Functional Designs that Change Lives

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Photo of pot-in-pot cooler i

When the water added to the sand evaporates in the Pot-in-Pot Cooler, it pulls heat from the smaller pot, keeping vegetables cool. Tomas Bertelsen hide caption

itoggle caption Tomas Bertelsen
Photo of pot-in-pot cooler

When the water added to the sand evaporates in the Pot-in-Pot Cooler, it pulls heat from the smaller pot, keeping vegetables cool.

Tomas Bertelsen
LifeStraw photo i

The LifeStraw is a tube that purifies water as a person drinks from an impure stream or lake. Vestergaard Frandsen hide caption

itoggle caption Vestergaard Frandsen
LifeStraw photo

The LifeStraw is a tube that purifies water as a person drinks from an impure stream or lake.

Vestergaard Frandsen
Photo of Big Boda bicycle i

The Big Boda Load-Carrying Bicycle is used in Kenya and Uganda, and is built to carry hundreds of pounds of cargo or two additional passengers. Ed Lucero hide caption

itoggle caption Ed Lucero
Photo of Big Boda bicycle

The Big Boda Load-Carrying Bicycle is used in Kenya and Uganda, and is built to carry hundreds of pounds of cargo or two additional passengers.

Ed Lucero

The elegant, costly designs in Architectural Digest, or on the home-furnishing floors of Bloomingdale's are created for people with disposable income – the top 10 percent of people in the world.

But an unusual exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City looks elsewhere for inspiration.

"Design for the Other 90%" features inventions created by social entrepreneurs that solve problems for those who lack adequate food, education, water and shelter.

The examples on display aren't conventionally pretty. Many cost just a couple of dollars to produce. Yet they could be life-changing for millions of poor people, says curator Cynthia Smith.

For example, a simple ceramic pot nestled within a larger pot is a low-cost refrigeration system for fresh produce. Water poured into the sand around the smaller pot evaporates, taking the hot air with it.

And the LifeStraw, from a Danish firm, addresses a problem plaguing the world's poor. It's a personal mobile water-purification tool that turns any surface water into safe drinking water.

The LifeStraw has been effective against waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery and diarrhea. It is currently used in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda.

Other inventions include prosthetic limbs that cost only $30, and charcoal made from sugarcane stalks that substitutes for wood and helps prevent deforestation.

The Big Boda Load-Carrying Bicycle, developed in Kenya by the design firm WorldBike, can carry eight crates of goods, three children or two adult passengers in places where bikes are the main mode of transportation. It has an extended wheel base and a lower center of gravity.

"They are saying to the bike world ... you make these very fancy bikes. Suppose you put your energies into creating a bike that really had a big impact on people's lives?" Smith says.

"Design for the Other 90%" is at the Cooper-Hewitt through September 23, 2007.

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