How do you build, promote and tell the story of your new product?
- Ensure you utilise analogue and digital craft to explore the production requirements of your artefact.
- At this stage we only require a prototype, a one-page outline or short video of next steps, and even production partners to support any future development. Please remember, prototyping exists to demonstrate the potential and functionality of your output – there are a number of methods / software tools to help make shortcuts so you can give a sense of the bigger picture.
- This is about expediency, fast iteration, testing and development to help an audience or business partner to see the potential of your proposition.
- This could potentially be picked up again in your final MA project.
Other designers that inspired me
Primary market research
Secondary market research
No one knows exactly how many of them perish at sea. So many valuable lives are left unreported and forgotten, like grains of sand being carried by deceptively forceful waves, retreating into the deep. On this occasion, a six-month-old baby (Reuters, 11 September 2015) washed up on the shore, having been crammed onto a ramshackle boat by smugglers with his mother and father –
a blow-up dingy, 7 metres long, groaning and straining under the weight of 500 passengers, none of whom knew how to swim; some of whom have never seen the sea. No protective clothing, life jackets or aid for help. Just 500 people, built the same as you and me, setting out on a voyage with1827 kilometres of vast ocean and at the very least, 3 days of travelling in front of them. A voyage which a record 181,000 people undertook last year, fleeing war, poverty, and destitution from all over Africa.
You give the smugglers everything you have, every last penny to your name, your home, your possessions so that they will steal you away in the night, taking you away from the life inflicted to what you believe will be a life deserved, including in the very least, basics, like clean running water, food, safety and somewhere to call home. The potential gains are great, but so are the risks, and, in the smugglers’ hands, it is a lottery on which side the dice will fall.
However, this is not a political project but a humanitarian one. If you saw 500 people who cannot swim, clinging on to a deflated raft in the middle of the ocean, what would you do? You would save them. Or you would at least try.
LifeShine is a solar powered smart GPS tool that gives migrants boarding boats visibility and a way of calling for help if the need arises. It is a way of lighting up the black sea at night; it is a small beam of hope on a potentially deadly journey across unpredictable oceans, between hostile shores.
LifeShine is a social business scheme: when an outdoors enthusiast buys a LifeShine in Europe, they donate at least one to a migrant who is boarding one of these boats. Even just one LifeShine per boat could save 500 people’s lives.
I began with the idea of creating a kind on walkie talkie with a light that could send the GPS coordinates to an emergency service if something went wrong whilst the migrants were en route. I am now realising that a walkie talkie function might not be feasible or necessary. If the migrants are in an emergency situation, they might not have time to make a call and I am not sure how well the walkie talkie function is going to operate in the middle of the ocean.
Having thought a little further, I think that a GPS function or flare light (fully powered by solar panels), capable of immediate activation in an emergency, could be a fare more useful device.
I have researched personal GPS trackers that you can use to summon help straight away if you are at sea or hiking in the mountains and you run into trouble.
One problem is that these GPS trackers cost around £300 and you have to register them before you can use them. They are also quite complicated to use.
Ideally, I would develop a product that would be desirable to outdoor enthusiasts, increasing the chance of success in my scheme of giving one device to migrants per every ‘ordinary’ sale. My design priority is however will be the needs of the migrants, with any tweaks to this for general sale being ‘reductive’, so not difficult or expensive to achieve.
A solar powered GPS unit with light. The GPS does not send a GPS signal unless you click the ‘send’ button. This way the migrants do not feel tracked. As they will be aware, they are participating in what is widely classified / perceived as illegal activity, it is important to exclude anything that might be a deterrent, in their eyes, to its use.
I have chosen to make this tool completely solar powered. This is mainly because I know that migrants might struggle to gain access to batteries or sources of electrical charge. Additionally, it will serve to promote the use of renewable energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, as a way of preventing further damage to our environment.
Libya is close to the Equator and has about 13 hours of sunlight daily especially in the summer. This is a perfect environment in which to charge solar panels.
