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Embrace Infant Warmer: Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley

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On the one hand, there was a clear need for something that would help moms and babies in rural areas. On the other hand, as electrical engineer Rahul Panicker put it, “Dude, that’s going to be hard.” Should they stick with the technical challenge—designing a low-cost incubator for hospital use? Or tackle the human needs—designing a solution for mothers in remote areas? “We had mixed opinions on this,” Rahul said. “Some people on the team wanted to do the more remote setting....Others—and I was one of the others—wanted to do something that could actually get finished by the end of the class.” Finally, they approached one of the teaching assistants in the class, Sarah Stein Greenberg (now managing director of the, for advice. She told them, “You know, given a choice, I’d say, go after the hard challenge. That’s what puts the ‘extreme’ in Extreme Affordability.”

So instead of creating another hospital incubator, they reframed the design challenge as: How might we create a baby-warming device that helps parents in remote villages give their dying infants a chance to survive? For the Embrace team, the solution was now about the parent, not the clinician. They wrote this point of view down on the whiteboard in their workspace, and it became their guiding light for the rest of the twenty-week class—and beyond.

This is awesome, yet creepy.  Keeping babies warm to save their lives is wonderful and like so much other great design, so obvious in retrospect.  But then, I have an ELECTRIC MOTHER ALERT siren blaring, alongside images of shocked and blistering neonates.  I imagine the difficulty of persuading mothers to use it was downplayed for the book, but then I wasn't there.  David Kelley was my advisor in college, and he and the other Design profs would always wrap up a class/education by saying something along the lines of, 'you have an opportunity not just to make better things, but to make things better.'  While this is definitely great, it seems to be somehow toeing the line.

Most mothers who would be using it are poor and therefore would not really have an alternative.

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