Revision as of 16:25, 23 March 2017 by ***** (***** | *****)
Designing a product is a process of solving problems creatively. Usually it considers not only the aesthetics and technological constrains, but also the user’s needs. A famous Swedish furniture and home accessories retailer applying continuous product development has identified five crucial factors for a democratic design, hence products have to be:
These factors can also be used in modern energy technologies design (i.e. efficient stoves and Pico PV lamps). ‘Products should be designed understanding that people want them to work, and to make life easier (function), that are beautiful (form), demand value for money (quality), care about the environment (sustainability) and are affordable (low price)’. 
Perhaps it is important not to think about low prices as the absolute key factor to ensure low-income households to purchase a certain technology. Nowadays different financial schemes have been deployed in order to facilitate energy access (Financing Mechanisms for Cookstove Dissemination, Financing Models for Solar Home Systems, Use of Microfinance Institutions for Renewable Energy Technologies).
Over the decades, continue development in design of stove allowed improved as a result of caring not only about the shape of things, but doing things better according to people’s needs and wishes. This have been possible thanks to the feedback provided by final users and taking a democratic design approach influencing from the conception to the final product.
Photo 1: Example of product design development over time
Source: BioLite Inc. 2017(http://www.bioliteenergy.com/pages/our-story)
Users dominate the market and therefore have the capability to determine the success of failure of a product. Consequently it is uttermost to pay attention to the users’ needs and their cultural context to combine with technical factors when designing/ improving a product. In 2012 the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) carried out a study applying a qualitative ‘generative’ research methodology
Table 1: Key stove design parameters for meeting household needs and desires
- Ability to regulate temperature is essential, both for preparing different dishes and to provide greater freedom to perform other tasks at the same time as cooking.
- Advantageous if it can be used both wood and dung as fuel.
- Allow easy preparation of roti bread (core part of the local diet), requiring access to an open flame.
- Portability is desirable, to enable cooking indoors and outdoors.
- Appearance is important. Women consider clay stoves aesthetic appealing, in some instances have painted or decorated their stoves. By contrast, those asked did not like the appearance of metal stoves they have seen.
- Willingness to pay is expressed for improved stoves that meets user’s needs, and consider that the current situation might be that users do not spend money on stoves or, in most cases, fuels.
Source: SEI, 2012
These features can serve as a guidance for other technologies, though it is important to contextualize according to the prevailing geographical characteristics and socio-economic characteristics and particularities. Taking into account the five crucial factors of democratic design mentioned before, long lasting and sustainable technology are not considered among the features identified by SEI as it was not was part of their scope, however granted warranties and good performance in tests (Pico PV and Stoves) could be considered to supplement these other aspects too.
User’s Feedback for Design: Lighting & Cooking Technologies
Before a product is launched into the market (pilot) or when it is already in the market, it is crucial to gather reliable systematic data that allows to obtain the experience of users with using the product, to hear them express their views that later can unleash changes in approaches and even design. Different discoveries in the field can provide relevant information to adapt the design to current needs and wishes, needless to say that feedback has an enormous potential.
When modifications in design answer to what users want, it is just a matter of available information about the product for potential users and expect them to try (purchase) the product (stages of the adoption process of ideas and technology). Furthermore, commercializing a product involves a set of activities to persuade customers. According to the marketing theory, 85% of customers place colour as a primary reason why they buy a product and visual appearance is a factor that consumers consider overall 93%.
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