An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.
While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.
This is post #3.
Post 1 listed some basic criteria and good to have features that served as guidelines/constraints and some initial sketches.
Post 2 factored in all the basic criteria and most of the ‘good-to-have’ features, in that it was transparent (though slightly off the mark) and had reasonably good circulation.
Based on the basic criteria, good-to-have features and general observation of regular folk preferring a handkerchief to a mask (walking through markets, handkerchiefs seem to be a preferred choice, especially for those needing to wear it all day), the next prototype has the following:
Addresses all basic features (though I didn’t have the time to cut out a section so it fits better around the nose)
Safety (basic criteria) is far higher than a handkerchief
Regarding ‘good-to-have’ features, it wasn’t transparent, but circulation was probably better than with handkerchiefs
What it is, is a section (slightly less than half) of a takeaway plastic soup bowl between the folds of a regular handkerchief.
Used a mini vice to hold the bowl in place, and cut it with a rotary tool.
Since a good number of people prefer a handkerchief (possibly due to convenience and affordability), but are probably not aware of the limited safety provided, this design simply offers a safer handkerchief.
Strings from the bowl (how about call it mask henceforth? 😁) run along the ends of the handkerchief folded in half (how people normally fold it before tying).
How it is different or safer than regular handkerchiefs, is the plastic over the nose and mouth section prevents any direct spit/particles from anyone nearby landing on the handkerchief from passing right through.
The bulge creates breathing room, something both handkerchiefs and regular masks don’t offer, and which is what causes a lot of people to slide them down or stop wearing them – the suffocation.
The small breathing space offered by the curvature of the bowl makes it more comfortable to wear, and the bottom section of the handkerchief can be partly folded into the bottom section of the mask, to allow for better ventilation while not giving direct exit to any germ from the user.
An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.
While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.
This is post #2.
This was part experiment, part fun. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of using car components for things. For instance, a dream is to someday replace the sofa in the hall with car seats.
Back to the topic, affordability comes from using empty soup bowls from an earlier food delivery. 😛
As for the funny white extensions on the sides, they are cardboard (from some box) and inside it lies the “protection” – A decent quality car air-conditioning filter. The entire AC filter comes for a few hundred bucks, and I barely used 10-15% of one. There’s a section of folded filter, and a second single layer where that white section joins the s̶o̶u̶p̶ ̶b̶o̶w̶l̶ mask via a ~1.2 cm opening [below].
So that’s double layer of protection! The plastic section wouldn’t allow the virus in. And the front is transparent to allow for better human interaction. With this particular prototype, the nose cut-out was not deep enough so the transparent section focused more on the beard, but ideally, it would give a view of the mouth and part of the nose.
Transparency (almost on this one, but should be easy to fix)
Partly addresses good circulation (by being a few centimeters away from the mouth and nose, it allows for a more open, relaxed breathing setting as opposed to most regular masks)
Of course the air filtering packs on the sides are huge and unwieldy. General comfort too wasn’t great as I simply used the elastic bands from a used surgical mask so it was tight (to the point it almost took my eye out when the nose protection cushion slipped out and the strain of the bands pushed the jagged plastic edge in my eye as I was fumbling around trying to take a selfie with the mask on.
2. stuck with trying to create the next great product or service
…but don’t want the hassles of appointing consultants to help you out..
Till 14th September, I’m at the Innovation & Design site to be a sounding board for your growth or innovation challenges.
I’ll simply help clear the chaos and confusion, and nudge you towards possible solutions your team can work on.
How does this work?
On the site above [or is it below 😉 ], are specific services for leaders & managers (one-to-one) and for teams.
Pick the one that suits you best, pick a convenient day & time slot, and we’ll discuss your challenge and ways to solve it on a simple call (or video call).
The services have been priced to be affordable especially for those passionate changemakers whose company innovation budgets simply mean ‘out of pocket’. No hassles of long, expensive consulting assignments.
What after September 14th? The services move to my new company website, with more innovation-focused offerings.
