Mount an old door leaf onto a bike wheel and you get “Cyclo”, a movable working unit.


Compose patterned panels you can swivel to create the desired level of privacy and you get “Spin It”, a lightweight, foldable paravent.


These solid and durable products in traditional materials are created by Future Living Studio (FLS), a meeting of Vietnamese and western design minds in Hanoi that resulted in a collection of furniture, all made of bamboo and rattan. In a new edition, FLS is currently active in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The aim is to turn Vietnam and Cambodia from countries that just produce things into ones that design them too.

A second aim of FLS is to bridge the gap between designers and producers by involving both of them at all stages of development, from user research to communication with craftsmen. All the products in the collection made in FLS’s 3rd edition in Hanoi – the first two editions were held in Ho Chi Minh city – were developed with craftsmen from Xuan Lai, a company specialized in sold and smoked bamboo furniture, and Thanh Dat, a small workshop that produces furniture made of rattan, both located close to Hanoi.

Designers Tran Hoang, Nguyen Ha Phuong and Nguyen Thi Thu from Vietnam teamed up with Philippa Abbott (Australia), Michael Schuster (Germany) and Audrey Charles (France) for three months and produced prototypes that are both vernacular and sustainable. In addition to “Cyclo” and “Spin It”, the collection includes “Sit.And” (office chair), “Sen” (multipurpose element), “BB” (workstation), “Hai Den” (stackable light), and “XL Redesign” (chair).

Vietnam is a developing country in which sustainability is viewed as a luxury and design rarely extends beyond appearance. FLS want to change attitudes by educating designers, producers and consumers, and by building a design community in Vietnam and neighbouring Cambodia with local and international partners.

The project is funded by SWITCH-Asia and Delft University of Technology.

This post was first published on What Design Can Do blog.



A small open-source device with low-cost sensors helps citizens to establish the actual conditions of their living environment. By measuring and sharing levels of air pollution, noise and light pollution, temperature and humidity, participants of Smart Citizen generate data that can help them to improve the quality of their environment.

Smart Citizen is a crowdfunded, crowdsourced and open-source distributed sensor network aimed at stimulating the participation of citizens in the improvement of their city. The project was formed by Fab Lab Barcelona at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, which focuses on the impact of new technologies to human habitat. Smart Citizen was successfully funded through Kickstarter in June 2013.

For the project low-cost sensors were developed that can measure carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, noise, light, and humidity levels at a given place. Participants in the Smart Citizen project, that is currently tested in Barcelona, can upload the measured data to their iPhones and from there to the Smart Citizen website.

The website may need some study for a first visitor to understand all data displayed, but it looks great. The idea is that by connecting data, people and knowledge in a project like this one, people can actually contribute to the development and improvement of their cities.

The bigger objective of the makers is to investigate how to build a real Smart City. Considering that the project was awarded the Initiative Award of World Smart Cities Awards in September 2013, they are on the right track.


In the Netherlands a similar project, funded by the Lung Foundation, demonstrates how smartphone users can help raise awareness about the health aspect of the air quality that we breathe in every day.

This post was first published on What Design Can Do blog.




By now most people in the western world do have an idea where their inexpensive clothing is coming from. Even more so after the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh in April 2013 became world news. Still the online documentary “Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt” is impressive in the way it gives a face to the people who make our clothes.

Starting as a Kickstarter project, “Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt” documents the making of a T-shirt from scratch. It is an amazing journey through different lands and connecting different people together. The project was initiated by American radio and television producer Alex Blumberg of Planet Money, and based on a book by Pietra Rivoli of McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. The story makes you realize that there is nothing ordinary about an ordinary T-shirt.


The journey starts in America, as the U.S. is the biggest exporter of cotton in the world. The growth and harvest of crops are taken care of by pure technology. The picker machines are self-driving giant robots that can pick 100 acres of cotton a day. Even the seeds are genetically modified to resist pest. As American farmers are cool with it, over 90% of American cotton is genetically modified. As a result, a farm per year can produce enough cotton for 9 million T-shirts.


The American cotton is taken to Indonesia, Colombia, Bangladesh, where it is turned into yarn. Not many humans are involved in this phase, all is done by a series of cool machines with names like Trutzschler blendomat, Schlafhorst SE-8 OE Spinning Machine, Fukuhara Circular Knitting Machine, and Toyota Combing Machine. They spin, turn, pull, twist, heat, wash, and dye the cotton to fabric with consistency and precision. The recipe for spinning threads is as secretive as the Coke formula. One T-shirt consists of 6 miles of yarn and if any of threads is not consistent with the rest, the T-shirt will fall apart after a few washes.



Jasmine Akther (23) makes $80/month in a textile factory in Bangladesh


In Colombia Doris earns some $300/month doing the same work as Jamine

Next we meet Jasmine in Bangladesh and Doris in Colombia. They have the same job of sewing the T-shirts, but their geological contexts are far from the same. Even though Jasmine makes one of the lowest wages in the world, around $80/month, that can still help feed herself and her family living in extreme poverty in India. Meanwhile, Doris works under much better conditions and she makes four times as much as Jasmine. In Colombia, the garment industry is just an industry. In India, the garment industry drives a social upheaval that has both risks and possibilities. After the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, there was increasing pressure to improve working conditions and wages. Even then Bangladesh will remain one of the countries with the cheapest labor in the world. But for workers like Jasmine a tiny wage rise means a considerable improvement.

Finally the T-shirts are shipped back to the US and the film shows how shipping containers are the key to the global economy. The standardized system makes it possible to send a T-shirt around the world by ships, trains and trucks for less than a dollar. Thanks to this cheap transportation companies can manage global supply chains spreading from the U.S. to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Colombia and back to the U.S.

As Doris from Colombia puts it, this film shows that behind each T-shirt are many worlds of different people with dreams and hopes to get a good life. 25,000 people who participated in the crowdfunding for this project – that only needed 2,000 supporters – demonstrated their willingness to help these dreams come true. “Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt” is a great project, although we have to say that the design of the T-shirt could’ve been better.

This post was first published on What Design Can Do blog.