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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%.
The following Pico PV and improved cookstoves user’s claims were collected from different studies performed by various entities in different countries:
- ‘Easy Handling is required because the lamps are used for multiple purposed both inside and outside the house. The lamp should therefore be easy to take outside, for example by a handle bar, and should also be easy to hang inside. 11% of respondents cited handiness as an important feature’ .
- ‘17% of respondents described the robustness of the solar lamp as another factor of quality and stated that a lamp‘s material should not break easily. Parents can then allow their children to use the lamp without fear of broken lamps’.
- Participants were also afraid that the pull-switch could break and 50% of respondents29 preferred a built-in-switch. With a built-in-switch users only have to press the button. This helps to gain more trust in the technique and the life-cycle of products’.
- ‘28% of households interviewed appreciated if the lamp had a regulator to change the intensity of illumination. As a consequence people can use the light at the level of brightness they need for their activity. It is therefore also possible to save energy’.
- ‘Apart from safety, ease of operation should not be set aside. 22% of households stated that the system should also be easy for children to use the system'.
- ‘In order to fulfill the various demands of the different family members inside and outside the house, 44% of interviewees expressed their wish for a portable system [...] Since it is portable to have it here and there, they can use it here and there in different areas. It is very simple, we can use it even in the kitchen or some other areas in the compound. The portability it has, makes us love it’.
- ‘Without being asked for it, 22% of respondents expressed their wish for other additional features, like a radio'.
- ‘The five most common purchase decision criteria, besides product cost, were brightness, warranty terms, robustness, ability to charge mobile phones, and run-time’.
- ‘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’.
- ‘A segment of users believed that stoves with plastic components restrict them to be used in religious functions or cooking for religion purposes’.
- ‘It would be ideal to also be able to cook with the bigger pots' .
- ‘Perhaps for it to be larger to hold some of my big pots. The flame should spread more under the larger pots’ .
- ‘To increase the height of the stove’ .
Biography of an Improved Stove<o:p></o:p>
How a User Centred Design Responds to Purchase Behaviours?
Adapted Product and Service Design- How to Work Together for a Sustainable Future? Summary and presentations of Prof. Kalevi Ekman from Finland founder of the Aalto University Design Factory and Noara Kebir is the Managing Director and co-founder of MicroEnergy International.
More about putting people at the centre of the design process in a study carried out in India to identify influences over household energy choices. The study applied a qualitative ‘generative’ research methodology to research on energy use and dynamics. Energy use and dynamics in villages in India (stoves).
Institutional use of ethanol cookstoves in Maputo, pilot study.
User’s acceptance study conducted in three states of India (stoves).
Study on consumer preferences (solar).
Acceptance of Pico PV in Ethiopia.
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