As a kid, I used to be quite fascinated by matchboxes. From the uncertainty of being shouted at by some elder, to how many tries it took to light it. And the best, how long could you hold a lit match without burning your fingers.
Back then, the SHIP matchbox was commonplace. Though I don’t remember them having the jokes at the back of each pack. This standard pack had 50 matchsticks in it. A common problem with any matchbox is running low on striking surface towards the end. It takes more attempts to successfully strike a match.
Then, HomeLites came out with a significantly bigger matchbox. These had 300 matchsticks in it. These seemed to have a bigger problem with the striking surface. Maybe it was the longer striking surface strips on each side that led one to make longer strikes. As a result, you’d have a lot of matches left, but striking a match would become increasingly difficult. You’d spot some unused section towards the edges and try striking it there.
Anyway, recently I noticed a tiny design change with their matchboxes. And I think it might just solve the striking surface problem.
What they simply did, was replace the two long striking surfaces on either side of the matchbox, with a tiny dividing strip. So instead of two long striking strips, you now have a total of four smaller strips.
If you are overly disciplined, you might restrict yourself to one striking surface at a time. Then use the next one. The rest of us will randomly strike a match against any one of the four surfaces. Point being, with the shorter striking surface, we will unconsciously limit our strike action to that stretch. Am quite sure these new boxes won’t have that old problem.
Just an example of how a simple change to the matchbox design solves a problem that might have left many puzzled. A tiny break in the striking surface alters user behaviour in the right direction. And without necessitating any complex redesigning of the matchbox itself.
If you want to know more about exactly how matches work, read on…
The heads of safety matches are composed of a single part. They contain antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, sulfur, powdered glass, inert fillers, and animal glue. They may also include a water-soluble dye. Antimony trisulfide cannot be ignited by the heat of friction, even in the presence of an oxidizing agent like potassium chlorate, and it requires another source of ignition to start the combustion. That source of ignition comes from the striking surface, which is deposited on the side of the matchbox or on the back cover of the matchbook.
The striking surface contains red phosphorus, powdered glass, and an adhesive such as gum arabic or urea formaldehyde. When a safety match is rubbed against the striking surface, the friction generates enough heat to convert a trace of the red phosphorus into white phosphorus. This immediately reacts with the potassium chlorate in the match head to produce enough heat to ignite the antimony trisulfide and start the combustion.
Trigger Warning: This post contains thoughts on whether it is possible to identify people who might suddenly be at risk of self-harm or suicide. If this is not a topic of interest, or you are currently not in the frame of mind to read anything stressful, please close this tab.
Many of us experience helplessness when we hear of a suicide. Irrespective of if it was someone we knew, a celebrity, or a businessperson. Especially perhaps, if it was a student, a helpless farmer, or even an unknown name from some obscure corner of the country or the world. The feeling of helplessness still hits many of us.
Last week, there was a brief discussion on chat between some close friends and me. One friend was trying to find cues in old interviews of Sushant Singh Rajput. To see if there were tell-tale signs in them of any impending suicide intent. The authorities were right in saying one should not speculate based on almost no information. The helplessness, however, forces us to look for answers. To find an explanation that would turn helplessness into sadness or anger, or both. The mind prefers either to the state of not knowing coupled with helplessness.
It is also human tendency, to subconsciously look for early warning signs the person might have exhibited. Maybe it is just our helpless attempt to undo the past.
A few things we need to remember. Firstly, depression is not the only cause of suicide. There are many other causes. They include psychosis and momentary lapses of reason (sometimes induced or aggravated by alcohol or drugs). As are helplessness in situations (a sudden financial loss, etc.), or a mistake. Native Japanese practiced Seppuku to preserve honour or as a form of self-punishment for serious offenses. Secondly, depression itself can have numerous underlying causes for it. And it is not easy for family, friends or outsiders to conclusively arrive at one or more causes for someone’s depression.
A lot of people suffer from a variety of concerns. From regrets about the past, social pressures, anxieties about the future, among many others.
