The Power of Design Thinking

Posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2020

Written by Mairin Scannell, Program Coordinator, John F. Wood Centre

3D printing a face mask for OVC Hospital

Empathize. Ideate. Prototype. Test. Iterate.

These are key elements of the design thinking process.  Design Thinking is a proven problem-solving process that keeps the user at the core.  It is a process that can be applied to any problem.  The John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise and the College of Arts’ Interdisciplinary Design Lab at the University of Guelph recently put these words, and the design thinking process, to good use as they created Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College Hospital.

Dr. Stephanie Nykamp, OVC Associate Dean, Clinical Program, approached John Phillips, Senior Design Engineer at the Interdisciplinary Design Lab, for help getting PPE face shields for their essential and front line workers. Phillips then reached out to his campus partners at the John F. Wood Centre for Business and Student Enterprise. Together they embraced the need to empathize, ideate, prototype, test and iterate, while also navigating the administrative and logistical aspects of getting a novel design approved for use.

The first step was understanding the what, where and how the PPE was required to be used. What tasks would the hospital workers be doing while wearing the PPE?  Where would they be wearing it? How long would they be wearing it? The answers to all these questions provided important insights that influenced the design process.

“PPE that isn’t comfortable isn’t effective. PPE that isn’t functional isn’t effective. I’ve witnessed a number of situations where individuals aren’t wearing their PPE simply because it’s either obstructing their ability to do their job, or it’s just not that comfortable” said Phillips.

Once the users’ needs were understood, several prototypes were sent to Nykamp to test with her staff and provide feedback.  The final design is a result of the feedback provided and is a combination of the best elements of each prototype.

“The design produced is one I internally developed based on three different designs to optimize usability and comfort. I wanted to focus on the best aspects of what is possible with still readily accessible shield materials.” said Phillips.

The design is unique in terms of the amount of air ventilation that is possible, the foam around the headband, the angle of which the elastic goes around the head. These elements are all extremely important considering the veterinarians who are wearing these might be in surgery, wearing the masks for extremely long amounts of time.

“This face mask design is the best one that we’ve seen and used to date” explains Nykamp. “We are extremely grateful for the amount of time and thoughtfulness that went into creating the masks, so our essential front-line workers can continue to perform essential veterinary care.”

While Phillips worked on the design, Melanie Lang, Executive Director of the Wood Centre, championed the approval process of the custom OVC design.

The process was a great example of collaboration across colleges explains Lang. “Interdisciplinary and experiential education is what we embody at the John F. Wood Centre.  This simple yet impactful example that highlights the importance of having different areas of expertise working together. Each person involved leaned on their area of expertise and together we achieved great results.”

University of Guelph students, staff and faculty need to look no further than their own campus for a real-life example of the amazing impact that can happen when we empathize, prototype, test and iterate together.

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