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Design Strategy

In a recent article entitled 5 Things To Keep In Mind When Designing For Social Impact, Tabitha Yong rightly pointed out that “too many designers use ‘design for social good’ to cushion personal legitimacy, buzzing about ‘social innovation’ and ‘helping the poor’ without thoroughly understanding what these concepts truly entail — or worse, without thinking about whether their contributions are actually doing more harm than good.”

This got us thinking about examples where people have used their designing skills to develop designs that truly do have the potential for great social impact.

A couple of weeks ago we showcased 3 examples of brands that were reimagined for enhanced social impact. Today we’ll look at examples in 3 other fields of design – product, application and space design – that were developed for enhanced social impact in the field of healthcare.

Product Design: HIV Home Test For Developing Countries

According to UNAIDS, in 2017 there were 36.9 million people living with HIV, globally. Of this staggering number, 70% live in Africa while 14% live in Asia and the Pacific, in low and middle income countries.

An early diagnosis is key to preventing the condition from progressing to AIDS. If diagnosed in the early stages, an HIV positive person who receives appropriate antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment can go on to live a long and relatively healthy life. While notable progress has been made in curbing and preventing the spread of the HIV virus over the past 10 to 15 years*, one of the reasons the epidemic continues is because the societies where it is rampant have poor access to medical facilities. Lack of infrastructure and transport means that a person has numerous obstacles in getting to a facility just to get tested.

Product designer Hans Ramzan has come up with a solution. The reason his product – Catch – has the potential for vast social impact is that it has been developed keeping the two main constraints in mind:

1. People in developing countries who face huge obstacles in getting to a clinic to get tested, often don’t want to make the journey just to be told it’s “too late” – Ramzan solves this problem by developing a ‘test at home’ device, that reveals the results immediately.

2. Low and middle income sections of society, where the prevalence of the virus is the highest, do not have the resources to access superior medical facilities – Ramzan’s product can be mass produced at a cost of around $5 per piece.

This design helps in quick and easy diagnosis. If you’re interested to learn how the device works, click here.

App Design: BNF Drug Catalogue

Our next pick helps in quick and accurate prescription. With the multitude of drugs and drug combinations available today, doctors have a lot of criteria to consider before they prescribe one to a patient after diagnosis has been completed. Is the patient already on a similar drug? Will the new drug being prescribed result in an adverse reaction with one the patient is currently on. What are the side effects? In Britain, the British National Formulary (BNF) index is the go-to reference book for clinicians to check up on information like this. Recently, design studio Modern Human developed an app version of the index. The designers observed doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical students struggling between sections of the book, with post-it notes everywhere and using five fingers to keep several sections accessible at once.

They designed the app to make it easier for medical professionals to search for and compare drugs from their electronic smart devices, without having to flip back and forth through the pages of a voluminous book. Not only does this save a lot of time and improve accuracy, especially when having to cross reference drugs, but it also means that doctors out in the field or on house calls can prescribe on-the-go.

Features like ‘smart search’ or those that highlight interactions with non-medical substances (certain foods for example) go a long way in improving the effectiveness of the user. The free app has been downloaded by over 126,000 clinicians in the past year to treat approximately 1.5m patients every month.

Space Design: GHESKIO Cholera Treatment Centre

The devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti led to an unprecedented outbreak of cholera, a disease the country had not experienced in over 100 years.

When invited to redesign the GHESKIO hospital after it collapsed in the earthquake, instead of simply designing a space that could treat cholera patients, MASS Design Group looked at developing a holistic solution that would tackle the root of the problem and curb reinfection. Cholera is a water borne disease, so to nip the problem in the bud, MASS incorporated into the building design, a “specialized wastewater treatment system that removes all waterborne disease pathogens on-site to ensure that there is no recontamination of groundwater, and no need for off-site treatment.”

MASS specifically designed the building within its local context. It incorporated a rainwater harvesting system that enables the water so collected to be treated and used for cleaning, bathing and drinking, a clerestory design that allows for natural ventilation and cooling in the hot, humid Haitian climate as well as natural sunlight to enter, and made use of local building materials and craftsmen, to be able to have full control on quality and to sustain the livelihood of the locals. The GHESKIO CTC design embodies the prevention aspect of good medical care.

The designers highlighted in this article clearly began developing their designs by first empathising with the end user. By willingly embracing the constraints the projects posed, keenly observing the end user, designing within context and focusing on solving the root cause of the problem, rather than its symptoms – all principles that make up a Design Thinking framework – they were able to arrive at solutions that could truly impact society positively.

Do you have an idea that has the potential to impact society positively? Zeitgeist would be happy to explore the possibilities with you, using our innovative Venture Design framework. Get in touch today!

Gitanjali Singh Cherian
Marketing Manager

*New HIV infections have been reduced by 47% since the peak in 1996. (


Design Strategy

In the article we published last week we talked about how and why Zeitgeist incorporates the Design Thinking framework while designing solutions.

But everything is always better explained and understood with an example and when it comes to Design Thinking, there is, of course, no better place to go for examples than IDEO.