Many simply learn to live with it. Some becoming increasingly numb to life itself. Others probably do not, and toy with self-harm. Some effects could range from binge eating to excessive drinking or drug abuse. And some could manifest as suicidal tendencies. That said, this post is not about identifying or helping address those suffering from depression.
The objective here, something I’ve wondered about, is a possible way to spot someone who might be close to a breaking point in dealing with their personal battles or thoughts or life itself. To see if it there is a way to identify those who might be at risk of self-harm. And to provide an intervention if possible. So that a good life would not be lost because of an unrelenting ecosystem or one’s condition or difficulties in trying to cope with it.
While one can only hope that people suffering from depression are getting the professional support they need, in my limited knowledge, I’d categorize those at risk of self-harm into two categories: (i) those who have such thoughts from time to time, walking a tightrope; and (ii) those who may not have considered self-harm, but a sudden change in their ecosystem suddenly makes it an option they consider
My thoughts are around possibly addressing the second kind. If one knows someone who is going through a challenging phase, and one hears of a case of suicide or self harm from someone either known to those people, or hailing from the same or similar professional field or having some other factors in common, one must consider the possibility that these people might be at risk. You could either directly or indirectly reach out even if just to check. Ideally without directly broaching the topic.
There are a few reasons I believe news of self harm by someone sharing common ground could increase risk of self-harm in some people. Firstly, in case of the same or similar professions, many people could be going through similar challenges due to either an employer or a sector slowdown or some other impact. The hundreds of farmers that have sacrificed their lives is a grim example of this. An inefficient sector with limited government support, irrational weather, scavenging money lenders and middlemen, all constantly fuel the recipe for disaster.
Similarly, a student going through a rough phase might be holding on. But on hearing of other instances of students causing self-harm, a previous never considered option might suddenly sound like a respite. Secondly, a common thread connecting two strangers could also cause one to cause self-harm on hearing about the suicide of the other. There have been a number of suicides among common citizens upon hearing of the death (even of natural causes or illness) of their favourite politician or movie star. Here, the thread linking the two is the admiration for their revered minister or actor.
Consider this: Say you had to work on a task that required a good measure of focus and skill. Would you have a greater chance of succeeding if you had an audience cheering you on? Or if the same audience repeatedly cautioned you about the risks of failure?
I think I know your answer. Similarly, words and actions of people have subconscious effects on us. More so if we share some commonality with them. A hostile crowd in a foreign playground might not affect us half as much as a hostile crowd on our home ground.
So, what can we do to intervene? While not easy, one can sometimes spot people in one’s circles who are going through a challenging phase. Even if they don’t directly tell us. We could then try reach out to them or increase the support ecosystem for them. To try and lighten the burden or ease off the scales, which might be at dangerous levels. Or we could refer or bring to them the professional support needed.
Here’s an earlier post, Death and the Maiden, where I shared some variables that might compel someone to cause self-harm.
Now, Jane recently spoke about world maps, racism, and a bit about her childhood. The stuff about maps really shakes, or at least shook my foundation about maps. Like me, you might just ask yourself what in the world is actually true, if something as fundamental as a map could be distorted that much.
I recently saw this video of a ENGESA Mercedes truck. Something obviously very fascinating about it. So I thought I’d attempt to recreate it in some way, using Lego. This is a quick, crude first attempt. I clearly don’t have enough relevant pieces.
Below was an improved variant to the earlier one. The last model was built simply to see the beauty of the multi-axle movement. But the last version hadd traction/ground clearance issues, as the wheels would hit the undercarriage at certain tilts. So I went a step further and replicated the rear multi-axle on the front too. And, the cab roof sloped up (for better aerodynamics).
And, a final variant of my idea of an ENGESA Mercedes truck, before I was done with this concept. This one has a double swivel multi-axle and a horizontal swivel link after the cab, to allow it to turn better.
Own, manage or work at a company that is grappling with business challenges, or needs more innovation for growth? Get in touch! More here.
And check out my book (‘Design the Future’) on innovation, customer insights and design thinking. Ebook:Amazon, Paperbacks: at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.
This post about my 9-step version of the design thinking process has been long overdue. It is already explained in my book, ‘Design the Future’, but I also wanted to share it here for those interested.
