Social Impact Design

Obama for America Mobile Strategy

The design team was approached to design and develop a mobile strategy for President Barack Obama's 2012 bid for reelection. Working with Obama for America, the team crafted an ambitious set of mobile applications designed to support Obama's large base of campaign volunteers and grassroots supporters.

Instead of creating a simple brochure application outlining the president's policies, the team focused on creating a real-time mobile solution to aid campaign organizers and volunteers working in the field. The application, which was part of a larger digital initiative, was completely location-aware, designed to automatically deliver timely information, push notifications and field directives straight from the campaign's headquarters to people's phones. By simply downloading the app anyone could join the campaign, become a field volunteer, collect donations, register voters or go door-to-door in their neighborhood or community to help get out the vote.

The design challenge was to leverage the latest in mobile and cloud technology to harness the efforts of thousands of grassroots supporters in battleground states and across the nation. The initiative needed to decentralize volunteerism, capitalize on microdonations, and make it simple to join and participate in the campaign. Perhaps the largest constraint was executing the design and development for both the iOS and Android platforms in under 60 days.

Understanding the campaign's message, its volunteers and the habits of prospective voters was critical to the success of the project. From the standpoint of human interaction, the designers were less concerned with coming up with novel forms of interaction and more concerned with bridging the gap between information, people and communities.

The Obama for America app is the first of its kind. While there have been other applications relating to politics and elections, none have provided a mechanism or the infrastructure necessary to drive real political participation. The New York Times has said of it, “It's been the science-fiction dream of political operatives for years: an army of volunteers, connected to the Internet as they walk from door to door, looking up names on a device and entering their responses electronically. Obama's campaign [has made it] a reality with the release of a new iPhone app that will replace the ubiquitous clipboard for Democratic canvassers.”

This project has helped redefine the role of mobile computing in modern-day elections. It not only lowered the barrier of entry for political activism, thus increasing participation, it also provided insight into the campaign’s operatives at every level (regional, state, local and precinct). By focusing on the ground game and decentralizing the canvassing effort, this app enabled the campaign to reach more voters in more communities and increase voter turnout. As a result, the campaign made strategic gains in a number of battleground states, ultimately securing the president's reelection.


Designed by Ryan Hovenweep, Lani DeGuire, Tate Strickland, Shea Cadrin, Bryan Oltman, Shaun Dubuque and Doug Cook of thirteen23

Contact: Doug Cook -


Evotech, Endoscope and Business/Design Strategy

Evotech designs medical devices for the bottom of the pyramid. Its goal is to simplify medical technologies and devices, the majority of which are developed for use in Western hospitals—meaning the tools are expensive and often overdesigned and overengineered. This project reimagined the endoscope, a tube with a light and a camera that is used to look inside a patient’s body through an orifice (mouth, urethra, colon, etc.), making it relevant to and within reach of developing countries.

In US hospitals, these bulky, energy-sucking devices cost an average of $70,000—a price beyond the reach of most doctors in the developing world. Evotech and the design team redesigned the Low-Cost Portable Endoscope with off-the-shelf parts as a $250–$2,500 device powered by a laptop, making the endoscope smaller, portable, energy efficient, durable, waterproof and with the ability to manufacture at scale.

The challenge was to improve the device’s industrial design and develop a business model that would sustain it—and get the device to doctors whose patients would benefit from its use. With regard to the device’s design, the endoscope needed to enable doctors to make more precise diagnoses and to perform surgeries through a small incision, reducing patients’ risk of infection and recovery time. The endoscope also had to have the ability to be sterilized.

To make an excellent design solution, the Evotech experts discovered that one must search for a need. It was easy to find uses for an endoscope in mid- and high-income markets. But the search for endoscope users in low-income communities in the developing world was different: In these environments an endoscope is perceived as a luxury; endoscope use requires training that’s lacking; endoscopic procedures require a support infrastructure; endoscope use should be considered more broadly (beyond fistulas).

In a pilot study, Evotech distributed devices to Medicine for Humanity doctors with endoscopic training who were traveling to Uganda, where they used the prototype to successfully treat more than 20 women with vesicovaginal fistula. These types of cases previously were out of reach for surgical repair by Medicine for Humanity physicians. In India, local physicians used the device in more than 30 clinical evaluations and procedures.

Prototyping led to the final design. Evotech experts iterated and tested the endoscope handle and waterproof casing. In less than a month, and guided by doctors’ feedback, the team built 11 versions of the handle, designing a heat sink and enclosure for the device’s LED light source, which plugs into the USB port on a computer to power the device remotely.

Evotech designed the Low-Cost Portable Endoscope with a simple shell that can be machined from medical-grade ABS at small production scales, which is key. The same design can transition to injection molding in higher quantities.


