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Saving lives with Design that Matters

“The big question for us is: How do you design a fantastic piece of equipment and make it hard to use incorrectly in the context of a developing country?” asked Timothy Prestero, founder and CEO of Design that Matters. For him and his team of innovators, it’s not enough to build something great — it has to be built in context.

“The solutions to so many great global health problems already exist, they are just poorly adapted to the context — and context is king,” said Prestero.

Design that Matters doesn’t accept a world in which countless newborns are at risk of lifelong disability and death from easily treatable conditions like jaundice, hypothermia, and pneumonia. By pushing the limits of technology in rapid prototyping and low-volume manufacturing, Prestero and his team are setting the standard for best design practices in the developing world.

Their mission begins with Firefly, the world’s most effective newborn phototherapy device for low-resource hospitals. With a simple bassinet and overhead light, it’s designed specifically to allow rural clinics with limited resources and inexperienced staff to successfully treat babies with jaundice.

“Much of our success comes from the plummeting cost of innovation,” said Prestero. “A sketch pad used to be this baroque fantasy object that only movie studios could afford. With our ThinkPads, we can go from 3D drawing, to photorealistic rendering, to a 3D printed part, all on the road.”

As of May 2017, the Firefly phototherapy device has reached 23 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and treated more than 100,000 newborns. Products that Design that Matters has helped design and launch have reached a total of 330,000 people worldwide. Building off this success, Design that Matters is developing a complementary device they call Otter, a conductive warmer designed to treat premature babies vulnerable to hypothermia.

“Working in developing countries, there’s a narrative gap,” said Prestero. “We’re dealing with translators, cultural differences, and a finite amount of time. We don’t get the feedback we need unless we bring a prototype. Our ThinkPads combined with desktop manufacturing tools allow us to quickly generate the physical prototypes we need to tell the story and solve problems.”

Echoing Prestero’s sentiments, the World Health Organization reports that up to 80{000a095ff30648076f0f4b30b787038af3c769807fe229295054097d29c9e084} of donated medical equipment in the developing world is never even turned on, because the devices are not explained or designed in a useful way for locals. Unused and broken medical equipment amounts to $250 million a year in unacceptable waste, and serves as a mounting barrier to improved health outcomes. So in addition to building new things, Design that Matters is tackling the issue of defunct existing technology.

One of their latest projects, Echo, is an open-source internet-of-things module that seeks to create and collect data for medical devices. Once completed, it will quickly communicate what devices are being used, which need repairs, and how many were even used in the first place.

“In prolonging the lifespan of these devices, we can save more lives, make our products more cost-effective for users, and protect the environment,” says Prestero.

With so many amazing projects under their belt, one wonders how Design that Matters picks what they are going to work on next. For Prestero, it’s all about finding things that meet at the perfect intersection of social impact, company capabilities, and market demand. No matter what they work on next, it’s guaranteed to be affordable, impactful — and as is their slogan — hard to use wrong.


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