The LifeShine will be comprised of 4 different constituent elements: a strong torch light, navigational buttons, an emergency GPS coordinate tracker, and a solar panel for charge of the device.
I have chosen these components because, according the research I have carried out, the migrants cannot communicate their need for help when they run into grave danger such as a rupture in the side of their boat, engine failure or the onset of threatening weather conditions. It is rare that the people on board these boats can swim, so a sinking boat usually equates to loss of life. With a LifeShine they will be able to push an SOS button, which will send a signal, based on geographical coordinates, to the emergency services closest to them who can then arrange help. The torch will be a reassuring and helpful light in the dark but also means they can light themselves up if they are trying to signal to an emergency services rescue boat.
A lanyard will allow the LifeShine tool to be ‘carried’ on board, when hands will need to be free. The tool is small enough to be kept under clothes to avoid any possibility the smugglers raise objections to their taking it onboard.
I have developed an initial prototype, which I am pleased with in terms of functionality, but which will require further development. The prototype will need thorough testing to ensure the ergonomics and aesthetics support the function of the tool. I will need to make sure its constituents will be durable and not perish in extreme situations or with exposure to saltwater. This will require extensive material and design testing. I would also like to attach a lanyard to the tool so that people can wear it around their necks.
The functionalities of the LifeShine tool are as follows. Firstly, and most importantly, the device is solar powered, to ensure longevity on the journey. On one side of the tool there will be solar panels that should face outwards for maximum exposure to the sun. Secondly, the device will be entirely waterproof: a thin plastic casing will protect it against penetration by salt water or sea spray. Thirdly, the tool incorporates an S.O.S button under a flap of plastic, which is important for two reasons: so it is protected from the weather and from damaged; and so the migrants will not worry it will be pressed by accident, summoning rescue services when they do not feel they are in immediate danger. It is important that they know it is there but do not feel pressured to use it. I do not want there to be any deterrent to their taking the device with them to sea. The S.O.S button will send the exact coordinates to the nearest emergency sea rescue service who can use them to quickly dispatch / provide help / rescue. The final feature of the tool is a torch that can offer different levels of illumination, but, most importantly, in an emergency situation, a very bright ‘signalling’ light.
Having done a careful market study of a variety of different solar powered emergency flashlights, I have discovered that the best maximum level of light that you can achieve is 500 Lumen. This level of light could be held for between 4 to 7 hours with a built-in 2000 mAh battery that can be charged using solar power. It is water resistant, shock resistant and weather resistant. It also has a built-in chip that detects overcharge, over output, overcurrent or short circuit, protecting it from burn out when exposed to direct sunlight for long periods. From my research, if it is a clear night at sea, a ship might be able to see a flashlight up to 12 miles away, helping emergency / rescue vessels to find their way to migrant boats at a distance.
Limiting Factor: If it is foggy or rainy, this will drastically reduce the distance from which the emergency boats will be able to see the light. However, in these conditions, the more people that have a LifeShine tool, the more chance there is of being seen. The S.0.S function could also help in these situations.
This feature will allow migrants to press a button that will send their coordinates instantly to the closest rescue service, ensuring the prompt arrival of an appropriately equipped team. There are a handful of these in the shops, so I know it is a function with precedent. The innovative thing about this GPS is that it is run by solar panels which I have not seen on the market. If this works, it could mean the difference between the life and death of as many as 500 people, which can be the number of people on board a migrant boat.
Limiting factor: My researches have revealed that many of the handheld GPS systems on the current market involve signing up to a website. You put in your emergency contacts, your name, if you have any health problems etc. This means that when the emergency team arrives on the scene, they already have a base of information about you so that they can deal with the situation more effectively. Knowing this system is not appropriate in this situation, I will set up a website that I will register all the devices that are distributed to migrants as ‘Migrant Boat’, allowing the emergency services to know what type of rescue service will be needed, even if the specifics cannot be supplied.
