Design: the Arch-nemesis of All Problems?

“Designers are natural innovators with the ability to creatively problem-solve.” — (The Design Experience; Cooper & Press, 2003, p.195)

Research has shown clear links between design and innovative solutions. Statements like “design is problem solving” have become popular as understanding around this multi-disciplined field grows. In the Caribbean, however, we’re still battling with educating the public of design’s role beyond “the art of prettifying” and personally subjective popularity contests.

While the “form” of design has often been valued in the Caribbean, the “function” of design hasn’t always been recognised, far less documented. A focus on problem-solving redirects the conversation to design’s function. To distance design from either its functional and solution-providing attributes or its attractive, beautiful or art-based aesthetic could hinder the evolution of Caribbean design. We need an understanding and appreciation of design in both capacities.

What better place to start than with the future champions of design? I was recently invited by architect and design educator, Michael Lee Poy, to host a final project for the year 2 students of the UWI’s integrated design programme. I took the opportunity to explore the possibilities for design in Caribbean problem solving. I played the role of design consultant and mentor; the students, the client teams and designers. Together, we defined, then ideated; they drafted prototypes and built solutions in various design disciplines. At their final critique, we analysed their work for both form and function.

Social/cultural (So), environmental (E), governmental and personal (P) problems identified by students.

The students were tasked with identifying local/Caribbean challenges in four areas:

Social & Cultural | Environmental | Governmental | Personal

They identified all kinds of annoyances and grievances, from burning trash and forest fires to crowds at City Gate (bus terminal) to wet feet in the rainy season. Together, we brainstormed multidisciplinary design approaches and applications that they could develop to collaboratively address the challenges (graphic design, industrial design, process design, interior design, fashion design, user experience design, etc.). My hope was that they would learn to apply both design thinking and practice to the creation of empathetic solutions.

Below is a quick overview of some of their solutions.

Chair for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Problem: Exorbitantly expensive or locally unavailable furniture for differently abled children.

Inspired by the needs of Camille Parris’ younger brother, Camille and Jerrell Riley teamed up to create a seating solution, brand and ordering catalogue for low cost, customisable and adjustable chairs for children with cerebral palsy. Working with children from a special-needs school in Rio Claro, Camille designed a child-friendly and adjustable chair to be used under adult supervision. Designed to relieve stress on the child’s back, the chair, according to Camille, “keeps the child in a seated position, yet encourages movement of the head, legs and arms…”.

The chair was so popular that Camille had requests from 3 other parents of children with cerebral palsy. She intends to further develop and modify her design solution to meet the needs of parents and children.

Camille and Jerrell teamed up to create a seating solution, brand and ordering catalogue for customisable chairs for children with cerebral palsy


Problem: Rainwear for Caribbean weather and lifestyle

NB: Layers not practical for high temperatures; social derision for those who wear rain boots or raincoats.

Design students, Jade Bridgemohan, Anna Power and Amaara White combined fashion, interior and graphic design to create a Caribbean rain-wear brand called Bequia, which means island in the clouds. Brand identity, an online store and droplet-themed boutique shop were designed, along with an outfit. Bequia focussed on bio-mimicry inspired waterproofing for light and breathable fabrics to be used in designed clothes and detachable, rain-ready, accessories for young, Caribbean working women.

Design students, Jade, Anna and Amaara combined fashion, interior and graphic design to create a Caribbean, everyday wear yet rain-ready, fashion retail brand called Bequia.

Good Dog

Problem: Domestic animal neglect and pet care ignorance

Alejandro Ali and Shayna Karim designed a pet care brand, Do-it-Yourself Kit and care subscription service for dog owners, with considerations for the the size/breed of dog. The kit featured dog food, soaps, shampoos, treatments and other care products; printed materials to educate owners; pre-cut building materials to assemble a kennel; a line of products to provide easy, convenient and dog-friendly solutions; along with activities/crafts to encourage love and play between owners and “their furry companions”.

Alejandro Ali and Shayna Karim teamed up to develop Good Dog: a branded Do-it-Yourself Kit and subcription service for dog owners.

Other solutions from the students included an empathetic and inclusive approach to signage and traffic flow at Port of Spain’s City Gate terminal; a domestic wind turbine and solar power generator; a plastic recycling brand; recycled/repurposed plastic products and a solar powered, power generating hiking bag and flashlight for digital-age hikers.

To say that design is the archnemesis of all problems is an exaggeration of the relationship between design and problem-solving. To say that design is problem-solving may not be quite accurate either. Design does not have a monopoly on problem solving and a design approach is not the only effective approach. Perhaps a better articulation of that relationship and the core nature of design is that, in part, design is the mind looking for solutions.

“Design’ is what links creativity and innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.” — (Sir George Cox)

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