Service Design

Banana Armour

Client: CERN

Role: Service Designer, Researcher, Maker 

Duration: 4 weeks, December 2018 - January 2019 

Team: 4 designers

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Context

Extra thoughts

The Royal College of Art partnered with IdeaSquare, a dedicated innovation team within CERN that utilises the science and technological innovations emerging from their scientists with design. They set us with a brief to explore CERN technologies to create a compelling new solution for a grand challenge covering social and economic disparity.

The challenge

To pick an area to focus on we looked into reports from the World Economic Forum including The Global Risks Interconnections Map and the key goals of the United Nations. Inspired by the Zero Hunger Challenge we learnt that 1/9 of the world's population are undernourished and the spread of the most common non-infectious diseases contributing to the global mortality rate are all linked to poor nutrition.

Our approach

To better understand the potential of CERN's technology we analysed the key functionalities.

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With further research we discovered 3 key steps to improving access to nutrition. 

(1) Sustainable agriculture: providing sustainable methods of agriculture with natural, seasonal food and less application of artificial fertilisers or chemical modification.

(2) Food distribution: improving logistics to reduce the amounts of waste during the supply chain and redistributing surplus food resource to those who go without.

(3) Food security: methods of food preservation and storage to provide a balanced diet that lasts longer.

from the World Economic Forum including The Global Risks Interconnections Map and the key goals of the United Nations. Inspired by the Zero Hunger Challenge we learnt that 1/9 of the world's population are undernourished and the spread of the most common non-infectious diseases contributing to the global mortality rate are all linked to poor nutrition.

Given CERN's cooling technology we focused on food distribution and security and mapped out potential areas of intervention.

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First round of ideation

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Given the global nature of the grand challenge and short time frame we relied heavily on secondary research to select and understand the topic.

As well as addressing nutrition we saw the knock-on benefits of better food preservation, such as improved income and support for farmers.

Feedback received:

How does this differ from existing cool box solutions?

Is a micro-grid a barrier to entry for this solution?

Advice received:

Pick a crop and a location to help guide the design decisions.

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Iteration

Bananas are a staple crop in Africa, and in Zimbabwe small farmers contribute to over 40% of local production. They need to be kept between 13-18 degrees to prevent over-ripening post-harvest while being transported to market, however banana stems don't fit in traditional cool boxes, and most are tied to the back of bikes. Bananas face huge food security issues due to the lack of diversity in Cavendish making them highly vulnerable to disease.

The design opportunities:

Low infrastructure profile:  lack of cooling method and facility to store the produce after harvesting.

Bulk transportation: multiple bananas stems often tied to the back of bicycles.

Undeveloped network: it can take farmers up to 8 hours to get from farm to market.

 

On receiving social media adverts such as these, we became interested in the way crisp packets preserve food, and found that CERN had also used crisp packet technology to design the Better Body Bag.

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Rubbish from UK, US and Canada is dumped in Zimbabwe, including crisp packets which lead to the death of 6 elephants in 2016.

Given that we weren't able to interview farmers in Zimbabwe, focusing on an object, the crisp packet, as a decision maker much like a persona allowed us to progress.

The prototype

On researching different bag designs we were inspired by the resistance and flexibility offered in pleated solutions.

After trying several techniques to insulate and bind crisp packets together we ended up selecting a heat press method as this could be replicated with a hot iron in Zimbabwe.

I really enjoyed the making process of this bag together with the fashion designer on our team.

Having learnt that CERN's CO2 cooling technology would not be safe for transportation, the product designer on our team devised a cooling unit.

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We sought advice from Professor Christos Markides (Clean technologies at Imperial College) for advice on the cooling unit.

The final design

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How it works

This is a scaled down version capable of supporting several bunches of bananas. The full-size version would wrap around a one or two stems of bananas.

We decided on a wrap instead of a bag to allow for versatility and designed it to be tied shut, potentially to the back of a bicycle, with rope.

Banana Armour is a flexible, surprisingly sturdy, pleated wrap made from heat-pressed crisp packets that can be tied around banana stems to keep them cool and protected on their way to market. It not only helps small-scale farmers waste less produce and allow residents to put more food on the table it also puts to use the collective waste of crisp packets.

Banana Armour's role, as an organisation, would be to consult with different locations on the planning, technology used and design, to set up the Banana Armour system in a way that is embedded into their current farming practices. For example as a widow in Zimbabwe it can be difficult to earn income and Zimbabwe is an extremely young population with 62% under the age of 25. We would aim to train these two groups in the production process of Banana Armour. 

 

Having a repair and maintain culture within the production process is crucial to supporting the farmers and ensuring material is only used where necessary.

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Lessons learnt and reflections

Our solution doesn’t come from human-centred design. In fact, we had no access to banana farmers or people in Zimbabwe. We conducted secondary research into the problems that banana farmers face, but that wasn’t where the inspiration stemmed from. Instead we combined the properties and relations of crisp packets and bananas as they exist. By looking at the material properties of a crisp packet the affordances that crisp packets offer opened up opportunities.

This project ended up influencing the direction of my Masters dissertation.

With special thanks to

Margot Montassine, CERN

Professor Christos Markides, Imperial College

Our tutors J Paul Neeley and Rob Phillips, Royal College of Art

This project was done in collaboration with Nicci James, Xiyi Wu, Yuying Zhang.

This project was awarded RCA x CERN Grand Challenge Finalist.