Project H logoThis week I returned to NC State College of Design for the first time in several years to attend a lecture that sparked my interest. The title was, “Graphic Design/Industrial Design lecture: Project H.” I had no idea what Project H was but since it matched my background as an industrial design major and graphic design professional it sparked my interest. It also seemed to be a great subject to write my first post.

The event was held at Burns Auditorium in Kamphoefner Hall.  To say the room was packed is putting it lightly.  It was standing room only and a great mix of professors, college students, professionals as well as Exploris middle school students. The Graphic and Industrial Design Department Head, Santiago Piedrafita introduced Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller from Project H Design. They began with a video clip of Pilloton’s recent appearance on “The Colbert Report.”

Pilloton spoke about her background as an architect with a masters degree in product design. She said that she had an epiphany while designing doorknobs that led her to starting Project H Design in 2008.  Project H Design is a non-profit group focused on design solutions for humanity’s problems. Pilloton’s partner is Matthew Miller, a fabricator and metalworker, who previously built gigantic log homes on “steroids,” as Miller stated. Miler then attended graduate school and his thesis was on affordable housing. Upon completion of his degree Miller hooked up with Architect for Humanity and worked in Uganda building houses.

Last year, Pilloton published “Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People.”  Forty of the products featured in the book are part of the Design Revolution Road Show – a traveling exhibition that is visiting two dozen high school and college design programs across the country this spring in an Airstream trailer.

The items criteria are: for the user, with the user and by the user.  Pilloton stated that her mantra is, “always put the user first.” Each design needs to solve problems for people and some of the examples were:

A $5 pair of eyeglasses with liquid-filled lenses that can be modified to fit anyone’s prescription. The glasses help those without access to optometrists.
SpiderBoot footwear helps explosion detection teams by making it less likely they will detonate a landmine.
LifeStraw, a drinking straw with a built-in filtration system. While that may not seem like a huge design leap, it is extraordinarily valuable to people who live without clean water and spends much of their time searching for it.
The Hippo Roller, A 22-gallon water barrel that can be rolled along the ground is a similar life-changing device. Before women and children in South Africa used to fetch water two to three times day, carrying buckets on their heads. It was inefficient and hard on the body. Now the women can use a Hippo Roller to fetch enough water for several days, leaving them more time to care for their families, start a business or go to school.

Other products Project H Design has designed include school playgrounds in Uganda made out of used tires. The playground is designed so that it teaches children math while they are playing. The traveling road show ends in May and then Pilloton and Miller are moving to Bertie County to work for one of the poorest NC school districts. Bertie County Schools Superintendent read about the playgrounds in Uganda and then contacted Pilloton to design and build Bertie County playgrounds.

The couple will also teach a part-design, part-shop class to students at Bertie County agriculture vocational school. The course is based on architect and industrial design fundamentals and will incorporate light metal fabrication and woodworking techniques. To engage the students the course will require them to build bus shelters at county schools.

This lecture was a great reminder to use my design skills to help society. Visit them on the web at There you can download their design toolkit and empower yourself as a designer.

An update with video can be found here: