The non-profit social project Free Design Bank – which started in 2000 at the Technical School of Design Engineering at UNIVERSITY CEU-UCH – is coordinated by designer PhD. Manuel Bañó Hernández. It operates on the basis of cooperation, co-development and fair trade through the exchange of knowledge and experiences between designers, students and artisans from poor countries, enabling the last to understand new markets, and to get acquainted with the culture and the economy in the respective countries. The aim is for this to be a mutual and equal exchange.

The main objective of Free Design Bank is to collaborate in the design and manufacture of competitive products for the benefit of small workshops and cooperatives that do not have financial resources, and which are located in regions of the world where poverty indexes are highest and where new ways of designing and new production systems are needed to improve living standards.

Experience demonstrates that cooperation in design, trade and diffusion of craft products is essential in the development of craft workers/producers of the poor areas of the world.

Experience also demonstrates that the project offers the students a new and interesting perspective of their profession, giving them new ethical values and new methodological techniques for university teaching.

Free Design Bank has several on going projects with producer groups in Kenya, Tanzania, Senegal, Etiopía, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Colombia, Perú, and Ecuador.

Currently products designed under the Free Design Bank project can be found in Fair-trade shops in Japan, Canada, France, Italy, Holland, UK, Germany, Rusia and specially in Spain where “Afrikable.org” have been the main support for the project.

Operative Scheme

The www.freedesignbank.org will manage the needs and requests of craft-worker groups, universities, and designers interested in collaborating with poor craft-worker groups in the design of their products.

Designers, Students or Universities interested in the project and that desire to collaborate in the development of design projects with local craft-workers/producers, Fair-trade organisations that need to improve the characteristics of the products they sell can apply to collaborate through the web-site.

Craft-worker groups without resources can request and apply for design assistance through the web-site. After studying the characteristics of the request, the Project Department of the University CEU-UCH will define and structure the case, providing a technical briefing that is easily understood by any work group worldwide who wishes to ask to participate in the project.

Finally the briefing that defines the problem will be handed in to the person responsible at the collaborating university or the person responsible for team design that has offered to collaborate in projects of cooperation and design.

The participants; student volunteers, university teachers and other professionals will study the craft-workers/producers problem and their concrete circumstances. They will develop product proposals and propose different product designs capable to be adapted to the cultural characteristics and productive capacities of each group, always taking into account cultural and social factors etc.

Once the proposals coming from different design schools or designers worldwide have been developed and finished, they then will be offered and developed (always free) by those group of craft workers who have requested it.

The finished products of this cooperation are better adapted to the craftwork techniques of production and their manufacturing is more rational and profitable for the cooperative producer. This results in a product that is more competitive and therefore more marketable. The craft-workers increase their sales volume substantially thereby becoming integrated in western markets.

The quality design proposals carried out by students and that for other circumstances (of price, material, commercialisation etc.) cannot be used by the parties involved will be offered openly and freely on the web-site to all accredited groups who commit themselves to develop and commercialise according to the norms specified on the aforementioned web-site.

Craft producers are required to be signed up to the Fair-trade commercial network and fulfil the requirements of this trade system.

 Objectives of the project

To develop a new pedagogic teaching system that links university teaching with the reality faced by the producers of the South, in which the student becomes aware of his/her role in the making of a more just and equal society. A teaching project where students voluntarily and actively connect the social reality of the world, which they live in with their university education through Industrial Design Engineering.

To introduce Industrial Design and Product Engineering in an environment of commercial solidarity, and as a rational tool to increase productivity and the attractiveness of the products of the disadvantaged producers of the South. To increase the interactivity of design and fair-trade with other disciplines, such as architecture, the fundamentals of economics, law and international trade, engineering, marketing, communications and publicity… etc. and to open the design concept universally.

To collaborate in the introduction of systems of knowledge management in university teaching that are more modern, more sustainable and more cooperative than those of the last century. To utilise information technology to give more opportunities to the producers of the South

To establish contacts with universities of the South in order to increase the interchange of information, experiences and students within the environment of design and product engineering.

To enable the most disadvantaged producers of the South to employ knowledge and techniques derived from the application of Industrial Design and Product Engineering (and associated disciplines). And to assist them in the development and commercialisation of their products, proposing new design concepts that are more commercial and current with the final aim of increasing competiveness and sales.

To make the world aware that a viable sustainable egalitarian way exists in which to understand commerce and consumption, and from the university it is possible to impart a solid and efficient professional training in the fundamentals of international cooperation, in social justice and ethical values.

Project Benefits

Requiring a lot of political debate the project inevitably obliges designers, students and teachers not only to give their opinions but also to be coherent with them.

The idea of professional responsibility is introduced in the pursuit of real objectives and real social facts and not, as usual in academicals projects, like an unreal simulated situation.

By putting into the hands of craft producers designs that they themselves despite their limited resources can produce, our commitment with craft producers strengthens and we feel satisfied with our personal commitment as teachers-designers. Products that our consumer society wants to buy despite the fact that these products are produced by craft-workers. Furthermore we will have helped craft-workers to enter into a market where their products have a guaranteed sale – and all under the banner of Fair-trade, something unthinkable months ago.

With our intervention and with access to the web-site, producers should be able to increase their sales and with this their expectations for the future (commercial and social). They also should be more able to understand the laws of the market place that govern international trade thereby being better prepared and organised to compete in the global market.

Through the teaching of design professionals we intend to give a fresh impetus to the system of Fair-trade and we hope that the countries of the South can get back a small part of what we owe them. We feel encouraged to continue convinced that the idea of the transmission of knowledge through teaching design and solidarity can continue to grow inside the World University community.

Free Design Bank

Ph. D. Manuel Bañó Hernández

CEU-UCH University, Valencia (Spain)