Designing Juice Box: Behind the Scenes
One of our goals in designing Juice Box was to try to show a positive impact on the largest number of people possible. Since the majority of the population who does not have access to electricity resides in rural areas, each with their own natural resources and constraints, our challenge was to design a solution that would be relevant regardless of the context in which it would be used. The design principles we centered on were:
- Context-independent: Applicable to natural resource and situational variations across target populations
- Human-centered: Respectful of human capacity for ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and sharing; supportive of informational needs and aspirational goals
- Extensively applicable (multi-use): Inclusive of all possible energy input sources and electrical output uses
To get at this universal applicability, we took a step back. We looked at the overall process of what it takes to acquire and use electricity in off-grid situations. In our research, we had encountered many examples of people using electricity off-grid, from pico-hydropower units in rivers in Laos to solar panels installed in the sunny planes of Tanzania, to car batteries in outskirts of urban areas in India. So, we asked ourselves the question: What do all those examples have in common? If we could understand the commonality in the phases and steps, it would point us in the direction of design solutions which could have far-reaching impact.
We settled on the three main phases of off-grid energy use:
- Capture and acquisition is when energy is harvested from the natural environment or natural resources (wind, solar, water) but it may also be when energy is procured from other man-made sources (like car batteries or diesel engines). This phase may even include acquisition from the grid itself – often people work in areas with grid power, but live miles away where they do not have access to the grid. Another source for capture is kinetic, which is the energy available in the movement all around us and even created by us.
- Storage and transport is when captured energy is brought into the home and stored it for later use. While the first phase is about the variability of sources, the second phase is about delivering energy where people need it and ensuring that they don’t run out when they need it most.
- Use and impact focuses on providing a platform which would give people the choice to use the system in ways that are important to them without being too prescriptive – whether they wanted to charge cell phones to generate income or turn on the TV to learn a new language and gain better employment.
Our design decisions
In our conversation with energy experts and energy end users, we learned that charging cell phones provides universal value in the developing world; cell phones link families together, offer security in unsafe situations, and provide access to timely market data. Juice Box features multiple USB ports to support the continuous need to charge cellphones, even offering a business model to those who might want to rent out charges. The growing ecosystem of USB powered devices, like a fan for ventilation for example, also can take advantage of the USB ports. At the same time, it was important to be able to power legacy devices like refrigerators via 12V output.
And while we wanted to create a system that was flexible and not prescriptive, another element that we identified as a must was the detachable LED light. Light has such a long-term, positive social impact as it can improve health, productivity, and education while providing safety in emergency situations, that we decided to include it as part of the core product.
The physical form of the product follows the overall process of off-grid energy use. The clear representation of input and output on the two distinct sides of the Juice Box makes it safer to use but also more intuitive to learn.
By elevating, or abstracting, the process of off-grid energy use from the scenarios we were designing for, we were able to create a system solution, which was “open” in the most meaningful ways. The openness meant that Juice Box would be universally relevant in a greater number of contexts and also would leverage the technical creativity and resourcefulness we see in communities regardless of continent or country.
Through our intensive design approach, we completely immersed ourselves and went from ideation to model delivery to tackle a global problem of huge proportions and deliver a thought-provoking new energy solution.
We hope to find the resources to continue to evolve the concept into a prototype and product that can not only showcase 21st century design innovation but make a real difference in people’s lives.