Annals of Design: To Light the Darkness
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023

David Stairs Recently I was working on an article for a design periodical when I hit on the idea to compare an American brand icon to an African DIY counterpart. It was not a fair comparison. The American product was the Coleman pressurized lantern, the “Sunshine of the Night.” Coleman introduced pressurized kerosene lanterns in […]

Building One’s Mother a House
Monday, February 18th, 2019

David Stairs On Christmas Day one year we visited our friend Kasule Kizito, who was staying at his home in Masaka. We traveled to Bukalavu taxi stage by matatu, where Kizito met us and took us to his home. Kizito was then attempting to repurchase land subdivided from his grandfather’s estate by his 70-odd descendents. […]

Social Design and Micro-Manufacture
Thursday, August 16th, 2018

David Stairs Way back in 2011 I first wrote about a wonderful device my friends in South Africa had come up with. Known as Eva, the Arivi paraffin stove had been an INDEX competition finalist in 2009, and had won an award from SABS, the South African Bureau of Standards, in 2011. While visiting them […]

The Kingdom of DIY
Friday, July 13th, 2018

David Stairs Homemade hotplates Some of the most interesting places in modern day Kampala are the tinsmith’s stalls opposite the Balikuddembe Market. Here sheet metal is daily transformed from dross into useful implements for household chores. The scope of activity is only limited by the workman’s imagination as numbers of boxes and appliances are tinkered […]

“The Man”
Sunday, April 29th, 2018

David Stairs The Original Omusajja along Entebbe Road Along the highway leading from Uganda’s former colonial capital Entebbe to its modern capital Kampala there is a landmark that characterizes colonialism in a nutshell. Known as “Omusajja ku luguudo lweNtebbe” or just “Omusajja” for short in Lugandan, “the Man along Entebbe Road” is a fifteen-foot high […]

The Roadside Bazaar
Saturday, February 24th, 2018

David Stairs When we speak of malls today Americans generally mean the air-conditioned, all-inclusive mega-mall with its food court and full-service-everything. But when I was a kid growing up in upstate New York such things didn’t exist, or, if they were being developed in cold places like Southdale Center (1956) we didn’t know about it. […]

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

David Stairs Slingshot made from bicycle innertube I’ve talked many times about how successful African DIY design is when it comes to recycling materials. Most African nations are not heavily industrialized, except those involved in mining, so technology and manufactured goods are often imported. What’s more, the climate in many parts of the continent fluctuates […]

Friday, November 17th, 2017

David Stairs Completion of Kampala’s Northern Expressway has been plagued by delays in right-of-way acquisition Returning to Uganda for the first time in ten years has held a few surprises. The charm of its people, and the beauty of Uganda’s countryside are unchanged, but the congestion in the capital Kampala is alarming. Partly this has […]

Educating Evelyn
Thursday, November 12th, 2015

David Stairs I first met Evelyn Nambooze as a shy, pretty girl of thirteen in 2006 in a partly finished building near Bombo, Uganda when I served lunch to her and some other kids at James Lutwama’s place. James and I had been friends since he’d first approached me outside my apartment at Makerere University […]

For the Love of Cows
Friday, July 24th, 2015

David Stairs Ankole cattle grazing on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda First of all, this story has nothing to do with cattle, but everything to do with wealth and its distribution. In December 2012 I talked a group of students into helping me attempt to raise money online for an African NGO run by an […]

An Affordable Child Carrier For Africa
Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Cansu Akarsu During my short career as a designer I have been a true nerd, spending all my free time participating in every workshop and design competition I found from all fields. Life is easy when you are learning, especially when one recognition follows the other, and motivates you to work on anything you love […]

The Beauty of Cooperation
Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

David Stairs Ask a group of student designers, any group, to develop a campaign while working in a large cohort, and they’re likely to react the way my Central Michigan University students did when I first made an unconventional proposal to them back in November 2012. I asked them to consider developing an online fundraiser […]

When Did Everyone Become a Villager? An Open Letter to Julie Lasky
Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

David Stairs Dear Julie— I’ve been watching with a mixture of mild horror and benign amusement the recent fascination that Africa engenders in Western design circles. It’s inevitable, I suppose, that that portion of the human world known by the UN as the LDC (Least Developed Countries) would become some sort of 21st century refuge, […]

What Well-Dressed Designers Are Wearing
Saturday, May 15th, 2010

David Stairs Upon meeting Kabaka Mutesa I, King of the Baganda, in 1878, Henry Morton Stanley was favorably impressed. In Through the Dark Continent, among the many journal observations regarding his visit to the shores of Lake Victoria, he had this to say about Bagandan dress: The women and chiefs of Mutesa, who may furnish […]

21st Century African
Thursday, November 19th, 2009

An irresistible object, a homeless man and the future economy of the world Tasos Calantzis On a chilly late autumn afternoon the curator of one of Europe’s most prestigious art and design museums clicked through images of a new wooden vase and immediately ordered 8 pieces via e-mail for sale in the museum store. She […]

Stimulus Package
Monday, February 16th, 2009

David Stairs Kasule Kizito is not your everyday Ugandan. For one thing, he’s too direct. He says what he thinks without undue regard for taboos or political correctness. In an oral culture this of itself is amazing. For example, he’s the only African I know who’s not in ecstasies over Obama’s victory. Kizito had wanted […]

Marley & Barack
Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

David Stairs I was trudging through my local neighborhood big-box megastore the other day en route to my weekly rendezvous with groceries when I found myself in what passes for the book section. This isn’t a Borders experience; more somewhere between B. Dalton and the magazine rack at the local regional airport. So I wasn’t […]

A Tale of Two Pasis
Monday, June 11th, 2007

Laundry problems solved by vernacular

Mr. Williams’ Study Collection
Friday, June 1st, 2007

The origins and development of Uganda’s first product design program

Selling Connectivity
Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Cell phone marketing in Africa

Choosing a New Kitenge
Friday, March 16th, 2007

Being fitted for Sunday-go-to-meeting duds Ugandan style

Putting Fiber in Day-to-Day Life
Friday, February 16th, 2007

Ugandans make a valuable resource out of banana leaf fiber

Oh Bring My Bamboocha To Me
Monday, December 4th, 2006

Obversations on soda pop marketing in Africa

Wednesday, June 21st, 2006

The things that hold Kampala up

Anthills of the Savannah
Monday, June 19th, 2006

James Lutwama's Termitaria Thesis