The last half of January saw exciting times for our handcart project – two of our Catapult Crew, Tyler Valiquette and Noel Wilson, spent two weeks working with Anza Technologies in Tanzania to test, revise, review, and improve the initial field prototypes we had recently built in San Francisco.
We arrived in the village of Matala, Tanzania, with three substantially different prototypes ready to assemble with villagers – in this photo you can see Noel instructing the villagers in how to drive the cart prototypes we had brought with us.
The following two weeks were chock full of design exercises, ethnographic research, iterative prototyping, community meetings, and endless cups of chai. The insights garnered from our two weeks of working closely with the villagers proved invaluable. The villagers were able to use the carts daily to perform their regular work (e.g. collecting water for family and farm use) and the carts were passed from family to family on a daily basis so that we might get as many perspectives as possible. It was a real joy to walk around the village and hear the familiar rumble of the carts as they rolled by, full of water cans and driven by women and children going about their lives and finding the carts extremely useful.
After three days of fetching water, chatting with mamas, surveying carts, visiting homes, taking photos, and meeting villagers, we attended a community meeting in the local school where the carts were discussed in-depth. The villagers were asked to recount their experiences and provide input on how to make the carts better. We spoke with the 26 villagers for almost an hour and walked out of the meeting with an excellent idea of how to make the carts better.
That weekend we spent two nights with a local family, participating in their daily lives – observing and taking notes all the while. We learned about their family, work, religion, chores, habits, routines, expectations, joys, aspirations, and struggles. This up-close-and-personal interaction with our end-users enriched our understanding of the people we were designing for and will ultimately allow us to produce a more refined and tailored hand cart that will integrate more easily and, most importantly, usefully into their lives.
The second week we spent working in the nearby town of Himo with local artisans to modify and improve the carts – integrating the villagers suggestions. After two days of impromptu design sessions, haggling with welders, and running all around town we returned to the village with three dramatically improved carts.
The rest of the week was spent visiting families, going to markets, sitting around the water tap watching people collect water, surveying water carrying vessels (mostly plastic jugs and buckets), and chatting with anyone we could find about how they transported water and other materials from place to place.
At the end of our time in Matala we attended one final community meeting – led by Noel – in which we asked the villagers for feedback on the carts we had modified. They were delighted with the changes we had made and felt that the final carts were serious improvements on the ones with which we had arrived. As we expected, there were still suggestions and critiques of the modified carts – all which will prove useful when we return to our studio in San Francisco and begin work on a final cart design.
We then left the carts with the villagers and began the long journey home, full of ideas and enthusiasm for how to make the best possible cart for the villagers of Matala and, hopefully, the rest of eastern Africa.