The Vhembe filter:

a product for rural South Africa

  • Angus Campbell
  • Martin Bolton
Keywords: Potpaz, Filtron, User-centred design


According to Chochinov (2010:6), ‘[f]rom Victor Papanek’s Design for the real world to John Thackara’s In the bubble, from Buckmister Fuller’s World game to Bruce Mau’s Massive change, there has been a perennial desire to drive home the imperative of design for social good.’ The first aim of this article is therefore to document a South African design project that focuses on social good and the impact the outcome could offer a very large segment of society through improved water quality.1 The second aim is to illustrate how a user-centred industrial design methodology can be used to develop an existing product become better suited to its users, and to show how this methodology can be applied to product development intended for rural settings. The specific product used in this case study is the existing Filtron water filter and the resultant improved design is called the Vhembe water filter. Martin Bolton2 undertook the development of the Vhembe filter in fulfilment of a Master’s degree in industrial design at the University of Johannesburg from 2007-2009. The Master’s project formed part of a larger collaborative research project that aimed to investigate whether an intervention that improves water quality would measurably improve the health of people using the intervention. This larger project,3 a collaboration between the University of Venda (UniVen) and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), was headed by Professor Natasha Potgieter and funded by the Water Research Commission through UniVen with research conducted in approximately 25 rural villages in the Vhembe district of the Limpopo Province, South Africa.