In Summer of 2013, The University of Pennsylvania’s Integrated Product Design (IPD) Masters Program sent three students over to Ghana. The project was a collaboration between three main stakeholders: IPD, Bresslergroup, and The Yonso Project. Bresslergroup is a Philly based firm that has over 40 years of experience in the field of Industrial Design. The Yonso Project is a Ghanaian non-profit that aims to better the local communities by micro-financing local women’s small businesses, offering the youth skills training and jobs through a bamboo bicycle workshop. 

The collaboration between Penn and Bresslergroup has been a powerful relationship in coming up with products to develop the Yonso Project’s product portfolio. Prior to the trip to Ghana, Bresslergroup hosted several ideation sessions where Penn IPD students worked along side professional and academic engineers and designers to brainstorm product categories as well as manufacturing methods of unique bamboo products. With little knowledge and information about the Yonso Project goals and capabilities students were given the tools to ideate around a wide range of bamboo products from camping equipment, bike accessories, all the way to toys and musical instruments.

It was after they visited Ghana when the direction became clear. Yonso Project creates beautiful handcrafted bamboo bicycles for the American and European markets — designing a line of bike accessories was the right move. Students gained clear understanding of long-term goals, target buyers, and the brand by spending time with the founder and community of the Ghanaian organization. They observed the workshops and prototyped using the simple tools and materials that were locally available. Fifteen days later they returned to the States with a clear-cut idea of the story these products should tell the customer and how they can be produced.

A week after their return from Ghana, IPD students were presenting their ideas to the folks at Bresslergroup for an internal review of three bike accessories. With structural guidance from Bresslergroup, students were able to identify target buyers, purchase intent, the competitive landscape, while illustrating the use of visual branding. Thumbnail sketches were soon developed into concrete concepts and full-scale prototypes. 

The final designs were sent over to Ghana with detailed instructions for the Yonso Project workers. The products were design to meet the standards of the American and European buyers while using the tools and materials readily available to the Yonso Project.

IPD students came out of the project with real world experience in developing an entirely new product line to revamp a business’ brand for maximum ROI and the appreciation of the difficulties that entrepreneurs face in developing nations.