Creative Design for Social Problem Solving and Social Responsibility Therethrough

The 2017 Internatonal Forum on Design to Solve Social Problems has obtained written consent from the speaker to publish the summarized and edited content

SPEAKER: Sangmin Bae (Professor, Department of Industrial Design at KAIST)

The top 10% of the world's population are able to spend $10 a day (about 10,000 won). This means that the other 90%, being unable to spend $10 a day, are very poor. 80% of them spend only about $2 a day. Design is not about making things pretty and beautiful to increase sales, but about finding and solving problems in a certain situation. Solving problems in an innovative and creative way is an essential part of design. Which group has more problems in life: the 10% of the population who can spend $10 a day or the 90% who can't? The 10% of people have issues with desires, and 90% have issues with needs. In other words, 90% of people have problems that are directly related to survival and they need to be considered more seriously. But 99.9% of designers only design for the top 10%. The real social problem is to leave it alone and only engage in the problem of fueling human desires.

It's a personal perspective, but while I was working in design, I became well known through my 13 years of hard work, and I got involved in many projects. However, at the back of my mind was the empty feeling that I was making design products that were beautiful but useless. After that, I started trying to do design work that was more valuable, rather than being a designer who constantly entices users to consume. This is how the current sharing project, Creating Shared Value(CSV) support project, and seed project to help the third world all began.

The Nanum Project (a Korean word to mean “sharing”) is creating new assets for the underprivileged in society and donating the entire amount of sales, not just the profits, to scholarships for poor children. Rather than simply donating money, we donate our time and talent, and when consumers purchase the product and pay the price, the entire amount is donated. A total of 1.7 billion KRW was donated to children, and 20 million KRW is provided to 240 children every year. It is a program that aims to support children from beginning to end by selecting those who need it, rather than splitting the money among several people. To this end, we work with a partner called World Vision. World Vision selects children in need of support from all over the country and distributes the proceeds to children from broken-down families who have dreams, hopes, and passions, but cannot stand on their own. In order for the general public to participate in social contribution, they have to go through a process of changing negative thoughts about help and donations into positive ones.

In 2005, we made an MP3 player called Crosscube. It is a product that becomes an MP3 player when folded into a cross shape. We made and sold a natural humidifier that does not use electricity, and made an interactive tumbler that automatically informs of the temperature inside when you put a drink in it. Also, recently we produced a kinetic lamp called Delight, which can be changed to any desired shape at any time. It can be changed from the shape of a lamp to the shape of a heart. When it is in the form of a lamp, it emits the lowest light and when it is in the shape of a heart, it emits the brightest light. It is made with the meaning that sharing makes the world brighter.

In my ten years since coming to KAIST, I have received 52 design awards. When I was working in the industry, I was honored with a reward only twice, but I think the reason I was able to receive this many awards in such a short period was because I focused on designing for the 90% of the people mentioned earlier.

Next, I would like to talk about the seed project. As of 2008, Buma, which is located on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, has had no rain for eight years. The seed project was first started in an area suffering from severe drought. We did ethnographic research while staying with the locals, and we did not bring anything from Korea, but used local tools and materials to create solutions to local problems together. The ultimate goal of this project is to enable them to become independent and lead independent lives. To solve the problem of water supply in drought-stricken areas, we do not simply provide water, but make tools that can filter water with locally sourced materials. The filters and knowledge that we are familiar with did not suit the local situation. Therefore, working with the local residents, we made and baked porcelain by mixing ocher and black tea husks available in the region, and this magnetic filter was able to filter the water from the 5th grade to 1st grade. This reduced the risk of water-borne diseases.

As another example, in Africa, malaria kills one child every 30 seconds. Supplying mosquito repellents or spray was unsustainable, so we looked for alternatives, and we were able to solve the problem by creating a sound spray. Holding the spray bottle in your hand and shaking it for 2 minutes will charge it, and if you press the handle, the ultrasonic wave that mosquitoes hate is emitted, so mosquitoes do not approach within a 5m radius.

There is a product called 'Box school' that won the Best of the Best award in Germany in 2005. This is hardware made so that if two containers are brought to an isolated area anywhere in the world and set up, a smart classroom is created and education can take place anywhere. Electricity generated using solar panels is supplied to all electronic products, and water collection and water purification facilities are equipped to filter water, and it is designed to enable communication. Looking at this project, I imagined an African child taking a class at KAIST. Since a large-scale school can be made by installing several modules, I think that this box school can be applied to create educational facilities or medical facilities anywhere in the world.

This system has been used a number of times in Korea. It can be a gallery, a temporary studio, or a place of residence. In addition, it is possible to envision a project in which artists bring a box school to an island or underdeveloped area, live and collaborate with residents. Mentors of the cultural academy can use the space to educate young people and create a space for cultural or artistic education. It can also be used as a space for young entrepreneurs and poor artists outside of education. Also, since it is difficult to solve the problem hosting athletes when the Pyeongchang Olympics are held, there is the possibility of using these containers in the athletes’ village and to build schools, libraries, and hospitals in poor areas around the world in the name of Korea after the Olympics.

80% of Koreans go on to college. Considering that only the top 1% of the world's population has received or is able to receive a university education, this is a very large number. Given the number of people in Korea who received a university education, I hope there will be more people who can share this privilege. If economic conditions allow, you can share money, and if you have great talent, you can share your talent and share your heart. Recognizing that social conflicts and polarization are resolved through the efforts of individuals, not the government, I hope that the practice of sharing as best as one is able will increase.
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