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Bio Technology : July 2009
AusBioEVENTS Gaining a competitive advantage through design thinking By Arna Ionescu One person’s treacherous-looking but creative solution to open small bottles with RA affected hands. Arna Ionescu presented a workshop at AusMedtech 2009 on the topic of ‘Design thinking’… My colleague recently visited an elderly woman with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for a contextual observation. In a phone conversation with the woman’s daughter, we learned that although the mother was truly suffering from the disease, she was managing her myriad of medications well. Such a situation is far from typical – most people living with RA struggle to do a variety of at-home tasks, from opening prescription bottles to handling small pills. In fact, we were so surprised to hear about the elderly woman’s ability to handle all her medications that we made an appointment to visit her. She greeted my colleague warmly at the door, and sitting in the kitchen, she assured him that all her medications were completely manageable. Still, my colleague was curious and, following empathic research methods, asked her to demonstrate how she takes her medications each day. She obliged, and my colleague was floored. The woman retrieved a new medication bottle, one that was considered RA-friendly, and proceeded to the kitchen, where she used a treacherous-looking mechanical bread slicer to saw off the top of the bottle. This woman was truly ingenious, but this solution pointed to a significant unmet need in the design of her medication bottles: she was unable to open any of her medications outside of her kitchen, and once she did she could never seal them again. Design thinking – a methodology that imbues the full spectrum of innovation activities with a human-centred design ethos – starts with carefully watching how people interact with the world around them. No matter how adamant they are, people don’t always do what they say (or do what we expect, or even do what they think they do). It’s our job to notice the interesting things that people do, often without thinking. These small details can lead to new features, new product ideas, or even new business sectors. During design research, our goal isn’t to map out an entire market, but to find ‘seeds’ that give us insight and change the way we approach a challenge. Biotechnology – from drugs, devices and processes to everything in-between – is ripe with seeds that could lead to real improvements in the lives of end users. Given the pace of discovery, numerous new products and services are introduced 52 Australasian BioTechnology Volume 19 • Number 2 • July 2009