Affordable Solutions for Safe Drinking Water

Project Brief

PATH is an international non-profit that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions enabling communities to break long standing cycles of poor health.

We were commissioned by PATH to understand and document user experiences around household water treatment and storage (HWTS) products, recommend design interventions for product and strategy that can improve uptake and sustained use of HWTS products. Further, the study findings were used to develop a low cost water filter in collaboration with engineering, technologist and manufacturers.


The project involved user testing of five commercially available water filters over ten months – between March to December 2009 – across rural and peri-urban settlements in Andhra Pradesh, India. The purpose of the EUT Study was to inform the Safe Water Project team at PATH about user experiences that are key to a successful and relevant product strategy for low cost household water treatment and storage (HWTS) products targeted at base of the pyramid markets. By studying how participants interacted with and used selected products in their home over 6 months, Quicksand helped the Safe Water Project team in integrating these findings into product commercialisation and product design.

Quicksand was subsequently brought in the product development phase to convert the research findings into tangible proof-of-concepts for a low cost, gravity fed, multi-stage water treatment device. The project involved collaboration between Quicksand, as industrial design and user experience experts, and engineering, manufacturing and project management teams based in Seattle.


As part of the User Experience (UX) study, five commercially available, multi stage gravity filters were placed in 20 low-income households as surrogates to understand users' expectations and interactions with HWTS products.

The Quicksand study team employed a wide variety of UX research methods to document the everyday lives of users and understand the usage of these filters as time progressed. The methods used were:

  • Video ethnography & shadowing sessions (by following users at work and home over several days)
  • In-depth and in-context interviews and discussions with household and community members
  • Role plays
  • Participatory design workshops (focus groups and co-design workshops)
  • Feature preference exercises (to elicit users' aesthetic preferences, comparative evaluation of products & hypothesized responses to scenarios)
  • Self administered probes (through disposable cameras handed out to participants)

Water Filters Tested
Pre Product Placement • Attapur
Participatory Workshop • Hyderabad

While the EUT study conducted by Quicksand provided critical findings & recommendations that facilitated a holistic HWTS product strategy for BoP markets, it also provided a framework for an insightful process of research and design pertinent to product development for low-income populations.


As part of the NPD phase, Quicksand was given the mandate to design and develop a water treatment device for low-income consumer markets that would set new benchmarks for its category. The target specifications for the product were:

  • a new price benchmark that was less than half the costs of existing products in the market
  • a far superior usability from the point of view of product ergonomics, durability and robustness
  • a comparable treatment efficacy but more stringent safe water criteria
  • a product system that would make customization possible for different demographics and geographies

Quicksand collaborated with industrial design, engineering, technology and project management partners in the United States & India to steer product design and development. Our responsibilities as the product design partner included:

  1. Guide the product development efforts from our position as the custodian of user experience data
  2. Provide product design skills that leveraged our understanding of user experience with the constraints imposed by other aspects of the product strategy (namely engineering, technology, commercials, marketing and manufacturing)
  3. Provide resources and research expertise in testing concepts developed by the product team with users and other stakeholders directly involved in the successful adoption of the product.

From concept to functional beta prototypes, the project was successfully completed in 6 months navigating complex, multi-stakeholder collaborations across different time zones. The project team was able to meet all COGS (cost of goods sold) and UX (user experience) targets specified at the beginning of the project. PATH intends to foster commercial partnerships to introduce the products in emerging markets of India, Africa and South Asia.

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