Design thinking and a $25 incubator: A case study

Design Thinkink incubator 25$Students at the Stanford d. school were challenged to design a less expensive incubator for babies born prematurely in Nepal. The students traveled to Nepal to meet with families and doctors and see the problem for themselves. During the trip, they were exposed to the angst of parents who were not able to save their premature babies. This mission of empathy helped them define who the users were and what their problem was. The students discovered that there were in fact many donated incubators in the hospitals, but surprisingly they were mostly empty. They realized that less expensive incubators would not actually solve the problem, since most premature babies were born far from hospitals, in rural areas, without access to incubators regardless of their cost.

The students changed their perception of what was needed and began to think about how babies in rural areas could stay warm for long periods of time. They used pictures, videos and storytelling of their experiences visiting Nepal to pinpoint the exact problem and brainstorm solutions. They stopped thinking of the doctors as their users and started thinking about desperate parents who need to give their babies a chance to survive. With each innovation or prototype that was suggested, they went back to the question on their whiteboard: Are we helping parents in rural areas save their babies’ lives?

The design which was eventually chosen was for an infant warmer, which looks like a mini sleeping bag. It is made of material which holds in heat, so it can be thrown into a pot of boiling water to get hot and will retain the heat for a few hours. The baby is wrapped tightly inside the warmer, with a special hood to keep the face exposed which still heat the baby’s head. The baby is kept warm for the amount of time it takes for the parents to reach the nearest hospital, even if it’s a few hours away.

The students who undertook this project didn’t stop with a prototype. They formed a company called Embrace and started manufacturing the product, which sells for a mere $25. Embrace now has programs in 11 different countries and has helped over 50,000 premature and low birth weight infants. And all it started with the design thinking process.

Patrick Sirois

www.triode.ca

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.


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