to the rural population. After nearly a decade of production, the tooling used for the plastic bucket and lid has reached the end of its lifecycle. Filtration occurs via a simple ceramic element that looks much like a flower pot. We were tasked with redeveloping the plastic parts, but not altering the filter.
These are some of the products available on the market. On the far left is the current Tunsai product, and on the far right is another Hydrologic, the higher-price Super Tunsai.
Typical storage containers. These are filled with rainwater in the wet season and must sustain the family through the dry season.
With a design brief in hand, a translator and a 4x4, we set out to learn about the product. We traveled to villages in neighboring provinces to meet with users in their homes. One of the first things we noticed was that for many people, their habits are defined by children. This woman kept a communal bowl out for kids to share, while she hid her own personal cups beneath the white filter stand.
Despite the prevalence of poverty, people are more than willing to spend on technology.
Next we set out to develop some concepts to address our research findings. We wanted to address every aspect of the product experience; how to best integrate instructions and cleaning supplies, transport strategies and the functionality of the product itself. We explored low cost production methods like die cutting, as well as maximizing the value from a simple 2-part mold, and utilizing other materials that might be cheaper and easier to produce locally.
With thematic concepts generated, we sought feedback from the team at iDE and Hydrologic. Working with these teams was an absolute joy, their confidence and clarity of purpose made for a swift development process.
We settled on a concept that maximizes the current production method - simple injection molding for both the receptacle and lid.
A simple volumetric model was made to verify proportions and get a feel for the concept in 3D.
Details were refined, such as a system of holes for unfiltered water to drain away from the receptacle. Given that cost was a serious driver in the design of the product, we elected to use a collar already being produced for the Super Tunsai. This meant that Hydrologic could produce the part without having to finance more molds.
Feedback from manufacturing partners helped us refine Solidworks data and move towards a production-ready concept.
In the end, we were able to create a fully-realized design, ready for tooling. The new product elevates the aesthetics and functionality, while providing more capacity and staying within the strict cost target. Solidworks data was handed off to manufacturing partners and is currently in development.