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Gates Discovery Center Exhibit for Families: 'Design With the 90%'

Take inspiration from a free exhibit about design around the globe

Published on: September 27, 2018

"Design With the 90%" exhibits inventions such as LifeStraw. Photo courtesy of LifeStraw

When most people hear the word "design," they think of things like fashion and expensive houses. There's some truth to that because most design processes are geared toward consumers in developed nations.

But a new local exhibit asks us to turn our attention to the other 90 percent of the world's population. 

"Design With the 90%" is an exhibit on view now at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center. The exhibit showcases 26 projects that offer solutions to some of the world's most challenging problems: easy access to clean water, dependable health care, regular education and safe shelter.

The projects and inventions displayed help kids see that designers work on a lot more than fashion shows. It also celebrates the fact that anyone can come up with good ideas to solve serious problems.

HarassMap, showcased in "Design With the 90%." Credit: Mostafa Abdel Aty/HarassMap

The projects on view range from prototypes to proven solutions. All were designed by people from a variety of backgrounds. A few notable inclusions:

  • Bangladesh is predicted to lose nearly a fifth of its land to global warming by the year 2050, and one-third of the country is submerged by floods during the annual monsoon. Architect Mohammed Rezwan designed floating classrooms out of old boats so that kids can continue to learn during the rainy season. 
  • In Kenya, where rural classrooms have limited access to electricity, a technology company designed a sturdy box that contains a charger and enough tablets for an entire classroom. When the box is plugged in, the tablets are recharged and automatically download new lessons. 
  • In Rwanda, nearly one in five girls misses school because a single menstrual pad costs a day’s wages. An American woman designed a biodegradable pad that can be made in Rwanda and that local women can afford. 
  • In Latin America, John Deere tractors and Maytag washing machines are unaffordable, but used bicycles are ubiquitous. The Guatemalan group Maya Pedal designed a variety of nonpolluting, human-powered machines — from farm equipment to coffee grinders — made from bicycle parts
BURN Cookstove, showcased in "Design With the 90%." Courtesy BURN Manufacturing

Parents should know

The subject matter of "Design With the 90%" is appropriate for all ages. Like all exhibits at the Discovery Center, it's text-heavy, so older kids and teens are more likely to appreciate it.

The fourth gallery is the most interactive. Postcards show all-ages ideas for helpful ways to get involved while one station has a small project that visitors can finish onsite (the station's project changes monthly). Plus, don't miss the invention table where kids can develop their own ideas.

If you want to visit as a family, there are free tours each day the center is open at 2 p.m. While most of the exhibit is hands-off, one corner of the second gallery offers interactive materials to explore what it means to think like a designer.

The Gates Foundation is partnering with Pacific Science Center on a field trip experience that will combine the exhibit with a hands-on design challenge. Field trips can be arranged by contacting The trips are free and there's financial aid available from the Discovery Center to fund transportation to and from school. 

If you go...

Find it: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, 440 5th Ave. N., Seattle, on the east side of the Seattle Center campus.

When: The Discovery Center is open Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; the "Design With the 90%" exhibit is on view through May 11, 2019.

Cost: Free

Getting there: The Seattle Center Fifth Avenue Garage is closest. Rates vary depending on events at Seattle Center. Consider taking public transit. The Discovery Center is located across the street from the Seattle Center — don't miss this age-by-age guide.

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