Socially responsible design (SRD) workshop in Guatemala

Together with Oscar Quan at INDIS, the industrial design research institute at Guatemala’s Universidad Rafael Landivar (URL), I conducted a short study trip to the highlands of Guatemala. For many of the third year design students from NTNU as well as the students from URL this was the first encounter with ‘real needs’ challenges on their path to becoming industrial designers. 

The first project we visited was Transitions, an NFP in the beautiful UNESCO town of Antigua half an hour west of Guatemala City. Transitions builds tailored low-cost wheel chairs for children and adults, with very simple methods and with few funds. The students were clearly impressed and many of them chose to focus on the challenges of Transitions during their two day workshop back at URL. By lake Atitlan we visited some traditional textile production facilities and were introduced to coloring and weaving techniques typical for Guatemala.

We later visited a transitional shelter project in San Lucas Tomilán  where we were guided by one of the managers through a tiny village mostly consisitng of plastic sheeting from USAID. In May of 2010, torrential rainfall from Tropical Storm Agatha spurred devastating landslides in Guatemala’s highland communities and widespread flooding in lowland coastal areas. More than 150 people lost their lives, and thousands were left homeless as a result of this event. In conjunction with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) and other donors, Catholic Relief Services and local partners launched a multisector response to help families build safe, durable and environmentally responsible transitional shelters.

Once back at the university, I divided the students into 5 groups, who all chose a challenge from the projects visited for creative problem solving. We worked on solving the identified problems for two days, so the outcomes were on the concept level.

Most of the groups chose a system or product design challenge connected with the wheelchair project, while one group chose to focus on the problems with air quality and lighting in the shelter project. Please contact me directly if you have any inquieries regarding the projects or the outcome of the workshop.


About Brita Fladvad Nielsen

I'm a Postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. My focus is on Smart Energy Communities in urban settings as well as design of energy-devices for emergency settings and design for humanitarian markets, especially for refugee camps in rural areas of Africa. I blog about my research approach Design Thinking on and about humanitarian design at . I am also a mother of a child who is deaf, and I blog about her language development on
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