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/MedE/ME 105

Background Materials

E 102

E/ME 103

Useful Links




E/ME 105: Product Design for the Developing World

Trips to Guatemala (Student Trip Reports)

Gabriel la O’ (Art Center)

  1. The first lesson I learned from this trip is how Guatemalans are warm, friendly, and honest people. Before the trip we were warned about the different dangers of the country. To be honest, I felt safe the whole trip.

    The second lesson I learned from this trip is the importance of designing products so they are familiar, intuitive, and simple to use. Another thing I learned is that the workers spend a lot of their time preparing or setting up the raw materials. For example, the basket makers spend more time cleaning, cutting and stripping the cane stalks than actually weaving the baskets.

  2. One way I would have improved the experience was to have students become apprentices for a day. This would give us an even better understanding of the job they do and help us identify for ourselves what the problems are associated with it. Another recommendation would be to make it a requirement for all students enrolled in the class to go on the Guatemala trip so that we're all working on the same page. Also, I would have preferred if the teams and projects were set up during the trip. Not only would it help students bond and learn how to work together as a team, but it would have allowed us to focus more on a specific problem we would like to solve.

  3. After observing the different workers, I saw opportunities where they could enhance their products if they collaborated with another worker. For example, I thought the shoe maker and the loom weavers could get together and design sandals that were not only beautiful, but were also influenced by the Mayan style. Another example would be to have the loom weaver collaborate with the basket makers. They could add color to the baskets to make them more attractive and stand out from all the others.  Another collaboration could be between the basket weavers and the blueberry farmers where the blueberries would be packaged in these beautiful woven baskets instead of the plastic containers.

  4. I found the engineering/design practices of Maya Pedal to be very useful. I like how they turned something as simple as a bicycle into different machines that farmers could use to speed up and simplify tasks.

  5. The following are ground truths I picked up from the trip that I will definitely consider during the design process. One, there are limited resources in terms of materials and funds. Second, labor is abundant and cheap. Third, women are also involved with the labor so any product designed has to be appropriate for both men and women – and must also consider different ages.

  6. This trip met all my expectations and more. I really liked how we were able to experience different aspects of Guatemalan culture – such as living with our host family the first night, sleeping in the schools, eating and drinking indigenous Mayan food, and experiencing a real Mayan ceremony. 

  7. As I mentioned in question number 2, the only thing I would have done differently was maybe after doing the interviews/observations it would have been great to go back to the project that interested you the most and worked as an apprentice for one day. It would have been great to gather truths from actually experiencing their work, and not just observing.

  8. I would have probably had the students spend at least 8 hours with the local project of their choice to experience what exactly a day in the life was like.

  9. It would have been nice to see more examples of successful appropriate technology. For example, Julio Cesar talked about his new and improved latrines, which we didn’t get to see.
  1. I must say that what I really loved about this trip is I was able to experience things I would never have been able to if I tried to do this project on my own, or if I visited Guatemala as a tourist. I loved how I met great people from Guatemala and California who shared the same interests.  The one thing I wish I had was more time to explore the country.