The Overlap
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The Overlap

Launching the world’s most affordable solar-powered light

In July 2015 the design-innovation team I built and led at d.light, a Stanford born global social impact enterprise, launched the game-changing A1 Solar Lantern. To date the most affordable high quality solar-powered lantern in the world, the d.light A1 allows virtually everyone to afford free & safe electric light.

While visiting Kenya in July 2015 U.S. President Obama experiences the d.light A1 and converses with d.light Co-Founder Sam Goldman. (Reuters)

During his recent visit to Kenya U.S. President Obama visited the d.light exhibition at the Entrepreneur Summit in Nairobi, experiencing the simple yet deep power of the d.light A1 Solar Lantern first hand. Seeing & feeling President Obama’s excitement for the A1 Solar Lantern was one of the personal highlights of my professional career so far. Only the tremendous joy I have seen in the eyes of women, men & children when making use of a product like the A1 Solar Lantern for the first time has excited me more.

2 billion people in the world live without power

Today, about 2 billion people in the world live without access to reliable energy. For most of them their only light source are lamps using kerosene, which not only burdens users & their families with a high and recurring financial cost, it also has tremendous health risks due to its toxic fumes and inflammability.

In 2006 Stanford alumni of the Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability program Sam Goldman and Ned Tozun set out to eradicate the need for kerosene as a light source forever by founding d.light, a global social impact enterprise delivering affordable solar-powered solutions designed for the people in the developing world without access to reliable energy.

A family in East Africa experiences the A1 Solar Lantern for the first time.

In 2008 d.light launched its first commercial solar-powered lighting product, the d.light Nova solar-powered lantern — bringing safe, bright, clean light to people around the globe. But the Nova did not stop there. In addition the solar lantern stored enough solar energy to provide its users with the ability to charge their mobile phones.

This ground-breaking product has since become an icon of the ever-growing solar-powered lighting and energy revolution Jeremy Rifkin aptly described in his book The Third Industrial Revolution. The Nova has made it into influential publications such as the wonderful book A History of the World in 100 Objects by the British Museum’s director Neil MacGregor. The book masterfully describes the world and human condition by exploring 100 exemplary physical objects of impact. MacGregor and his team chose the d.light Nova as their 100th object — a hopeful outlook into a brighter future for the world, powered by the sun.

Human-centered innovation by Design

An example of one of many prototyping sessions & cycles, leading to functional ‘learning devices’ for user research in East Africa.

Since launching their first product d.light has sold over ten million solar light and energy products in over 60 countries, improving the lives of over 50 million people. The company is committed to reaching 100 million people by 2020.

In early 2014 I was honored to join the d.light executive team as VP Global Design with the task to build an in-house human-centered design innovation group, to develop a next generation product line by integrating brand, product and service development practices into a coherent & consistent capability at scale.

Impressions from User Research, using early prototypes to learn from & with customers in India.

A little more than a year later d.light launched the game-changing d.light A1 Solar Lantern, stemming directly from the product pipeline the design innovation group built during my tenure. Radically simple to use, of high material quality, and ultra affordable the no-maintenance, water, heat and impact resistant product competes directly with the recurring cost of kerosene — by retailing at only $5 USD.

Bringing an ultra affordable yet high-quality solar-powered light to virtually everyone in the world in less than 18 months was not an easy journey, and would not have been possible without the amazing collaboration, dedication and hard work of the entire d.light team working 24/7 in East Africa, South Asia, China and the US. I also want to mention the tremendous support of d.light’s investors, the close partnership with during the value-centered product design and business modeling process, and last but not least the numerous families in East Africa and South Asia who invited the team into their homes to learn from and with them.

A student in East Africa uses the A1 Solar Lantern as a study light, now being able to use evening hours for learning.

Towards a brighter future

British Museum director Neil MacGregor closes his aforementioned 700-page book with a wonderful rational why he and his team chose a solar-powered lamp to sum up the world’s history in 2010 — he writes: “How should this history of the world end? What single object can possibly sum up the world in 2010, embody the concerns and aspirations of humanity, speak of universal experience and at the same time be of practical, material importance to a great many of us in the world now? […] So, for our 100th object we haven chosen a generator of electricity that could give the 1.6 billion people without access to an electrical grid, the power they need to join this global conversation. But it does much more. It gives them a quite new level of control over their environment and could transform the way in which they can live.”

MacGregor’s statement from 2010 has lost nothing of it’s power in 2015, reminding us all: We are still experiencing the infancy of an inevitable global energy revolution, which will continue to be scary for some, and exhilarating for others!

You can support d.light’s mission by buying an A1 (or two) for $10 on Amazon.

Onward towards a brighter future for us all,

Alexander Baumgardt
August 2015

About me

I am an award-winning design leader, interaction designer, and educator with over fifteen years of experience in creating integrated brand, product, and service experiences — ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Heavily influenced by systems thinking & design I have built up a unique & diverse portfolio of human-centered design work — often blurring the lines between physical & digital product.

A MetaDesign & Method alum, I had the opportunity to lead projects for renowned brands such as Audi, Adobe, Bombardier, Bosch, d.light, Deutsche Telekom, General Electric, Samsung, Silicon Valley Bank, Salesforce, and Volkswagen.

Next to my professional practice I serve as an Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco since 2013, where I teach Experience Design & Social Innovation in both the pioneering Interaction Design (BFA/MDes) and Design Strategy (MBA) programs.

Learn more about me on Linkedin


Book references & quotes

A history of the World in 100 Objects, Neil Mac Gregor
Viking Penguin, 2010

The Third Industrial Revolution, Jeremy Rifkin
St. Martin’s Press, 2011

Photo & video credits