Want to change the world? Start with the mundane. That’s the advice of Studio D Tale’s Maxwell Mutanda and Safia Qureshi to the audience at Design Indaba 2016. Studio D Tale work to solve big problems by challenging familiar business models, and making small, practical, easily implementable changes.
Forgetting assumptions and designing around needs is key, says Mutanda. The informal economy may be a small part of the European world, but in Zimbabwe, it’s nearly half of all economic activity. A great marker of such unrecognized commerce is the ubiquitous combi vans which form an ad-hoc public transportation system around Harare. Hailing one on the street is easy, if you know where to stand, but if you don’t, you’re out of luck. Google Maps is no help here.
Mutanda looked at ways to bring the kinds of mapping technology we take for granted into Harare’s informal system. By tracing the routes through hundreds of combi commutes, Mutanda and his team created a map of the Harare combi transit system. The icons that indicated key map details—route, destination, important waypoints, etc—were easy references for commuters to follow. So easy, in fact, that Mutanda transferred them to the streets, where they indicated bus stops, and to the combis themselves, where they let commuters know where they were headed and what they could find along the way.
“Our big message, really, is to look at the mundane, look at the everyday,” says Qureshi. “Look at the quiet things that are happening, look at reinventing the systems that are currently in existence, because they all need innovation to be put back in.”
Take your morning cup of coffee, for example. 2.5 million disposable cups are thrown away in the UK each year; that amounts to 1.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide. “This is a hidden aspect of our lives,” says Qureshi. “We choose not to recognise the outcomes of our actions.” She goes on to say that a single person produces around twenty times their own body weight in consumer waste each and every year of their life — but the key to reducing this can lie in something truly simple.
CupClub is a typical Studio D Tale project, which aims to replace disposable cups with reusable plastic ones. They’re lightweight, stackable, and easily transported; just as convenient as what we’re used to. The cups are scanned at point of purchase, then collected, cleaned, and redistributed. This switch could result in an 80 per cent reduction in water use, and a 92 per cent reduction in annual land waste, says Qureshi. See? Simple.
CupClub also comprises a technology element; an interface which enables consumers to find participating coffee shops, and instantly start seeing what their own impact is. “You can understand where you sit in the global picture,” says Qureshi. “It’s very difficult to break down a country’s global performance into each and every single one of you. How better to do that, than through an everyday accessible product?”
Another Studio D Tale creation, TecTyle, focuses on providing lighting via renewable energy. The studio designed one version for sale to big corporations, and a much simplified version for relief agencies. The aim here, says Qureshi, was to foster mutual benefit with organisations from opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum.
Mutual benefit, really, is what Studio D Tale are all about. “The future isn’t somewhere we’re going to,” says Qureshi, “it’s a reality that everybody creates.”