BUSINESS
12/16/2015 06:36 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2016

Listening for Disruption: Blue Lights and New Knees

Sally Ride -- the first American woman to fly in space. That is who social good engineer Krista Donaldson immediately thinks of when asked who inspired her in her youth. There are others, she says, "But Sally was the real deal to me."

Donaldson herself is an inspiration to others and part of the growing revolution of product design for social impact that is inspiring others around the world. She is the CEO at D-Rev, a non-profit organization designing and delivering medical technologies to improve the lives of the under-served.

In 2012, D-Rev released its first product, Brilliance, a phototherapy lamp to treat neonatal jaundice that sells for $500 -- rather than the typical price point at the time of $3,000. D-Rev newborn health products are now in 36 countries, treating over 103,000 at-risk newborns through the use of high-intensity blue LEDs and smarter design. And on December 8, it launched its first mobility product, the $80 ReMotion Knee, which is about one-fifth the cost of competitive products.

So how does a small start-up innovate in such a big way? By listening first to customers, Donaldson says. "We start with problems that are user-identified. When you are focused on solving problems versus creating products, your design process encompasses so much more."

D-Rev sends its designers into the field to conduct interviews with patients, doctors and nurses. By talking with doctors in rural India, D-Rev learned that many babies with jaundice were not being treated effectively because their equipment was too expensive to maintain.

"We visited all these hospitals and discovered the bulbs were too dim," Donaldson recalls. "Older kids that had jaundice as babies were now being treated for brain damage because their treatment never worked. It's devastating."

In the case of Brilliance, D-Rev has used feedback from its users -- everyone from doctors and patients to the service engineers, sales team, and manufacturing leads at Phoenix Medical Systems -- to modify and launch a new model, Brilliance Pro. One example: nurses expressed how they usually have only one free hand to adjust the phototherapy lamp, while the other hand holds the baby or medical supplies, so D-Rev designed accordingly.

For the ReMotion Knee, they worked in partnership with the Jaipur Foot Rehabilitation Center to understand the unique needs of the local population in India. "What it takes to have something available to amputees in the developing world, more than cost is that it should be designed for the social, cultural and environmental needs where the people live," said Dr. Mukul, director of the Center.

To get a product to market quickly while keeping overhead costs down, D-Rev designs and simulates virtual prototypes on high-powered workstations. Once designs are optimized they then create select physical prototypes for testing. In addition to their headquarters in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood, the team can often be found at Autodesk Workshop at Pier 9 in San Francisco, where minds and machines come together to build and test products.

The Dell sustainability team became involved with D-Rev when they began to use donated Dell workstations and displays for their product design work. Dell supports D-Rev in partnership with the Autodesk Technology Impact Program, which donates money and design software suites to non-profit organizations doing good through design.

Donaldson and her team at D-Rev inspire all of us with their focus on people, not profit, and her efforts to create a world where everyone receives the care and support they need to succeed and thrive. And, she is a global leader in social impact design. Wow.

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