Designed by and Evotech for Evotech

Contact: Andrea Pomerance -


Clean Team for Unilever and Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP)

To address the lack of adequate sanitation facilities in Kumasi, Ghana, the Clean Team for Unilever + Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) teamed up to provide a safe and suitable in-home sanitation solution. Users receive a portable toilet that is serviced three times a week and enables families to pay on an incremental basis.

Designed by, Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor and Unilever for Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor and Unilever

Contact: Andrea Pomerance -


PackH20 Water Backpack

The PackH2O Water Backpack is a life-changing alternative to buckets and jerry cans for users in water-stressed developing countries. It was designed to ease the burden of carrying household water from the source to home. It features a 5-gallon carrying capacity, a water spout and a removable liner that can be easily sanitized with exposure to sunlight.

Designed by Nottingham Spirk and Greif for Greif

Contact: John Nottingham -


SF Prep

The SF Prep model combines products residents need, the things they should do and items they want when a disaster hits. By delivering earthquake preparedness products and learnings over a six-month period, SF Prep gradually engages residents in the process and motivates them to ever-increasing levels of preparedness.

Designed by Krista Bangsund, John Edson, Danielle Guttman, Jonathan Cofer and Gritchelle Fallesgon of LUNAR

Contact: Danielle Guttman -


Intellectual Ventures Cold Chain Device

The Intellectual Ventures Cold Chain Device is a transportable cooler designed to remain cool without power or ice for more than 30 days. Created as part of the Global Good effort, it is intended for developing nations that do not have proper cooling systems for storing vaccines. It can store up to 5 liters of vaccines.

Designed by Jonah Griffith, Josh Kornfeld, Carl Betterley and Cole Dalton of General Assembly for Intellectual Ventures

Contact: Josh Kornfeld -


A better patient experience - Reducing Violence and Aggression in Emergency Departments in the UK

In an effort to reduce violence and aggression in emergency departments in the UK, a communication program was created to humanize the patient experience and bring back care into the heart of the clinical process. It features a guidance package that provides a better understanding of how emergency departments work and helps to improve the patient experience of the service altogether.

Designed by PearsonLloyd

Contact: Francesca Ulivari -


Zoom Jet Cookstove

The Zoom Jet Cookstove is a beautifully designed high-efficiency charcoal cook stove. It can reduce charcoal expenses by up to 60 percent. Besides saving fuel, the Zoom Jet also reduces harmful emissions and burn risks while providing a more durable alternative to traditional cook stoves.

Designed by Diana Sierra and Fabio Rios of Diana Sierra LLC for Ecozoom

Contact: Diana Sierra -



Embrace Infant Warmer

Over 20 million premature and low-birth-weight babies are born each year around the world. Four million of these die, and those who survive often grow up with life-long illnesses. One of the main causes of this is hypothermia; these babies don’t have enough body fat to maintain their own body temperature. Traditional incubators are expensive, require constant electricity, are complicated to use and are often only found in major urban hospitals. In the absence of any appropriate equipment, current local solutions include wrapping hot water bottles around babies, placing them over hot coals or placing them under light bulbs—all extremely dangerous and ineffective methods.

The Embrace Infant Warmer is an innovative and affordable product designed for premature and low-birth-weight babies in developing countries. It was designed around the specific needs and living conditions of these communities. It has three components: a baby interface or sleeping bag, a pouch of phase-change material and an electric heater to warm the pouch. Users first insert the pouch into the electric heater, and once it melts the user places the heated pouch into the sleeping bag and places the baby inside. The pouch will remain at 98.6 degrees for at least four hours. The dynamic phase-change material absorbs heat from the baby if the baby gets too hot or releases heat if the baby gets too cold. The pouch has an indicator that shows when it must be reheated, and the pouch can be reheated hundreds of times.

Through its user-centric design, the Embrace Infant Warmer addresses the functional requirement of safely providing warmth to low-birth weight babies but does so while meeting the usability and cost requirements that are unique to this population. To address the challenge of intermittent electricity, which is pervasive throughout rural clinics, the phase-change material uses an electric heater for only 35 minutes. Because the pouch need not be continuously connected to an electricity source, the infant warmer becomes highly transportable, allowing physicians and patients to transport babies from villages to hospitals, between hospitals, and within hospitals all while providing critical warmth to help these babies survive. Perhaps most importantly, this transportability lends itself well to promote mother and child bonding. Babies who were once required to sit isolated within a neonatal intensive-care unit to receive warmth can now lay by their mothers’ side.

Impact is not simply achieved by providing a solution, but also through the users’ ability and willingness to use that solution. To this end, the infant warmer’s clean intuitive design means that its one-button operation allows even unskilled staff to operate it. And to accommodate the resource constraints of clinics that often hinder access to care, its simple elegance paired with manufacturing expertise means that this device can be provided at a fraction of the cost of traditional incubators, so the people who need it the most can afford it.

Credits: Embrace, Jane Chen, Linus Liang, Naganand Murty and Rahul Alex Panicker
Contact: Honey Bajaj: