The Tata Swach is a low-cost, point-of-use water purification device that was originally designed with the goal to provide “clean water for the masses” in India. Since its launch, however, it has not been able to penetrate rural markets which constitute the majority of the underserved population. I am conducting an in-depth case study on the development of the Swach and its current acceptance among different demographics. My intent is to understand the design process that Tata Chemicals followed when creating the product and the ultimate results of that process. Particularly, I want to know if Tata Chemicals correctly identified customer needs and design requirements in order to create a product that is indeed what “the masses” desire.
The outcomes of my research will include: (1) An accurate list of design requirements for a low-cost, point-of-use water purification system based on original market research and a clarification of the level to which these requirements are met in the current embodiment of the product (i.e. is the Swach really what people are looking for?); (2) A prototype for the next generation of the Swach that addresses customer needs that are currently unmet; and (3) Insights into the relatively new research area of Design for the Developing World with examples from the Swach case and ties to literature, ultimately seeking to contribute to the debate over the universality of the design process.
It is my hope that my suggestions for improving the Swach will be adopted and deployed at scale by Tata Chemicals, and that the new knowledge generated by this study will help other product designers working in this space to have more success.