Paul Gray was one of the first designers I ever worked with. He remains one of the best (probably the best) - and I've worked with a lot of designers since then.
In Glasgow almost 20 years ago I saw him put his undoubted talents into designing his way to solutions that, I'll be honest, whilst innovative and effective, weren't exactly world-changing. One involved some marketing materials for a certain alcohol company and a project that included a fire-eater and 1958 Saracen armoured personnel carrier. Whilst certainly memorable for all those involved, its overall contribution to human society was just about neutral – it might not have made it any worse, but it certainly didn’t make it better.
Paul’s latest project is at the other end of the scale – and then some.
For many years now he’s been working on a solution to the very real problem of the lack of an effective shelter for displaced people. These people – whether victims of extreme weather, famine, war or any of the other myriad causes of human displacement – are often left without the most basic form of protection, suitable shelter. And many die or their conditions worsen because of this.
I was about to write about something completely different for my first post of 2016, but when I read of Paul’s project couldn’t really write about anything else. I think it has something to do with the statistic he uses to explain the need for the shelter he’s designed: that there are currently over 60 million people in transit in our world, and half of them are children.
I know this is a global problem, but it resonated particularly strongly with me because I now live in Australia and my adopted country is currently struggling to deal with an ongoing refugee crisis in a humane way. There’s not enough space in this particular post to detail all that’s wrong with how Australia is dealing with asylum seekers at the moment – but Google ‘Tony Abbott Stop the Boats’ and you’ll get a pretty clear idea.
I also know too much about the predicted refugee crisis and the number of displaced people there are likely to be because of the worsening impacts of climate change.
To put it mildly, Paul’s solution is likely to be in depressingly high demand in the all-too-near future.
But in spite of the depressing fact that we need it at all, his is an inspiring solution. Ther-d shelter (rapid-deployment shelter) is misleadingly simple in its design. The effort Paul and his colleagues at Suisse Design have expended to get it to this stage is self-evident; the pressing need he now has to get some funding to take this project to the next stage is also clear.
I love inspiring, pragmatic solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. I love all the intelligent design and passion that has gone into the r-d shelter and the solution it could be. I also love crowd funding at times like this, when it provides an incredibly easy way to help someone create something potentially world-changing for the price of a few $s (or quid in this case), and some tapping on a computer keyboard.
On the other hand, why on earth wouldn’t you make a small pledge to this amazing idea? After the usual excesses of the holiday season, helping a project that could positively impact millions (if not billions) of people isn’t a bad way to make sure 2016 gets off to as positive a start for you as possible.