In the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CoVent-19 Challenge was a way for leading designers and design firms around the world to contribute to the medical community at large by submitting designs for a better ventilator.
Ventilators were of course in short supply at the height of the pandemic, leading to life-or-death situations in countless hospitals. These ventilators, as they exist today, are complex and expensive to both produce and purchase.
While working with design and innovation firm Fuseproject, top-tier, award-winning designer Jayati Sinha helped the team create their submission to the challenge, and we were lucky enough to speak with Sinha about not only the CoVent-19 Challenge but also the many ways in which design can make positive contributions to the healthcare industry.
You’ll find the full interview below.
Sinha: A ventilator is a sophisticated device that is designed to breathe for a patient who is unable to breathe or is breathing insufficiently. At its most complex, it enables precision tailoring for a wide range of respiratory needs. With COVID-19, access to this lifesaving device presented a challenge since the global ventilator supply was not enough. Creatives around the world were invited by the medical community to design a rapidly deployable ventilator through the “The CoVent-19 Challenge”. VOX which stands for Ventilator + Oxygen and is also a homonym to the word voice; giving voice to health workers in our design process is a fully functional ventilator, designed, engineered, and built from the ground up in 10 weeks by our team at Fuseproject with Cionic and ME partners.
How were you able to apply your design philosophy to this ventilator project?
Sinha: I always advocate for human-centric design. With that in mind, we needed to really dig in to see what was actually happening inside the 4 walls of the hospitals. Some amazing conversations with respiratory therapists and nurses made it clear that we needed a simplified version of a ventilator that was specific to COVID to make the product feasible and not the complicated machine that the ventilator is. Other discoveries that made our design stand out were the use of hospital resources to reduce material costs and build time. The VOX ventilator used existing IV poles as the support structure for the ventilator. It also helped in making it compact and portable. Other great discoveries were using off-the-shelf parts to simplify production and designing something that is space efficient. Though we had some fun designing the shell of the machine; playing with the UI was not an option. As a simple principle, rather than redesigning a UI, a better strategy is to play up familiarity and build on users existing knowledge of how a system works. The screens and the knobs had to be familiar to the doctors and nurses since they wouldn’t have time to learn a system in the middle of a pandemic.
How was the research for this project conducted? Were you in contact with healthcare professionals throughout?
Sinha: We conducted interviews with respiratory therapists and nurses to understand the needs of the patients, staff, and the hospital environment. Meeting them multiple times was not an option due to the very quick turnaround time of the project and the fact that these professionals were busy saving lives. So we read a lot of books, research papers, machine manuals, etc., and gathered as much information to prepare a robust interview guideline before we met with them and had a very productive discussion about the needs.
Can you identify some of the ways in which design could contribute to the healthcare industry?
Sinha: Design can mean so many things; It can be design thinking, business design, environment design, product design, etc. In terms of the overall environment, care cannot be separated from the environment where it is delivered. Humanizing the healthcare environment should be an essential priority. A carefully designed healthcare environment promotes a positive experience and in turn a patient’s well-being. Design can improve the overall patient experience of the healthcare system, i.e., how patients enter, seek help, and move out of the space as well as all the different kinds of interactions they have. The same rules can also be transferred to digital products like apps, websites, booking portals, and other digital touchpoints of the user’s journey. A well-designed experience can promote a positive experience, faster healing and recovery be it the physical or the digital experience.
Would you say that design benefits from an empathetic perspective?
Sinha: Absolutely! For me, design is nothing without empathy. An empathic design is one based on observations made in the user’s environment and pays attention to the user’s feelings toward a product. Design isn’t like art; it is meant to solve a problem or have some functionality and a humanistic approach just makes the product better.
Are there unique challenges presented by design work within healthcare?
Sinha: Innovation in healthcare majorly focuses on the advancement of medical products and devices which to me is a bit of a challenge. Non-technological solutions to healthcare challenges can also have a significant outcome for both patients and the medical staff. It can be simple experiences that could make users feel at ease, make them smile, etc., and can also solve bigger issues. If we can also focus on these design-led solutions that require a considerably smaller investment of time and resources and meet the needs of multiple stakeholders, it can be a big asset.