Can Design Challenge Inequality?
D-Rev is a nonprofit product development company based in San Francisco. Short for “Design Revolution” the group has been a visionary leader in non-profit product design for the last decade.
D-Rev was founded in 2007 by Paul Polak and Kurt Kuhlman, and grew out of a collaboration with Stanford University’s D-School. Krista Donaldson took over as CEO in 2009.
Two of their best-known designs are the Brilliance Jaundice Lamp and the Re-motion knee.
The Brilliance Jaundice lamp grew out of an investigation into how jaundice was being under-treated worldwide. Treatment for newborns is relatively simple – babies are given a treatment of phototherapy under blue light. However, D-Rev and Stanford found that 95% of all devices evaluated in India and Nigeria did not meet American Academy of Pediatrics standards for intensive phototherapy. The causes were alarmingly banal: the power was out, or a bulb had burnt out, etc. Problems which were easily addressed in the developed world. D-Rev’s design solution was characteristically simple and elegant. They designed a lamp with LEDs instead of fluorescents, eliminating the broken bulb problem, and also lasting sixty times longer while consuming half the power of compact fluorescent bulbs. Given that power is often inconsistent in developing countries and rural environments, D-Rev designed Brilliance so that it could be run off of a simple car battery for up to eight hours in the event of outages.
The ReMotion Knee was developed amid similar conditions. The cost of prosthetics in the developing world is prohibitively high. Often, the barriers to treatment are mundane. A $2 part on a $2000 prosthetic will wear out, and because that particular part is unavailable in that part of the world, the entire device is rendered useless. Moreover, prosthetics frequently need adjustment, and if made from certain materials, can rust, swell, etc., exacerbating the need for constant maintenance. The ReMotion Knee was conceived to be as simple and flexible knee, containing a minimum of parts and using a single hinge so that it swings naturally.
In both cases, the abiding design philosophy is a potent guide to making real change: design for widespread impact, and contextualize one’s efforts in the landscape where products will actually be used.
To complement its product designs, D-Rev also explores innovative means of partnering so that the products they designed can be widely distributed on sustainable market terms. D-Rev’s for-profit distribution partners receive higher yields when devices are sold to hospitals with the greatest social need. Their partners are free to sell to more high-end hospitals, but when they do, D-Rev receives a larger percentage, thus ensuring that distribution companies are incentivized to move products to underserved hospitals.
D-Rev has consistently shown that the world’s most intractable problems often don’t need complicated solutions. Sometimes the greatest impact, and the most elegant solutions, lie only in conscientious design.