To understand how IDEO develops truly ‘user-centric’ solutions, today we’ll highlight three examples of how the firm used insight, observation and empathy, which, according to Tim Brown are the “three mutually reinforcing elements of any successful design program”, to uncover latent needs of the end users they were developing solutions for.

According to Brown, the real challenge of design thinkers is “helping people to articulate the latent needs they may not even know they have.”

Insight – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention case study

When The Center for Disease Control and Prevention approached IDEO to develop a solution to tackle the alarming obesity trend amongst the youth of America, IDEO went in search of context and insight into the user’s mind – to Jennifer Portnick.

By taking legal action against an aerobic and dance fitness company that had refused to let her become a franchisee instructor, Portnick had made headlines when the firm was forced to change a discriminatory policy of theirs that prevented plus sized individuals from becoming instructors.

Portnick was plus sized, and had argued that ‘fit’ and ‘large’ were not incompatible, claiming she worked out 6 times a week and was in fact, fit.

Jennifer Portnick’s story gave the team at IDEO invaluable insight that helped them reconsider several assumptions about overweight people.

‘To begin with the assumption that all fat people want to be thin, that weight is inversely proportional to happiness, or that large size implies lack of discipline is to prejudge the problem.’

Observation – The Acumen Fund case study

When IDEO worked with the Acumen Fund to find a way to provide clean water to the underprivileged in developing countries like India and Africa, observation helped them to understand problems that were not immediately obvious.

For example, they realised that obtaining safe, clean water wasn’t always the problem; rather the problem was often transporting it hygienically across harsh terrain and long distances to its final destination. Observation, via local NGOs, also brought about the need to develop solutions that were culturally appropriate, using systems and methods the end user would be comfortable with.

Empathy – The U.S. Department of Energy case study

One of the important parts of designing a user centric solution is to understand how the user views the problem. When IDEO worked with the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) to promote energy efficiency, it was discovered, through extensive research conducted amongst consumers across cities in the US, that the consumers did not in fact care about energy efficiency and this was one of the assumptions the DoE’s prior programmes had been based upon.

By empathising with the end user’s perspective, IDEO was able to suggest solutions that were energy efficient no doubt, such as ‘stylish but thermally efficient window coverings and retail displays of energy-efficient lighting’, but more impactfully, that also tied in to what really mattered to the target market – comfort, style and community.

These examples bring out the fact that Design Thinking prevents solving ‘problems’ that are based on the wrong assumptions; for then one isn’t actually solving a meaningful problem!

These are also real life examples of the potential Design Thinking has to bring about solutions for positive social impact – solutions that can solve the pressing problems our world faces today.

If you are intrigued by the Design Thinking framework and would like to apply it to your business, get in touch with Zeitgeist today.

Note: All examples and quotes from ‘Change by Design’ by Tim Brown, Harper Collins, 2009


Design Strategy

Zeitgeist is a collective of design thinkers and strategists committed to elevating and enhancing human experiences. To understand how Zeitgeist came to find value in and incorporate the Design Thinking framework, read our earlier article by our Founder, Madhuri Rao

Be it developing a brand for a company, creating a meaningful space for a client or helping a startup idea go from concept to reality, Zeitgeist approaches each challenge against the backdrop of a Design Thinking framework.

The framework is, and allows us to develop solutions that are:


Designing for the end user lies at the heart of the Design Thinking framework. By employing multiple creative minds and expert opinions to achieve this, the solutions proposed are innovative. They may be simple or complex, but generally are ‘have not been thought of before’ ideas – original, fruitful and with very well defined value propositions. Further, rapid prototyping, which forms part of the framework, allows for a quick time to market, a key factor in innovations becoming successful.


Design Thinking doesn’t solve problems by addressing symptoms. It digs deep to arrive at the correct definition of the root cause of a problem, instead of immediately rushing to come up with a Band-Aid solution. By encouraging rapid prototyping, ideas can be quickly tested for effectiveness, rejected, tweaked or finalised.


Since Design Thinking is a holistic approach, taking into account various perspectives and potential influences, solutions are designed not only for the present, but acknowledge potential variables in the future as well.

The framework is also iterative; there is no ‘from point A to point Z’ process. It allows for flexible usage of the creative tools. Once the problem has been accurately defined, you can ideate, prototype and test various potential solutions with the end user numerous times until an optimum one has been arrived at. Design Thinking understands that first ideas don’t always have to be the best ones!


Design Thinking nudges you to immerse yourself into the lives of the people you are designing for, using tools like The Five Whys and Card Sorting. It is only once you truly understand what makes them tick, what their pain points are and what brings them joy that you can begin to consider coming up with solutions that would be truly valuable to them.


In depth research forms a major part of the process leading up to ideation.

Research into the end users and the social, political, economic and environmental context within which a solution is being proposed ensures a holistic view of the problem today and in the future.


Design Thinking aims to address the problem from the entire journey of the end user, and multiple potential innovations in the process. As mentioned in the earlier point, the problem is looked at up close, but also from a bird’s eye view, giving it context and taking that context into consideration while developing a solution.


