Ken Pickar
Visiting Professor of Mechanical Engineering

California Institute of Technology
208 Gates-Thomas, Mail Code 104-44
Pasadena, CA 91125
(626) 395-4185


E/ME 105

Syllabus (pdf)
Background Materials
Class Trips

E 102

E/ME 103

Useful Links




E/ME 105: Product Design for the Developing World

Trips to Guatemala (Student Trip Reports)

George Cadena (Caltech)

  1. Two important lessons that I learned from this trip are firstly that a dollar can go a long way, and secondly that the best way to truly help impoverished people is to empower them to take care of themselves. I was quite amazed about how little these people could not only survive on but thrive on. I feel like they thrived on what little they made because of the level of happiness and satisfaction that seemed to overshadow the general depression and longing for better things that I have seen in similar poverty-stricken areas.  The second lesson was a real break through for me and came from Ken saying the seemingly most obvious thing, "the best way to help poor people is to give them the means to make money." At first this seemed like a light and fool-hearted thing to say but given this week’s experience, I find myself repeating the same slogan.  Although, I would say it in this way, the best way to help poor people is to enable them to make money on their own.  After seeing all the wonderful inventions and hard-working people, I have made this one of my goals in taking this course.

  2. The first idea I have to improve this experience is to make it longer, 10 days, and allow for more rest time. Waking up early has obvious benefits for traffic purposes and convenience with local partners schedules; however, repeated activity wore on all of us and hampered our ability to fully engage in all of the activities. It is important to note that I didn’t find anyone who got any meaningful sleep in the car. It seemed like the sleep that we should be having while travelling only made us groggier and generally unhappy because we could not sleep in the uncomfortable car.  The second idea I have is to involve the group more in what kinds of activities they would find fun. This is mainly in collaboration with the Guatemalan partners, because they know the area better, but by providing some options for people to choose from in the pre-trip phase would have made this trip seem a little more interactive for all parties.  The third idea I have is to cause the group to team up and actually build something or solve a problem.  We are all good people (based on our sacrifice to visit Guatemala) so an activity would be a good excuse to cause us to develop stronger bonds.

  3. When I think of co-creation principles, I think of three main pillars, low-cost, low-maintenance, and easy to use.

  4. I found the local geniuses' use of scraps and unused materials to be very impressive. For instance Maya pedal's use of bikes as an energy source was exceptional. Also they seemed to account for the most pertinent problems encountered by the Guatemalan people.  The problems they addressed seemed like the most marketable.  Finally, I like that that the products that were designed required very little instruction and were almost intuitive.

  5. Three basic ground truths that I found are that: 1.) Cost is the most important factor in designing a product for the developing world. 2.) Low-maintenance requirement is the most important factor in creating a product that will last the longest. 3.) The simpler the design the better.

  6. This trip met and exceeded my expectations mainly in that I didn’t think that I would have gotten such a large infusion of the Guatemalan culture in such a short period of time. I loved having "warm doors" to come to at every stop. Luzmi did a great job in setting everything up. Having these connections were essential to really get into the culture and find out what matters were the most important to address. Also, the partnership with Landivar Tech almost entirely eliminated the cultural barrier.

  7. In order to gather product design truth, I believe that the best discoveries come from the developing of the product. It might have been helpful for some to try to address the problems at hand and come up with solutions in a short period of time.

  8. For ethnographic research, more time is necessary. If possible it would have been wonderful if we could have stayed with families for a few days and went through one of their typical work days.  Although, given the time constraints it would be hard to add more activity to what we had. Unless we can break into smaller groups or increase the vacation time, I feel that the past itinerary was excellent.

  9. I don't believe there was enough talk about the mosquitoes or the latrine situation. Also, there wasn’t enough of a requirement to learn about Guatemala before we left. It would have been beneficial to have learned about the products that we were going to see beforehand or at least the situations that we were going into. This would have allowed us ample time to think about the situation beforehand and be more prepared to ask specific questions.

  10. As a whole, I loved the group. Everyone was awesome, the trip was awesome.  I believe the leaders, Ken, Luzmi, Mario, and Oscar were perfect for this trip. The friendliness of everyone I encountered made a strong and lasting impression on me. What I hated most about the trip was the intensity of the schedule. Towards the end of the trip I was so tired that I was just going through the motions.  I feel that social activity should be accounted for in the itinerary with either nap time or later wake up times.