Innovative design has proven to be indispensable during the pandemic.
It’s easy to think about design as just aesthetics. It’s just there to make things look pretty or a specific way to appeal to its audience. It has always been packaged that way that people tend to forget is that design is in everything, that it’s at the core of how things function. It’s an important element of how things work.
This is the very reason why innovative design is crucial today more than ever. Everything that has happened in the past few months is extremely unexpected that we had to react on the fly with every change that was taking place. Quick thinking, collaboration, and good, well-thought-out design literally saved lives and improved the crumbling situation the world was in.
One of the best and timely examples of this is architect and MIT professor Carlo Ratti’s CURA or connected units for respiratory ailments. His project alongside more than a hundred colleagues created open-source developed intensive care units from recycled shipping containers as a means to lighten the load of the ravaged Italian healthcare industry.
These makeshift units functioned as effectively as biocontainment-compliant isolation wards but are as easy to set up as isolation tents. These intensive-care pods significantly increased the number of intensive care units of hospitals without any compromise.
It was first used in Turin which was also among the hardest-hit areas of the pandemic. The design was also used later on in Canada and the UAE. It’s now among the many Innovation by Design honorees that are appreciated for the ingenuity it showcased in response to a catastrophic event.
At a time where some of the world’s leaders actively deny the existence and magnitude of the health crisis, design bridged the gap and provided great solutions. A new breed of ventilators was designed to be low-cost and quick to produce. Personal protective equipment or PPEs are tweaked and re-engineered to be safer, more effective, more comfortable, and more affordable in many cases. All of these were achieved in record time while leaders like Trump dilly-dallied with their policies.
It’s not like the design industry had things easy during the pandemic. With the lockdowns in place, sourcing for materials became nearly impossible. Budgets were seriously limited and remote collaborations prove to be exhausting in various aspects. With some perseverance, the design was able to somehow compensate for the abysmal lack of leadership in many parts of the world.
FastCompany’s Design Company of the Year, Newlab, is another shining example of brilliance under duress. They have devised solutions for a vast array of problems including inaccurate case counts, medical supply shortages, and a lot more after the city of New York was locked down.
One of their best creations was Spiro Wave, an original ventilator design that simplified the device which made it possible to be manufactured locally. With fewer components compared to a regular ventilator, making them was easier and less complicated. They still functioned similarly to a ventilator, providing additional essential equipment to local hospitals.
The other project was a COVID-19 tracker that was born out of the public’s frustration about the inaccurate reporting of cases and numbers connected to the disease. Run by Newlab’s Applied XL, this tracker is an aggregator of data on COVID-19 from around the world that clearly depicts the manner and location of the viral transmission. The goal was to present accurate and timely data to the public while governments scramble to present their own people with some of the most crucial information at the moment.
It’s not just tech companies that mobilized. Even large corporations made major efforts in doing their parts in making things somehow better. Nike, for example, recalibrated their manufacturing and design processes to produce much-needed PPEs for healthcare workers. They were able to produce over 360,000 pieces of PPE within weeks even if their research and development process typically took months to complete.
What’s also notable is how they made use of what’s already available to them. They used shoe paddings, plastic from Nike Airsoles, and drawstrings from their pants and jackets on face shields. By doing so, they were able to produce much-needed items right away without taking away precious resources from other PPE manufacturers. The idea was to contribute and they did so by repurposing what they already have.
As situations ease up in many parts of the globe, the next major challenge for designers, businesses, policymakers, and communities is to create a safer post-pandemic world. This, in combination with the current political unrest in the United States, proves to be a major undertaking that will require a serious deal of the innovative design.
With all of these impressive things said, many tend to wonder what could be achieved if the same amount of fervor and sense of urgency was directed towards addressing climate change. While many designers are already doing their part and making change, a major scale action is necessary to truly make a dent in the current problem.