From my research into solar panels, there are, in general, a range of devices on the market that are powered by solar panels. For example, you can buy beach parasols with solar panels on top so that they can charge your phone and / or light up at night. The latest development is using solar panels on a large scale in the ocean, the first floating solar panel having been developed in the Netherlands in 2019. This shows that solar panels are well adapted to saltwater and oceanic environments and obviously there is exposure to direct, unmediated sunlight on the ocean so they should effectively charge.
Limiting factor: I need to ensure the solar panels incorporated are of sufficient size to allow the device to charge and conserve the energy needed for the operation of all its functions. Having researched solar charged tools of a similar size, I am fairly confident my own small solar panels will work effectively; however, confirmation will rely on extensive pre-production testing.
I will have to use plastic to create this tool – although, given the potential environmental consequences, this goes against principle. As I am unlikely to have any control over whether or not my devices are recycled after their use (life expectancy of my tool is around 15 years), I want to be sure that I am using recycled plastic in order to make the tool. Rethinking the way in which we use plastic as consumers and how we produce plastic as manufacturers is integral to how we move forward globally to help save our environment
We need to work together so that materials can re-enter the circular economy, being continually reused and recycled as opposed to ending up in landfill or insinuating their way into natural and oceanic ecosystems. I want to make sure my design accords with this responsibility.
It would be hugely important for the product to undergo thorough testing to ensure it was durable and would work without fail. It would be inexcusable for a tool that could save a life at a point of desperation, to fail because it had, for example, become waterlogged or the salt reacting with the solar panel had meant it failed to charge meaning it couldn’t charge.
There are many different associations and charities involved with this terrible and constantly deteriorating humanitarian crisis. For this project I have looked into a couple of different charities operating in Libya that I think might be interested in partnering with me on the logistical front. I need people on the ground in beaches and ports in Libya from where the ramshackle smugglers boats depart laden with human cargo – ensuring the Lifeshine is distributed into the right hands. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are probably the largest organisation with a lot of resources and an influential voice. The downside of approaching such a large organisation might be an unwillingness, at least initially, to become involved with a project like mine; it might make more sense to make contact once I have got the project up and running and when they can see that it is working effectively. https://www.unhcr.org/libya.html
SOS Mediterranee might be my best bet as they are a French charity. As I am based in France, I would be able to communicate with them in French and English. They operate large ships which circulate with the purpose of picking up migrants when they run into trouble. I feel most positive about communicating with this charity as they seem to take a more hands-on approach – being based in Libya and offering whatever help they can. https://www.sosmediterranee.org
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is another organisation that specialises in providing vital health and protection to vulnerable and displaced Libyans. They say that they are ‘directly supporting people inside Libya’ https://www.rescue.org/country/libya , which suggests that they might be willing to test my concept if I approached them. I will aim to investigate these possibilities further in the next stage of this project.
For a number of reasons, I would like to try and source a factory in Africa, but ideally in Libya, to produce the tools. I would like to support the local economy as much as possible, creating work for people and, further, work that would be consequential for them. I am inspired by the work of a Norwegian plastic recycling company in Libya called Empower: employees collect plastic and in return are given tokens; the tokens collected can either be traded in for money, donated to a charity or cause, or used to pay for a beach clean-up. The plastic collected then gets recycled into new products. I want to source a factory that uses this recycled plastic to turn into new products. If this is too ambitious, I want to make sure that my product is made sustainably and with some form of recycled plastic.
The technical character of my product might mean certain parts have to be made in different factories (e.g. the solar panels and the GPS within the device); and components might have to be assembled in another factory again. Where at all possible, however, I would aspire to use local workers and producers.
Limiting factor: I have noticed that almost every GPS or and Solar Panel devise I research is make in China. They all claim this is because production is much cheaper and more efficient in China that in Africa or Europe. I would like to try and find a way around this if I can.
When entering into production, thinking about lead-times are crucial to the smooth running of a business. If lead-times are longer than expected for one single component, you could miss your production slot, pushing delivery of product back by months and potentially losing a 50% upfront cost payment. Being meticulously organised is crucial when it comes to bringing any project together but especially when you are working with manufacturers and suppliers. I must bear this is mind when moving to the next stage of this project.
