If you can't see, then you can't learn. In the developing world, where schools are strapped for resources, that's a big problem--in Mexico, 11% of kids need eyeglasses. But the kids won't readily wear glasses, because they're seen as a handicap.
To fix the problem, Fuseproject, led by Yves Béhar, teamed up with the Mexican government to create "See Better to Learn Better," a free eyeglass program intended to make eyeglasses widely available, and good looking enough for the kids to want to wear them. The program eventually aims to give away 300,000 glasses per year.
Now, the cynics among you might argue that those colorful glasses simply mark a kid for a fresh beating, while letting the kids see a bit clearer before getting punched in the face.
But the design is a massive improvement over those thick, black-plastic things you'd get at a Mexican pharmacy (if you've got the pesos), which are the eye-wear equivalent of orthopedic shoes. "Wearing glasses carries a huge stigma for Mexican kids," Behar told us
last February. "One organization tried to give the kids Harry
Potter-style glasses, but they rejected them."
Behar, whose office is handily beside the Mexican consulate in San
Francisco, did a little road-testing of the frames as kids lined up to
get visas. Ultimately, Fuseproject narrowed the selection down to five
styles, ranging from sporty to nerdy.
"The glasses then say, 'I am unique. I am the only one with these
particular glasses,'" Behar says. And that's a key selling point of the design--the glasses
seem like more of a bourgeois fashion accessory than a friend-repellent.
They can be customized for self-expression; in addition to the five shapes, there are seven colors and three sizes; the frames come in two parts, so that top and bottom colors that can be mixed and matched. The nosepads swap out as well, to adjust the fit.
Moveover, because the frames can be disassembled, the lenses can be easily swapped out, to update the prescription. And the frames themselves are almost unbreakable, made of an advanced plastic called Gilamid. (A handy feature, if the bullies come after you anyway.)
This is actually the latest in Fuseproject's grand efforts a socially responsible design--previously, they designed the One Laptop Per Child in both its original and updated versions.