Stirring Appetites in Design: A User Centered Product Design Approach to Improve Environmental Health in Remote Indigenous Communities in Australia

By Christian Rainer-Maria Tietz.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

A case study uncovering the impact of use patterns of electric domestic indoor cook stoves leading to a user centered product design approach towards improving nutrition in Australian Indigenous Communities.
This paper describes the research methods used to identify and uncover patterns of electric domestic indoor cook stove use and the resulting stove life expectancy in remote Indigenous communities. It highlights in detail user interactions with the appliances and identifies use, user and design assumptions being made when designing, specifying, ordering and installing mainstream appliances into non-mainstream environments. The level of infrastructure quality and maintenance & repair support play an important role in influencing the performance delivery and lifespan of the product, in at times unexpected ways.
The relationship and interplay between use, environment and product performance is presented as a vital, important consideration in the design process. The discrepancy of expected versus actual product performance can in these cases have a direct impact on the users lifestyle and health that might not be apparent in a more conventional urban domestic setting. Currently this results in a 17 year gap in life expectancy between the average Australian and the Indigenous population (Dart 2008). This highlights the important role design can play in the delivery of improved environmental heath outcomes, in this case improving nutrition. The more remote the location, the more mission critical the design becomes in supporting a healthy lifestyle.

Keywords: User Centered Product Design, Use Patterns, Indigenous Environmental Health, Design Led Field Research, Cross Cultural Design, Niche Markets

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.105-120. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 7.292MB).

Christian Rainer-Maria Tietz

Lecturer, Industrial Design Program, School of Engineering, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Being German, part of the lure about Australia for me was the desert, as my life was exclusively urban before I arrived here in 1986. Appliances and other products for the home are mainly designed for urban use, where the performance spec’s are a relatively narrow and well known band. For a product to deliver its primary function successfully outside this maintenance, supply and service rich environment and to support health the criteria are much more demanding and critical. (military spec’s not consumer spec’s come to mind) Yet malfunction and low durability of products is, in my experience, often still blamed on the user/s in those environments, when in fact inadequate design is often the reason. Health is existential and product design can make a significant contribution towards improving living conditions and creating healthier home environments by providing health hardware designed to perform reliably and repeatedly in non-urban, maintenance poor, multi user environments.


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