Design for Poverty Winners

We received entries from all over the world. Poverty is a difficult problem to diagnose let alone solve but nonetheless as designers we can address different aspects of poverty and hope by dealing with each point in the problem, we can begin to collapse the systemic process and give back the dignity every person deserves. We judged based on concept, cost to implement, and deployment. Thank you to all the entrants for your hard work. Hit the jump to see the winners.

GOLD – Rain Drops by Evan Gant (United States)

Rain water is a largely untapped resource, especially in many developing countries where clean water is scarce. Water harvesting consists of three main components: a catchment area (generally a roof), a gutter system and a water storage area. The water storage area is by far the most expensive portion of this system, which makes it out of reach for many families. The RainDrops system simply allows people to adapt standard plastic bottles to an existing gutter system to collect rain water. This changes water storage from the most to the least expensive part of the system. These are much easier to clean and replace than larger storage units. The repurposing of these plastic bottles will also give value to many bottles that are otherwise headed for landfills. Corruption in the water sector is a real problem in many developing countries. The scalability of this system helps to give more power to the communities in need.

For many communities in the developing world a lack of good hygiene can have deadly consequences. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to prevent the distribution of bacteria. Nearly six thousand children in Kenya die each year from diarrheal diseases, and it is estimated that the simple act of proper hand washing could cut that number in half ( The RainDrops system includes an attachment that allows people to create running water to wash their hands.

Another large benefit to using plastic bottles as a water collection system is that it fits in nicely with the process called SODIS, which uses a combination of the suns UV rays and heat to remove pathogenic microorganisms that cause disease. This process is spreading across many developing countries due to its effectiveness and low cost.

Ultimately the goal of this system is to create a means for people to be able to collect water, which is an essential resource for life. By helping them relieve the monetary burden in an essential area like access to clean water, people will have more economic flexibility to start address unmet needs in other areas.

SILVERHidden City by Sara Melvinson (Sweden)

A conceptual project created to establish a link between the homeless and the rest of the community. I wanted to change the image of the homeless by letting them tell their stories in a personal letter; to place a face on a population we often try our hardest to ignore.

Hidden City is inspired by the cardboard signs we are so use to seeing. A homeless person would be given a small cardboard replica of a house that folds together. Postage is prepaid and can be dropped in the mailbox to whomever they wish to send it to. The receiver assembles the house and can go to the official website to reply to the letter. The website is also a portal to many other shares stories of how, why, and when. . . The portal is the starting point where people can feel akin to those less fortunate and find out how they can directly get involved at the local level. Hidden City was designed to create awareness – the first step in understanding and solving a problem is recognizing the growing epidemic.

The next time you walk or drive past a homeless person, what’s your reaction? Do you look straight ahead and pretend no one is there? Are you fearful of something about them? What do they represent to you? It’s time to remember these are people just like you and I.

BRONZETrash Sleeping Bag by HJC Design (United Kingdom)

The Trash Sleeping Bag concept makes use of existing behavior by the homeless who often collect and sort thru garbage to recycle for money. The money they receive is never enough to uplift them from their situation and break the cycle of poverty.

Local business and grocers in support with the local city council could get together and create a voucher system where city trash can be exchanged for food, water, and clothes. The Trash Sleeping Bag has a double wall chamber by where collected street trash can provide insulation.

The bags are inexpensive to produce and distribute. They provide a basic necessity to both the homeless who often sleep in the cold and to local communities that spend millions a year trying to clean up street trash. Many of the foods are tossed out by grocers because they are no longer fit for sale but still plenty good for consumption. Instead of throwing away millions of dollars of food, we use it to uplift people out of poverty in the hopes they can help themselves.

SPECIAL RECOGNITIONRed Cross by Adam Trebel (United States)

Red Cross was designed to address the basic need of medical care. People above, as well as below the national poverty level all face this titan issue. “What will I do if I get hurt”? This question haunts everyone who does not have medical insurance. The homeless have absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel. They could lose a limb or die, just from a simple infection that started with a small cut. My goal for this project was to not only design a tangible structure for these people to use, but to create a homeless infrastructure. I want them to not only survive, but move forward in a positive way, and with that create the social interaction that is needed for homeless people to grow socially as well as economically.

The first and most important issue that I addressed was the need for homeless people to have a way to move forward from their current economical and social status. I created a system that would provide work for the homeless that they could handle with their lack of transportation and unappealing textile appearance. I accomplished this by laying out simple jobs like collecting garbage, collecting cans, working at homeless shelters, or general city clean up. In turn an organization reimburses their work with Red Cross Credit. This puts credit on their homeless ID cards and allows them access to Red Cross vending machines. They continue this process to access other things. This may not be the job that they once had but it is still a job that can give them a feeling of accomplishment that we all need. It also helps the city with clean up issues.

The second issue was creating this tangible structure. I wanted to use iconography to make it easy for any person to recognize. I decided to use the symbol of the “red cross” to convey that this structure can provide medical help. I incorporated seating on either side of the structure and put a rubber mat on the ground that provides a visual continuation of the Red Cross symbol. The internal working is a simple carrousel design that cut back on manufacturing costs and simplifies use.

