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Frugal Design Lab

“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” - R. Buckminster Fuller

Bicycle Hacking with Sudipto Dasgupta

Honoring Sudipto Dasgupta who set up this lab and has done much of the work 28.01.1963 – 22.09.2019


Naga Nandini Dasgupta, Product Designer


The Frugal Design Lab has evolved over the last 10 years exploring several ideas –grass roots innovations, craft communities, small-scale industry, old and new

technologies and new ways of making. Through projects and workshops, we interact with a variety of people and organizations and we seek to question and refine the way we design things today.

We envision new processes in design that use frugality as the core principle, not only for people who are constrained to adopt it, but also for those who don’t need to, to develop frugality as an aesthetic, to design sustainable and inclusive products and systems.

  • View and use design as connections
  • Work with communities and on the ground using Participative design methods
  • New material/skills/technology and old values, knowledge revisited
  • Question ‘needs’ - work on what is essential, thinking within boundaries of systems while pushing what is possible
  • Copy left
  • Be thrifty with resources at different levels, use frugality as a tool to build new capabilities
  • Learn from informal design but work with firm design intention

Ongoing Research / Focus Area

Using Frugality as a Design Principle

Design has been through many interpretations and varations through its relatively short history. While the core processes remain much the same, often, the principles vary in emphasis.

Design has also been a response to social and cultural shifts in the world around us and has often interpreted these into form and material. While one end of the spectrum of design deals with trends and social/psychological needs of people, which are sometimes superficial, a large number of designers have engaged with the world around them in a deep and human way. Artists/Designers have expanded their vision and chosen consciously to use design thinking to deal with complex wicked problems, have learnt from politics, economics, sociology and engineering to find new ways to think about this complexity.

Frugality is one such response to the world. It seems a fairly obvious response to the excess around us, and it has been used as an underlying principle in design for sustainability, social innovation and much of the current thinking around the world. As more people use this principle in their work, the immense possibilities will be realised. This could be used in different contexts, from extreme situations in which the urban poor live, to understanding and redefining social/community needs in the more developed world.

Project After the Storm – Floating toilet

Focus Areas

Projects and Workshops

After the storm: Design for flood hit Assam with Selco Foundation

Project Lead: Sudipto Dasgupta

This project is set in the backdrop of North Lakhimpur district of Assam – designs and prototypes a range of flood resilient solutions using frugal and vernacular resources, existing technology and co-creative methods. The major focal points is the ability to survive the flood and how a product, service or system around it will be able to function when the more conventional resources are cut off.

Some of the ideas developed in this project are:

  • Floating Toilet - is a balanced structure that is able to float and navigate through stagnant water.
  • Thermoelectric Chulah - This new and redesigned chullah has the facility to generate enough energy to power two USB ports which in turn helps charge mobile phones and provides a light source
  • Secure Food Shelving - a DIY product made with bamboo and coconut rope with four different compartment to store food grains, pulses, vegetables, utensils and extra grain sacks to store food safely and conveniently with protection from water, insects and moisture.
  • Hover Skirt – to convert any flat platform into a hovercraft/board. This hover skirt is modular enough to wrap onto a range of sizes that make it easy to install and use.
  • Tricle – a portable water filter is designed which is handy, easy to use, cheap and comes with cartridges which could be replaced with naturally available materials
  • Cospace – creating the systemic working of a co-operative model along with designing a flood resilient co-working space to provide alternative occupational opportunities
  • Alternate Energy Generator - captures physical movements in the house to harness it in the form of usable energy
  • Alternative Rain Water System - traditional Rainwater Harvesting and storage system re-designed to fit into this particular context, using the minimal and frugal lifestyle of the people from the area and the uniqueness of the stilt houses as constraints for the design
  • Floating House - a structural integration of vernacular materials and design, coupled with modern architecture
  • Bonnyar Ghot – Cooking Vessel that helps in reducing the resources expended in the process of cooking a meal and economizes water use for this flood prone region

Project After the Storm – Rainwater harvesting

Project After the Storm – Storage vessels

Project: Familiar Process – Unfamiliar Terrain

This project studies the extreme vulnerability of communities of small fishermen of coastal India. The fisherman communities of Malpe are the major stakeholders identified by a Bangalore based NGO – Selco Foundation.

While this was where the initial line of enquiry hovered around, as the group got ‘familiar’ with the terrain, a new set of definitions of vulnerability emerged. One of them was that vulnerability and poverty, even though were related issues could exist without the other. Here vulnerability did exist without abject poverty. This was a typical example where over supply of human resource generating extreme disregard towards safety and wellbeing.

Some products developed were:

  • Single wheel trolley for fish
  • Stove for Fishing Boat
  • Toilet for Fishing Boat

Project: Inventing Green

‘Inventing Green’, project of SELCO, is looking at experimenting with materials and developing ways to reduce the embodied energy in Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE) lighting solutions for underserved communities. Mainly working with solar energy, these solar powered lighting solutions could improve livelihood, education or well being of the community. It also questions the current and local green manufacturing process. Are the products and services that claim to be green really green?

Further, traditional crafts communities using locally available, natural materials are not able to make a livelihood due to competition from these products.

Working with SELCO Foundation, which works to link the benefits of sustainable energy to poverty eradication by collaborating with NGOs, local financial institutions, education institutions and social enterprises, we worked to imagine new ways to think and work with materials and manufacturing processes to rethink the products in terms of form, materials, packaging and manufacturing.

Product development for Solar Lighting:

  • Lamps using traditional wood turning from Channapatna
  • Lighting for Public Spaces using sustainable material
  • Hanging lamps using Channapatna Lacquer wood work

Project Inventing Green – using traditional craft for solar lamps

Project: Original Products and Systems developed with the Grassroots Innovation Design Studio GRIDs

  • Ceiling Air Cooler
  • Cycl-o-cleaner
  • Fuel saving Cooking Vessels
  • Paper Mache Furniture
  • See-saw Washing Machine
  • Products developed with moonj grass in North Bihar

Seesaw Washing machine

International Workshops

  • 2017: Frugal Design Workshop at Srishti, Bangalore with the Zurich University of the Arts and Selco Foundation
  • 2016: IDSS 2016 International workshop on Frugal design at Zurich University of the Arts
  • 2016: Behind Fences, a workshop in applied design research workshop run in Hamburg’s Gegenwartsakademie, or Contemporary Academy for Social Sustainability, Designxport and Goethe Institute, Bangalore

Frugal Design workshop - Understanding the context

2016: Behind Fences - Exhibition of work

2016: Behind Fences - Discussions in class


The Frugal Design Lab is currently committed to taking the above-mentioned projects to the next level, through product, design and business development.

Interested people could work over a period of time with the above projects to take them forward in different ways.


For more information about this program, kindly email