Since Design Thinking takes a holistic viewpoint, it must be collaborative in order to be successful. Only through multiple perspectives of all the parties affected by the problem can an effective outcome be achieved. And only by engaging with experts can information that is relevant and up to date be factored in. Design Thinking encourages and supports co-creation endeavours.


The Design Thinking framework encourages out of the box thinking, using techniques like Brainstorming and Mash-Ups. No initial idea is too ridiculous or far fetched to be considered. When the mind is free to work without constraints, the sky truly is the limit, especially when one is secure in the knowledge that the prototyping and testing phases will reveal how feasible and effective an idea is.


A solution arrived at using Design Thinking is one that aims to minimise negative impact – in finding a solution, it doesn’t create more new problems. It looks to optimally utilise resources and always takes into consideration the long terms impact of a proposed solution. It is why Zeitgeist also believes that Design Thinking is an excellent framework with which to develop solutions for positive social impact.

Zeitgeist can help you use the Design Thinking framework to arrive at optimal design solutions for your company – whether you are a startup, an established firm looking to turn things around, or looking to design new solutions for the future that are truly impactful and meaningful – reach out to us today.


Design Strategy

According to the Center for Social Impact at the University of Michigan:

Social Impact is a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge.

For the change to be significant it needs to be systemic, not piecemeal.

So how does one go about maximising systemic positive change?

One of the reasons Zeitgeist advocates co-creation is because of its potential to generate innovative design that can have far reaching social impact.

Consumers today seek out brands that exemplify social responsibility, sustainable development and higher purpose; brands that answer the bigger questions such as:
– How do we design a car that reduces air pollution?
– How do we ease the difficulty parents who have terminally ill children experience?
– How can we find a way to give villagers in remote areas access to safe drinking water?

We believe co-creation provides the best approach and today we’d like to explain why.

We have scaled things down and chosen the example of waste segregation at home, to explain how co-creation offers the most effective method – one that brings about a systemic change.

The identified need here that can bring about positive social impact is – Waste Segregation.


You invest in two garbage bins and inform all the members of your home that henceforth garbage needs to be separated as wet and dry waste. You pat yourself on the back for having done your bit for the environment.

However, after two weeks, you realise that all isn’t well, when the garbage collector refuses to collect garbage from your home henceforth, since it is not being properly segregated.

How can this be? What is going wrong?

After some investigation, you discover the following: – Your 8 year-old and the house help both don’t fully understand the difference between wet and dry waste.
– The garbage pick-up is now being done at 5am and not 7am as was earlier the case. Because of this, the house help, who used to take the garbage out when the pick-up arrived, now leaves the garbage bins outdoors at night. As a result stray cats (and possibly rats!) have been attacking the bins, leaving the house help quite dejected and the garbage collector annoyed about the whole situation.


You now realise the folly of your ways. The true need can only be identified by empathising with all the parties involved in the process.

You begin to collaborate with the parties involved (except maybe for the cats and rats, because let’s face it, in all probability they don’t really care about your garbage segregation problems) and come up with ideas that could help you’ll collectively achieve the goal of proper garbage segregation.

Your ideas might include: – Using the Internet as a tool; looking for YouTube videos.
– Educating your child about segregation using words and methods that he/she is able to relate to.
– Educating your house-help about segregation in the language he understands best and perhaps getting one of those ready reckoners translated into his mother tongue.
– Helping your child and house-help understand how their small actions have a part to play in the bigger idea of protecting the environment.
– Taking the garbage collector’s suggestion and investing in dustbins more suited to the new method of garbage collection and better able to withstand those unexpected midnight assaults.
– Using your wet waste to make compost for your garden or for the community garden.

Will this be enough? It’s not possible to know, till you test the new system.

If your new ideas don’t deliver results, you might need to go back a few steps and come up with more ideas in order to achieve your goal. You might find a new problem – your son isn’t really gung-ho about ‘this whole segregation thing’. So perhaps you’ll take your co-creators to a garbage segregation dump, so that they empathise with what the garbage collector has to deal with. Maybe you could show them examples of the impact the garbage problem has had and could potentially have on the world at large. Only when they realise the urgency and importance – when they experience a paradigm shift – will they be enthusiastic and feel a responsibility towards the project.

This example isn’t intended to tell you how to solve the problem of poor garbage segregation in your home. It’s intended to expose you to the understanding that:

Only a holistic solution that takes into account all the parties involved, and brings about a paradigm shift, can result in systemic change that drives social impact.

We believe that the principles of co-creation that we explained in our previous article on the subject enable the optimum way to achieve these objectives that lead to social impact.

We’ve come up with a model that lays out the steps that lead from identifying a social need to enabling social impact. Design Thinking and collaboration – the underlying essence of co-creation – lie at the heart of the entire process.

Can you think of ways this could be applied to the world at large? Consider a large-scale social problem that bothers you – could co-creation potentially offer a more robust solution to it?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments section or at our Facebook page: