Tech-Powered Education

Can Dual Purpose Design Transform How We Learn?

PSFK Labs iQ Content Partner

Education materials, from books to desks, are increasingly designed for versatile, multi-modal learning experiences that can extend beyond classroom walls into students lives. 

Creative communications agency DDB New York partnered with charity WATERisLIFE to create ‘The Drinkable Book.’ It teaches safe water habits while acting as a means of killing waterborne diseases.

Made from a newly developed paper invented by chemist Dr. Theresa Dankovich, each page of the book acts like a high tech filter. Coated with silver nanoparticles, the pages kill the microbes and bacteria that lead to diseases such as cholera and typhoid. The filter can kill up to 99.9% of bacteria in the water, bringing the purity of water on par with U.S. tap water.

The book comes in convenient, easy-to-use packaging. The 3D printed box doubles as a case to hold each filter and all the writing is in safe-to-ingest food grade ink. When readers are ready to use the paper, they simply tear the perforated pages, insert it into the case and pour.

The water that comes out is perfectly safe to drink.

Each page has two filters, which can be used for 30 days each. This means one 24-page Drinkable Book has enough filters to provide clean water to a person in need for up to 4 years. In that time, the book can teach students about water safety while also having access to cheap, clean water.

“A lot of water issues aren’t just because people don’t have the right technology, but also because they aren’t informed why they need to treat water to begin with,” said Dr. Dankovich on NPR radio program All Things Considered.

“So I really like the educational component, and it’s very nice to store it in a book.”

The book “costs only pennies to produce, making it by far the cheapest option on the market” adds Matt Lockwood, CCO of DDB New York. It has the potential to revolutionize access to water purification and the book format means there are endless possibilities to share different kinds of teachings through its pages.

DDB Mudra, the Indian division of DDB, has also worked with a charitable organization to consider how design can create multiple functions for educational tools for students who may not have limited financial means.

DDB Mudra teamed with Aarambh, an NGO in Mumbai, to create a low cost solution for underprivileged students who attend classes that are without chairs or desks. Forced to sit on the floor, these students write while hunched over, which can lead to poor posture and eyesight. It can make education more of a chore than it should be for young students.

In search of an effective and economical solution, Aarambh worked with DDB Mudra to create the Help Desk. Using discarded cardboard boxes from retail outlets, business and recycling hubs they created a pre-set stencil design for the desk. After being cut and folded, the boxes transformed into desks that could also be used as book bags.

The upcycled boxes were distributed to over 600 schools and given to over 10,000 students. Using the Help Desk they could bring their books to school in something other than a shopping bag and then easily reconfigure their bag into a desk at which they could sit comfortably throughout the day.

The Help Desk cost less than 20 cents to produce, making it an economical and eco-friendly solution.

“Looking back, I think the solution was right in front of our eyes,” said Sanuree Gomes, art director at DDB Mudra.

“We wanted a material that was not only strong, but also flexible and economical. The fact that we were able to produce these Help Desks at such a low cost meant we were able to donate more, reach out to more and help more.”

Both Help Desk and the Drinkable Book take problems that may go unnoticed and use design to create sustainable, affordable solutions. The low cost of the materials in both instances, means that more people can access basic human rights – such as clean drinking water and education.

The technology used in Drinkable Book could be translated to other forms of paper, making contaminated water a thing of the past, and the ingenuity of Help Desk may lead others to recognize the potential of discarded cardboard.

In either case, the future of education could be not only in what we teach, but the smart things we use while learning.

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