The idea behind this design is to address a scary issue that we still have. With all our accomplishments we have not yet overcome this most basic need. That is a community that is taking care of the people in it. My dream is to design more of these objects to meet other needs like shelter and clothing. We can no longer let this abandonment of our poor stand. We need to use design and every aspect of this world to fix this problem once and for all.

HONORABLE MENTIONH20ME by Ethan Przekaza (United States)

Poverty is a serious problem that many people in every country around the world face, however it is also a problem that I don’t think can ever be completely resolved. This is a very unfortunate situation that thousands of people have to deal with and with help from the more fortunate people; their situations can be improved.

When I began doing research for this design project it became very evident what homeless individuals needed for basic survival and also what they could do without. One thing that is obvious that no human being can do without is clean drinking water. It doesn’t matter if a homeless person lives in a New York City alley way or in an arid third world country clean drinking water is essential to life. Something else that is obvious that homeless people do not have is a home or shelter in general. It is typical to see homeless people using cardboard boxes or any other found material to keep a barrier between them and the elements.

With these two important facts in mind I began to formulate ideas on how these problems could be solved, the end result is H2OME. H2OME provides the user with shelter from the elements and cold and at the same time it acts as a water collection/filtration system so clean, safe drinking water is available at all times. When the H2OME is being used as a shelter the specific shape of the structure collects rainwater or any water for that matter and funnels it through a carbon water filter, which then empties into a water bladder for storage. When H2OME needs to be transported it easily collapses to a compact cylindrical shape that will hold and protect the collected water and provide insulation to it as well. The compact shape allows for H2OME to be strapped directly to the back, attached to a backpack, or stored in almost any cart. A flexible water hose can be attached to the water reservoir to allow for easy access while the H2OME is collapsed.

Through out the entire design process for H2OME, budget and sustainability where kept in mind. The supporting legs are constructed out of aluminum from 100% recycled soda cans and the protective barrier is made from the same material as emergency blankets. The end result is a very cost effective product that can easily and affordably be donated by a city or community organization.

HONORABLE MENTIONEducation for All by Brian Cuellar (Colombia)

In many parts of the world the education programs are inadequate, mostly in the third world countries. This right does not reach the most vulnerable communities. It has been said before but education IS the key to solving all our problems, even poverty.

Education for All is based around a book-mobile. Most impoverished children in the world have never even see a book. The system has storage for books, didactic materials, and lesson plans. It can be transported by a truck, motorcycle or even a helicopter to the most remote regions. It is made in fiber glass which doubles as a wonderful white board to conduct lessons with.

Huge thank you to our sponsors who all jumped in to help make this contest a success. We thank you so very much for donating your time and for rewarding our winners with such awesome gifts.

Sponsors: Herman Miller, Steelcase, Haworth, Pure Digital


  • Trebel says:

    I would like to say to all the persons that left a comment stating that poverty could never be solved by design, Take a look at the designs and ask yourself why not. Also take a look at yourself and ask yourself how can i be a better designer, one that can not only design a product to make money off of, but challenge my mind to create an idea or concept that could help others. It is our responseability as designers to push the boundries of “what if” and “why not” until the objective is solved. Thank you Yanko design for making us re-think what is possible and give new hope to designers that we may be able to indeed change the world.

    • Nicolas Caitan says:

      Poverty IS NOT solved by design. I am not saying that these are not original ideas, but you are not solving anything. For instance, you are not giving hope nor dignity to homeless by giving them a garbage sleeping bag. You are hiding the problem by hiding homeless in tents (H20ME)… Come in a third world country to see how they are collecting rain water and how they don’t need cool and nice bottles to do it. One thing you can be proud of is that with these designs you are bringing glamour to multi-faceted needs and multi-faceted problematic. Poverty is not and will never be cool. Get a little bit serious, please.

      • Noah says:

        I think that you should be less serious. Often times, a solution could be one simple innefective thing that leads to an inspiration that could spark a revolution. It’s a slim chance, but it could happen, so don’t put these designs down so much would you?

        • Nicolas Caitan says:

          I don’t know what you think but poverty is a SERIOUS problem. Some of the ideas are missing this point, a Trash Sleeping Bag sounds ridicoulus to me. Poor people are already spleeping in the trash, it only makes poor people look cool to us. This ideas aren’t the revolution we need. But I don`t want to get political. But yes poverty is a political issue not a design issue.

          • Nowwer says:

            I agree with you about the sleeping bag… I’m guessing that one was never meant to leave the drwing board…

            But come on, at least they’re trying to find somthing that might work.

          • Alfredo Reyes says:

            I agree with Nicolas, the raindrop projects looks cool, but in latinamerica we found a way to store rainwater that´s a thousend times more efficient, can you imagine how many bottles do you need to store water for a family with 5 members, consuming 20 liters/person/day, and storing water for 200 days(dry season), come on, nice but unesuefull.

