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Mapping the territory


The DfD project


Our vision is to bring voice and dignity to all people and Sub Saharan Africa through design education 

Designers for Development - the DfD project is an educational initiative, initiated in June 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland and operating by  Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK), Department Design - DDE. 

The DfD project aims to empower the people-driven innovation in Sub Saharan Africa through educating the African youth from the university graduate and postgraduate levels on the use of social design and participatory research methods to bring about the socio-cultural impact and urban transformation. The social design enables the young Africans to engage the local communities and the unheard in the design processes. Thus, deliver meaningful innovations that amplify, revolve around and respond to local societies’ needs and respect their social, economic and ecological diversity. By applying the concept of help for self-help, the DfD project focuses on training the African youth to solve complex problems, using holistic and cross-disciplinary thinking and participative research methods (e.g., design thinking and design ethnography), while incorporating the societal, cultural and economic aspects of the local communities. Social designers achieve measurable transformation in vital fields like health, sanitation or agriculture by generating solutions like tangible or digital human-centered products, holistic services, systems and designed spaces. Accordingly, the African youth find a secure future in their lands and contribute to local and global development. The project focuses on educating social design that leads to establishing creative economy through fostering creative industries and social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship empowers the African youth to establish novel markets, employment chances and alternative sources of income. 

The project is planned to operate in various Sub Saharan African countries, starting with Sudan as a launching pad from 2018 to 2021. Our team is a group of qualified Sudanese and Swiss trans- and interdisciplinary design professionals, researchers, theorists and academics from both ZHdK and U.ofK, situated in both Zurich and Khartoum. We organize our biannual educational activities in Khartoum in close cooperation with the University of Khartoum-Faculty of Architecture F.o.A. 




Our goal

|  Educate & research

Educate the youth in Sub Saharan Africa, starting with Sudan, on social design and participative research methods and tools to bring about social impact 

|  Design

Use social design and participatory research to create usable and feasible human-centered products/ services/ systems that can be incubated and realized in Sub Saharan Africa

|  Empower

The tailored educational model of the DfD project functions as a catalyst for establishing a creative economy based on fostering creative industries in Africa. The African youth can establish new markets, novel employment chances and alternative sources of income by providing their newly invented products, systems or services to the market and the community, which results in leading startups, small business and social entrepreneurship.


A focus on Urbanism

Our concern revolves around urbanization themes in the context of Sub Saharan Africa, attentive to the unprecedented exponential urban growth in the region and its entailing glocal challenges. In 2050, the expected overall growth of the world’s urban population will reach 2.5 billion, with nearly 90% of the increase concentrated in Africa and Asia, stated the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision. Already today, many Sub Saharan Africans strive in absence of essential products, services, and systems that are crucial to living in dignity. With the expected rapid urbanization, these challenges may aggravate. We believe the seeds for transformation already exist but require skills of social design and participatory research to uncover and advance them. The study of those fields is unfortunately widely unavailable in most educational systems in Sub Saharan Africa, stated the African Design Center. Creating educational opportunities for Sub Saharan youth to innovate just and inclusive solutions is crucial to tackling today’s and tomorrow’s urbanization challenges. 

Why Sudan

Why we need to transmit social design in Sudan

By 2050, 50% of Sudan’s population will be urban, that consists of 38 million people living in urban centers (that is double of the people living in Sudanese cities today), stated the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision. With this prospect, Sudan is considered to be one of the fastest urbanising countries in Africa. Sudan’s rapid urbanisation is influenced by the highest number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Africa, which reached to 4.9 million IDP in 2016. Besides, Sudan witnessed one of the most protracted civil wars in Africa for over 40 years, entailing geopolitical, environmental and socio-cultural suffering. All of these facts are causing the people in Sudan today to daily confront with the lack of essential goods, products, a duly built environment, services and systems that are fundamental to a better life quality. Our project aims to tackle these issues from a design perspective. Currently, the study of social design and participatory research are widely unavailable in the technical educational system in Sudan. Thus, we aim to fill this gap with our project’s program. See our program below.


What we do

We reach our goal by delivering educational activities in Sub Saharan African countries that are mindful of the local contexts, and outlining universal and Swiss design methodologies. For Sudan, the educational activities take shape of:

|  Teaching

Through case-studies, workshops, lectures, and seminars, with focus on co-design methods, empirical and qualitative research methods and Participatory Action Research approaches (e.g., design ethnography and design thinking)

|  Exchanging

Exchanging experiences with expert designers, social entrepreneurs and developers to inspire and share knowledge on co-design 

|  Reflecting

On what we have learned, research findings and the design outcome through follow-up events, open symposiums and exhibitions 

|  How we measure our impact

We interact with the various group participants through interviewing, participative observations and open discussions to understand, analyze and assess their level of engagement and our program’s validity, usability, and relevance to specific contexts


Research themes - focus Sudan

Our educational program in Sudan is sectioned to design theory and praxis. Using the following thematic set-up, we conceptualize products, services, spaces and systems that are triggering real-world problems:


Environment & Ecology

6 million people living in Khartoum suffer from having 5000 tons of uncollected solid waste. What can informal waste collection systems teach us?

Society & Equity

Due mostly to armed conflicts and civil wars, Sudanese women have been affected by lack of basic services. What can we learn from women networks towards re-imagining and designing service provision?

Urbanism & Infrastructure

People living in Sudan face daily hardships from the inadequacy of commuting means. How can design thinking help innovate transportation at scale?

Livelihoods & Sustenance

About 4.6 million people are food insecure in Sudan. How can linkages be forged between urban agriculture and food security for those living in urban contexts?


Our target groups


Professionals as artisans and hand crafters


All students from the Bachelor/ Master levels from technical studies (e.g.,product/industrial design), the built environment studies (e.g., architecture & urban design, construction), computer sciences, social sciences & humanities, environmental and ecological studies, arts and crafts


Young professionals from the public, private sectors and NGOs

Brief history


Impressions from our previous workshop: Design by the people, Khartoum, Jan 2017


The DfD project was conceptualized in June 2017 by the Sudanese Swiss-based Product designer Lina Ibnidris. Being a Sudanese designer, living and working in Switzerland with a Swiss design education (MA-ZHdK) enables her to understand and bind the cultural, social and academic milieus from Sudan, neighboring Sub Saharan countries and Switzerland. In Jan. 2017, together with Tasneem Nagi (Urbanist and Lecturer, the University of Khartoum) and Dr. Francis Müller (Lecturer, Ethnographer, ZHdK), they organized a successful design ethnography workshop at the University of Khartoum, Sudan attended by thirty participants from the Faculty of Architecture students, NGOs members and the Ministry of Urban Planning workers. During the workshop the participants expressed a need for a continuous social design education in Sudan. Some of the testimonials they shared stated:

“The workshop helped us a lot to put the user on top of our thinking of solutions and use design to solve important problems in our society”  


“From now on, people’s needs will be the center of all our future projects and research"

-Design by the people workshop participants-


Support us

The realization of the DfD project is only possible with the support of donation of organizations and foundations.


The Designers for Development - DfD is operating by Zürcher Hochschule der Künste - ZHdK - Department Design in Switzerland, from 2018 until 2021. We work in Sudan in close collaboration with the University of Khartoum U.ofK. - Faculty of Architecture F.oA.