Author: Kara Pecknold
I was invited to participate in a sustainable development project with a cooperative of weavers in Rwanda. These weavers were extracting an invasive plant (the water hyacinth) and transforming it into a weaving fiber in order to reduce the negative impacts to nearby lakes. With this material, they created a variety of handicrafts that could be sold to supplement incomes. My objective as designer was to develop a website that could encourage awareness and thereby improve economic development for this cooperative. Because they lacked computers and Internet connection, I was perplexed as to how the website might be beneficial.
How did the Design create new opportunities?
I aimed to address the need for market presence by creating a logo that could help these women identify their unique work in their immediate markets (with hopes that this could eventually expand to broader markets in the future). I also wanted to explore how a designer could facilitate dialogue and collaboration in the design process when a shared verbal language or assumed technologies were not present.
How was the Design collaborative or co-productive?
To achieve this, I engaged in a co-design session with a group of ten women who were invited to illustrate their ideas about how to visualize their business. To initiate the session, we talked about branding and the value it can create over time. A variety of illustrations emerged but we all agreed that the water hyacinth was the material that set their work apart from others. Once the drawings had been produced and the concept decided on, I converted the illustration into a vector graphic and had it made into a rubber stamp so all their products could be identified when participating in local trade fairs and exhibitions. As the website was part of my original design brief, I used the logo on this outcome as well.
How was the Design unique to the African state/country in which it was implemented?
Many weaving cooperatives exist in Rwanda and East Africa but these women are unique in that they are seeking to take an environmental problem and turn it into an economic opportunity. While I am not present to the current activities in this community, I do know that they continue with their work and have identified their products by using the co-designed logo.
The views expressed in this article are entirely the views of the author or authors and are not necessarily those of DWA or its associates.