Dr. Kenneth A. Pickar

Visiting Professor of Mechanical Engineering

E105: Product Design for the Developing World

E/ME 105 Product Design has evolved over the past 2 years to focus on products appropriate for the developing world. The class combines lectures on product design methodologies combined with a special emphasis on the cultural context of the target customers- the one billion people who subsist on less than $1/day. The students not only study the standard issues of product design- market, manufacturability, cost, usability, safety, environment etc- but are also engaged in understanding how the product can be made sustainable.  In this context, the productivity gain to the user must be high and the cost must be so low that a small business can be created to quickly repay the user for the cost of the product and to drive future sales.  An outside guest lecture series is held in parallel to the class through the auspices of the Caltech Chapter of “Engineers for a Sustainable World” (ESW). This transition in focus was enabled through the active participation of ESW in curricula design, by the assistance of members of the Guatemalan Community in Los Angeles, particularly Mario Blanco, Director of the Process Simulation and Design Collaboration (PSDC) of the Materials and Process Simulations Center in the Beckman Institute at Caltech, Luz Marina Delgado, Gabriel Biguria, CEO of AmigoLatino.com, and Erick Solares, an attorney with the California Department of Transportation. We have also had the participation of students from the Art Center College of Design through the mentorship of Tony Luna. 

It has been long-established that a major component for success in product design is a close contact with the intended customer. This is true even when the designer and the customer share a common culture and are close together physically. A major challenge thus arises from the distance of the locations we are trying to serve from Pasadena and the formidable cultural differences. Last year we simplified the problem to some extent by concentrating on rural Guatemala and using intermediaries with experience in this area.  The consensus was that the class benefited from this focus, especially since some students had some familiarity with the region and the mentors were extremely helpful in vetting the ideas that the students generated. It has always been recognized, however, that direct in-country contacts would improve the interaction and enhance the learning experience. Although we attempted to set up these contacts, we were adversely affected by our own inexperience and by Tropical Storm Stan and the resulting floods and landslides which devastated the country. Given the difficulty in understanding the cultural context, we concluded that it is imperative to have some in-country contacts that can work with the Caltech students. We have redoubled our efforts to forge these relationships. Thanks to the help of Dr Blanco and Luz Marina Delgado, we have been fortunate to have made contact with Professor Charles MacVean and others at Rafael Landívar University, (http://www.url.edu.gt) in Guatemala. With their help over this summer, we have laid the groundwork for product design teams comprised not only of Caltech students but also students from the Rafael Landívar’a schools of Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture. It is our belief that this will dramatically improve both the quality of the educational experience of the involved students and also the quality of the products they produce

Course History

Contact Information:

Instructor: Ken Pickar, x4185
Jeff Kranski