The logistics of this project are challenging. I want to sell the same project in Europe as I want to donate to the migrants in Libya. A number of companies have operated similar schemes before – for example, Little Sun and Toms shoes – so I feel confident it can be achieved. I might have to have two methods of production so that I can save expensive and non-environmentally friendly transport costs; or at least perhaps two assembly factories so I would have to send components to just these two points, with assembly taking place closer to target market. I also need to make sure that the price point of the tool for people buying the product in Europe is going to cover the costs for at least two devices, meaning the purchase of one facilitates donation of a second. I am aiming to donate at least one per boat, but more would be preferable.
Limiting factors: I am only one person and I cannot be in two places at once. I cannot be standing on the beach in Libya handing out LifeShine while also in the UK marketing the tool to a completely different group of people. I need to think carefully about how to organise and structure a team so that this business can function with maximum efficiency.
Social Businesses vs Charities
Life Shine is not a charity and for this reason I will not be able to donate the devices without finding a way to fund production and provide salaries for the people who work for me. I will try and keep these costs at a minimum, but I believe people should be paid a fair wage for the work that they do on principle. While a social business has the objective of effecting social change, it is still a business and in order to keep functioning they have to make money which they use to put back into the business and pay those involved. A charity is a completely different set-up and relies upon fundraising or voluntary donation.
I would like to target the LifeShine at outdoors enthusiasts, hoping it will be stocked in every outdoors, hiking, boating, biking, sky diving and skiing shop in Europe. This tool can be used for anyone who is partaking in a potentially dangerous activity where they could be left miles away from help and in serious trouble. It is for that person who goes hiking and falls and breaks their leg: they can just press the S.O.S button and the emergency services will be notified. It could be for a skydiver who lands in a tree, miles away from the designated drop zone. The tool could also be marketed as a useful tool for an older age group – for example, an elderly person who takes their dog for a walk each evening alone and has no way of getting help if they fall or run into difficulty. No need to use fiddly batteries, they can just be placed on their windowsill to charge. This is a perfect little lifeline gadget that everyone should have when doing potentially dangerous activities alone and / or miles in situations where they are beyond help. It is important that the packaging reflects this, insofar as it should be natural and ecologically sound, involving easily recycle card as opposed to plastic.
I want people to know why they should buy my product over another GPS – as a practical tool that can help them while giving assistance to others; potentially saving their life and 500 other people’s lives in turn. I want to make it clear that it is not a political product but a humanitarian one aimed simply at saving lives, without consideration for background, country of origin, nationality or the legality or otherwise of their mission or means of travel.
I would like to price my GPS light at £150. This is a reasonable for a tool of this type; other, similar products on the market can be up to 3 times the price. I do not want to price it any lower for two primary reasons. Firstly, I want people to feel confident of its quality and reliability; when it comes to lifesaving, trust in dependability is key. Secondly, given lives are at stake, expense should rightly be assumed to be secondary – a principle that can be extended in terms of prompting thought for those who will benefit from purchase beyond the consumer themself. A price of £150 would mean that I would be able to donate at least one Lifeshine for each one that is bought. I would have to do an extensive costing and research plan as well as a budget forecast to figure out exactly how many Lifeshines I could give away for this sum, taking into account business costs. This something I will do at the next stage of this project.
I have been deeply affected by the research I have carried out while conceiving and developing the LifeShine tool. I have cried whilst watching devastating videos of migrants being saved from wholly inadequate vessels; leading me to constantly think about ways it might be possible to help – mulling this over whilst I run, clean my teeth and sit in the office working. To me the project is simple: people are dying, and I know that my concept could potentially save them. The detailed logistics of the project are more challenging, but I firmly believe it is possible to work through them, as entrepreneurs have often overcome much more testing obstacles in relation to practicalities of producing, marketing and distributing their products. I really would like to continue this project in the next module as I feel that there is so much more that I could achieve in terms of further research and development. I am overwhelmed with emotion and excitement for what the future holds for LifeShine.
What is Next? Manufacturing and Partners