      • maria says:

        I agree with nicholas, it’s like you were teaching them that it’s ok to be poor forever.Well its not ok. Why not give a program for them on how you will fight poverty. Because there’s always hope for every human being….

    • nishita gill says:

      Have a few points that both of you can note-

      Poverty- have you ever tried working with street kids? do you know how difficult it is to convince them that there is a better way to lead life than the way they’re leading it? Even if you ‘educate’ them, it wouldn’t last for beyond the class-room. The problems of poverty are deep-routed & the afore mentioned are definitely not solid ways to solve them.

      Having mentioned that, each small attempt should also be noted. It atleast highlights an issue, if nothing else, bringing about awareness, which really can never be enough!

      If you really want to crack poverty, crack people’s mind first.

  • susie says:

    Wow.. the raindrop idea!! is amazing!!! Great concept! I worry about the hygene though of the bottle.. but.. still.. its good!

    • neves says:

      It’s pretty silly actually – has the designer even considered the idea of it becoming a parasitic breeding site / viral and bacterial breeding ground? Half the world is trying to solve the problems of malaria and dengue and there he/she is, creating more breeding sites for them. Especially in thirdworld / developing nations – will there even be an authority that is going to ensure QC?

      • Ignorant says:

        Wow, have you ever been in a third world country?? Then I don’t think that this concept would raise the issue of a parasite breeding ground. This would be a million times better than the water sources currently in some countries. Stop staring against a wall!!!!

  • Adam Gunderson says:

    I love the Trash Sleeping Bag! Gross but functional 🙂 I would help out any bum who is willing to do that program.

  • Rodrigo Ramos says:

    Funy how the only interesting project (Education for All) with some chances to turn real and not only to make poor people cool, is the one that did not come from rich countries.

    Travel around the world guys… See the real people, solve the real problems.

  • thule says:

    Just gross design, all of them. Those are reducing our value as a humans.. design can raise the standard of living (which these designs don´t do) but it can wipe away the poor people ever. Yeah, travel around and try to solve real problems!

  • Diana Zabala says:

    I am agree with Rodrigo Ramos…(eduation for all) is the only project that could solve in some way the poverty. if we look behond the “problem” we could look where the problem start…maybe education for all the people with out sources could be a good way to involve thousans of people to be part of the solution…

  • TonTon says:

    Poverty isn´t something that need some “stuf” to make their lives less miserable. It needs yours and mine hand, to help´em make it through this living that WE had sentenced them. Our “lifestyle” does not turn the eyes to those wich doesn´t OWN anything and ain´t got a roof to protect them. We don´t need more cars, more objects to fullfil our “needs”. We need to help anyway we can. I´m pretty sure, if you give´em something to eat and shake their hands, or a tap in the shoulder, it can be more satisfying than a sleeping bag tho.


  • Jon says:

    While these attemps are valid at designing for a better cause its begs the question about the intent and purpose, i fear that these designs are more self masturbation for the designer than solving the real problem. Homelessness is not an issue ikea can solve. It involves the process of creating awareness within the community by illustrating the problem rather than creating a design installion out of people themselves.

  • mif991 says:

    Poverty is not a design issue and neither is a political issue. They can re-distribute the wealth of the world, but people (governments too) will not control themselves to piss-away what they have. It is a mind set (I’d say it is a spiritual issue) that needs to change within each and every person. In other words, we all can choose to succeed if we plan and focus on achieving small goals at a time without making life changing decisions (like getting pregnant out of wedlock). Unfortunately the children of the 3rd. world have no hope and must do what they can to survive or else they die. No parenting = no education = no skills = poverty. Brian Cuellar should have won for he addressed the education need.

  • Atl gutter says:

    I'm glad to see so many good designs made for a good cause.

  • Dave says:

    These concepts are produced for the sake of producing concepts… I would be interested if any of the designers have tried to get any real insights in to the problems the designs are supposedly meant to solve – or if they are just based there work on assumptions of the designers

  • Alfredo says:

    Keep on dreaming and designing, people living in harsh conditions still will not give a damm if your design looks good or not. So keep up your consciuos good work!

  • zambiagirl says:

    design is there to help whoever it can. poverty is a serious problem and that’s why we as designers must do what we can to help. these people need a complete turn around in lifestyle and that’s not going to happen overnight. that doesn’t mean that every small and ‘ridiculous’ design doesn’t help in the mean time. if a trash sleeping bag keeps somebody warm at night or h2ome is providing shelter from rain for even one night, then isn’t it worth every effort to continue designing for poverty?

  • Alfredo says:

    Every cat protects its own kittens, you are a designer, I am rural developer. Ideas and projects imported from the Western with an Eurocentric/North American point of view created more problems than solutions for us.

    Want to know what to do? Ask the ones who are living the problem. I live the problem and I give you my point of view: Very nice what you do but does not solve the problem.

    Thank you!

  • Michelle says:

    I applaud the great effort & designs!! These are not solutions to these poor homeless individuals & families who are forced to live on the streets!! We should be constructing thoughts & ideas how to relieve them and place them in homes/apartment! It’s a very sad situation here in the United States let alone countries that are poverty stricken!!

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