Products that improve household water treatment

How a design strategy evolved into products and resources that serve low-income consumers

The standard interface of the PATH prototype water filter.

A common interface, like the one shown in this prototype water filter, makes it possible to create a family of interoperable filters and devices. Photo: PATH.

The use of household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) products can significantly improve the quality of drinking water in low-income households. However, in practice, few of these households actually have access to such products, and when they do, the products are likely too expensive, difficult to maintain, inappropriate for the needs of low-income users, or just plain unattractive and, therefore, undesirable.

The Safe Water Project started by examining existing HWTS products available to low-income users in the developing world. As we better understood the landscape of available products, we began to develop our own product-design strategy with the goal of encouraging other HWTS-product manufacturers to compete more openly with products that are appropriate, acceptable, and attractive to low-income consumers.

The heart of PATH’s strategy is a flexible product platform that allows companies to customize HWTS products to meet local preferences, needs, and constraints. Our vision for customization or the “platform strategy” is that producers can select from or develop their own HWTS product elements, including the exterior shell, the clean water storage container, and even the tap, but all will fit together with a standard set of water filters.

The hope is that this platform strategy will help set the stage for more manufacturers to enter the marketplace for low-income consumers. Ease of start up (through PATH’s open source “reference design” plans) and the potential for profits will create incentives for more and more companies to enter the HWTS market. These companies will compete for market share by continuing to reduce prices, improve the quality of their products, and develop new and innovative technologies while heavily promoting their products through sales and marketing efforts.

An Indian woman sits next to the PATH prototype water filter.

Based on user research conducted in India, PATH developed a prototype water filter suited to low-income needs. Photo: PATH.

On the road to developing our own prototype water filter, our “reference design,” we evaluated the trade-offs between price and performance, and we determined what features are most important for low-income populations in the developing world. One important feature that is often overlooked in product design for low-income consumers is aesthetic appeal.

This led us to examine current low-cost HWTS products that might be improved from an aesthetic perspective. We did just that with a ceramic water pot, making the exterior shell more appealing and testing sales of the existing and new model, head to head. We also worked with ceramic water pot manufacturer’s to help establish best practices.

Today, our Price-Performance Model is available for download, and our HWTS Design Guidelines are online and readily available as a searchable tool to aid in product development. Our CAD drawings and plans for the PATH “reference design” water filter are also available online, as are the Ceramic water pot manufacturing best practices (2.82 MB PDF).

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