Since we've been talking about what it means to build adaptive capacity in these current times, we were pleased to connect with two designers who found themselves applying some of these skills when faced with the reality of an unexpected natural disaster. Tobias Ottahal and Hamza Vora, two graduates of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, went to Karachi to expand their horizons, put their degrees to the test and teach third year design students in the Visual Studies department at Karachi University about human-centered design. What they did not expect, however was that this opportunity would take place during the Pakistan floods of 2010.
Ottahal and Vora landed in Karachi in August of last year and within weeks of arrival, the floods hit and they were faced with a decision of how to respond. One idea that emerged after talking with those most affected was to raise funds through an online campaign for friends and family. The money donated would go toward the purchase of locally made, lightweight cots called charpais so that those who were displaced wouldn't have to sleep on the ground.
But they also didn't want to abandon the design course they had originally come to teach. With over 100,000 people migrating to Karachi, eight relief camps were established in the outskirts of the city. In light of this and because of the potential for design to contribute, they decided to reframe the course and see what might happen if the students applied their design skills to this domain.
To accomplish this, the class was divided into teams and each was tasked with a particular focus that could help make life in a relief camp more bearable. They chose to address specific issues of food storage, entertainment, comfort and privacy, developing three solutions through research, prototyping and collaboration. Team Shums developed a storage system for keeping food protected and off the ground.
Team Aab focused on ideas for entertainment and created a game for children.
Team Taab noted the need for privacy and comfort and designed a bed frame that can convert into a privacy wall.
While not all outcomes have been fully implemented, each prototype was tested in the relief camp and the students offered this feedback after engaging in this experience:
"I learned how to design for people according to their needs. We did many assignments before this but we never considered the user's needs this much. I learned how to analyze a situation and then work on the solution step by step. I got a chance to work in the real situation. I also learned how to work with other design major students. How to form a team and work together."
We'd also like to report that the campaign raised enough money to meet their goal of purchasing 200 charpais for the Northern Bypass Relief Camp.
Photo credits: Tobias Ottahal, Hamza Vora and students of Karachi University