The Scarcity of Fresh Water

June 7, 2013

Fresh water is one of the rarest resources on Earth and yet it can still be found for free. When bottled water was introduced for the first time about fifteen years ago, I was really skeptical about whether or not it would succeed. Why would people buy bottled water if you can get drinking water for free? Who would actually pay the same amount for water as soda or juice?

Today, companies spend a lot of time and money convincing consumers to buy their water with the help of unique and beautiful bottle designs. It is often the simplicity of the design that makes it appear higher quality and more elite (for example, VOSS vs. Aquafina). As designers, should we continue to focus on improving the bottle design or do we need to instead focus on improving the condition of our tap water?

Various designs for bottled water (photo from

Years ago, I remember drinking the tap water from my kitchen and using the same water to cook. It never occurred to me that water would become a product that I would one day have to purchase from a store. However, as I watch and hear the news about polluted water in the rivers and lakes, I start to wonder about the quality of the water that our cities provide. I find myself now drinking filtered water from the fridge or bottled water from the stores on a regular basis.

Water pollution existed from the very beginning of civilization. However, it was not a big issue in the early development stages of cities. Today, the water pollution rate has increased dramatically with technologies that allow mass production and consumption of human goods. Also, many people have been gathering around the major cities, developing a more concentrated pollution of the water.

Water Pollution in China (photo from

Designers have developed various water-purifying devices to aid in providing cleaner water for people to drink. However, it does not solve the fundamental issue – fresh water is scarce in today’s world.

How can we, as designers, help solve this problem that we all are facing, so our future generation can enjoy the same beautiful nature that we all have? Our design principle is about solving problems and making products that better someone’s life. I believe the right solution is not in selling fresh water in beautiful bottles, but in discovering how we can make natural water more clean and safe to drink. For some examples of water-purifying devices in the developing world, check out an article here.

Written by: TJ Kim, Director of New Product Development, Beyond Design, Inc.

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