Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

“Design Thinking” in Harvard Business Review (Tim Brown)

Cross-post from Design Research for Health: Mongolia:
Saw this over at Jocelyn Wyatt’s blog:

IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, wrote an article for June’s Harvard Business Review. This is a great introduction to design thinking.

If this link doesn’t work, go to the HBR website and look for the “Design Thinking” link.  Currently it is accessible as free content.

Brown does a great job of showing how thinking in design terms has value beyond products.  Services, processes, systems, experience, strategy can all benefit from design thinking.  And even with products, it’s not just about defining requirements in the late stages of the game, it’s about innovation:

Although many others became involved in the [Shimano “Coasting”] project when it reached the implementation phase, the application of design thinking in the earliest stages of innovation is what led to this complete solution. Indeed, the single thing one would have expected the design team to be responsible for—the look of the bikes—was intentionally deferred to later in the development process, when the team created a reference design to inspire the bike companies’ own design teams.


A couple extensions to Brown’s statements about the Aravind Eye Care System:    


Much of its innovative energy has focused on bringing both preventive care and diagnostic screening to the countryside. Since 1990 Aravind has held “eye camps” in India’s rural areas, in an effort to register patients, administer eye exams, teach eye care, and identify people who may require surgery or advanced diagnostic services or who have conditions that warrant monitoring.


In developing its system of care, Aravind has consistently exhibited many characteristics of design thinking. It has used as a creative springboard two constraints: the poverty and remoteness of its clientele and its own lack of access to expensive solutions. For example, a pair of intraocular lenses made in the West costs $200, which severely limited the number of patients Aravind could help. Rather than try to persuade suppliers to change the way they did things, Aravind built its own solution: a manufacturing plant in the basement of one of its hospitals. It eventually discovered that it could use relatively inexpensive technology to produce lenses for $4 a pair.

First, Aravind did try to persuade suppliers to change the way they did things.  The promise of a huge latent market was not convincing enough for existing suppliers to drop the price of their intraocular lenses (IOL).  It was then that Aravind built its own capacity to produce lenses, in what came to be known as Aurolab.  I would argue that both their attempts at negotiation with IOL manufacturers and their decision to produce their own lenses were reflective of design thinking.

Second, what Aravind did with outreach was based on the prior activities of the Dr. V and the other Aravind founders.  As far back as the 1960s, they were conducting eye camps while in government service.  The key innovation was a management one: changing from in-the-field surgery to screening patients and transporting them to hospitals for surgery.  This greatly reduced the burden on technical resources (surgeons and technology) and made patient followup easier.

Written by Jaspal

June 6, 2008 at 10:41 am

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