Design as development aid

About Design without Borders

INFORMATION FOR ALL: The children in a youth club in Uganda crowd around an early prototype of an information kiosk. Designer Neil Ryan from Design without Borders observes. Photo: Kjersti Gjems Vangberg

Design without Borders uses the designer's creative and analytical skills to solve challenges in developing countries. Using design in the development process leads to better living conditions, industrial business development and more efficient emergency relief.

Design and development aid

Design is problem solving with a focus on user-friendliness, aesthetics and functionality. Norsk Form – Foundation for Design and Architecture in Norway believes design can play an important role in the development of an improved and more sustainable society.

Design without Borders offers the development of new products and solutions within business development, emergency relief, urban development and development projects, primarily in Uganda, Guatemala and Norway.

In order to make sustainable changes Design without Borders is concerned with knowledge transfer. By collaborating closely with local partners Design without Borders seeks to transfer knowledge about design methodology and innovation to its partners, thus enabling them to develop better products and lower their production costs.

Design without Borders is managed by Norad, Fredskorpset and Norsk Form -  The Norwegian foundation for Design and Architecture in Norway.

The projects

Design without Borders is currently running three projects in Uganda and Guatemala:

Design without Borders carries out projects in collaboration with businesses, civil society, authorities and organizations. During the establishment of new projects we seek to enter into projects that already have local interest and preferably projects that are already ongoing.

The projects are developed in close collaboration with partners that have a specific need for design. Demands for investment and participation are given to the partners to ensure results with long-term effects.

Design without Borders contributes with competence to identify the need for design, define the projects, develop a financial plan and plan the project, the carrying-out of the project and the follow-up afterwards. For every project, we hand-pick designers with special competence within the required topic.

Good results

With more than 10 years of experience, Design without Borders has achieved very good results. The use of design as a developing tool has, amongst other things, led to improved transport alternatives, safer equipment for mine-clearers and local business development.

Design without Borders is concerned with both product development and knowledge transfer in its projects. Many years of cooperation with the educational institutions Makerere University in Uganda and Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala, has contributed in strengthening the local design competence in these countries.

Internship program in Norway

Since 2003 Design without Borders has given designers and engineers from Guatemala and Uganda the opportunity to learn and practice the trade professionally through internships in Norwegian companies and organizations.

The main objectives of the internship program are:  

  • Increase the design competence, both of the designers and in the Norwegian companies
  • Promote the meaning of design in a broader perspective
  • Strengthen the design education in Uganda and Guatemala


Design without Borders was initiated in 2001 by Norsk Form and Petter Opsvik, and was established to highlight the needs in societies where well-functioning economies and infrastructure are underdeveloped.

Norway is one of the world’s foremost nations when it comes to conflict solving and emergency relief work. Norwegian aid organizations also have extensive experience with long-term development aid. Competence in this area has become a Norwegian "trademark" in terms of quality and ability to carry-out.

In this context it is troubling that the development of products and solutions in the south are not organized in a more targeted way. Design without Borders shows how design can be used as a tool to improve long-term aid and emergency relief.

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