The five-step Stanford design thinking process is arguably the most popular process out there. I have however, come across numerous different processes or versions. Ranging from the 15-step Darden process that I was taught, to oversimplifications and misleading three-step processes I have come across.
In my interactions with managers, business leaders and even students, I found that while many were familiar with the Stanford or some other design thinking process, they did not quite understand it well enough. For instance, ‘empathy’ came across to them as something that is ‘just done’. Similar to how many people assume hearing is the same as listening. And seeing empathy as a step in the process gave many the impression that like a switch, it had to be turned on and then off, as one moved to the next step.
So, in an effort to simplify the design thinking process so more people may use it, I created my own version of the design thinking process based on my understanding of design thinking and experiences practicing it. I took the Stanford model, and hopefully improved it.
You need to remember that any design thinking process is a broad guideline. It is not like a military obstacle course that one must complete in a defined sequence. You might find yourself looping through a few steps multiple times. Or in some cases, depending on what the information or insight presents, you might find yourself back at the beginning; starting again with renewed understanding of the challenge.
Sherlock Holmes, in the series ‘Elementary,’ once tells Watson, “The danger with rule books, Watson, is that they offer the illusion that leading a moral life is a simple undertaking, that the world exists in black and white. Welcome to the grays.”
At least when it comes to areas such as creativity and drawing inspiration, remember there can never be stringent rules or guidelines.
My 9-step version of the design thinking process:
Of the nine steps in the process, the first three are more underlying criteria than steps. Criteria that are critical to improving the chances of success on a project. Those three criteria are Humility, Empathy, and Intention. While these might seem obvious to the point of sounding stupid, they are often the most ignored aspects to a design-led process. More on that as we understand each step better.
After that come the more common steps of most design thinking processes.
They are: Define – Empathize with Intent – Redefine – Ideate – Prototype – Test
Let’s look at the nine steps more closely:
Humility – The quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance. Its relevance springs from the simple signal versus noise perspective. Our objectives as design thinkers is to maximize our understanding of user experiences and needs. Of those we want to innovate for, or whose problems or challenges we want to solve. That is the signal that is of utmost importance to us for innovating for them. Our views, opinions, and biases are the noise.
The moment you can bring yourself down to the level of a beginner or a learner, you put yourself in the backseat, and that’s when the end user or final beneficiary of your innovation will come into the limelight of your focus. Remember to start with humility.
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Putting yourself in a live user-setting and observing and/ or interacting with users to get a better sense of what a problem or future opportunity might mean to them, how they deal with it, and so on. In conjunction with humility, it offers a good environment to capture user information.
Unlike what some methods might state, empathy (and humility as well as
the next step, intention) are not steps in themselves. They should not be
traits that you turn on and off depending on which stage of the design thinking
process you are. It is also why, along with the intent, I have placed them at
the base of the six-step process, to signify how the three traits always need
to be ‘ON.’
Without being in a constant state of empathy, no real innovation is possible. And that will be the difference between a real design thinker or team creating an exceptional change, and people simply practicing it as a flavour of the times.
Intention – An intention is the larger thought and nudge to action for a change, that brings you to employ the design thinking process. You might wonder what the difference is, between humility, empathy, and intent.
As a business leader, humility will always help you spot customer or employee or other stakeholder needs and concerns. Empathy will let you better understand those needs and concerns. To get to the root causes of it. You might still choose not to do anything about it, because you don’t have the intention to. Contrarily, if you have the intention, but lack humility and empathy, it would mean that your objective or goal is not the right one.
Equipped with humility and empathy, but in the absence of any intent, a
business leader will always spot improvement areas in his or her business. All
they need then is to choose their intention – i.e., determine the direction of
their effort, and get working on it.
Define – Here, we put the problem statement or
opportunity statement in words. It is a starting point of sorts, to the primary
design thinking process. Before interacting with user groups, this is a step
where we broadly express what we think the problem or opportunity area might be.
It could be how a client has described a problem, or, if we are helping a
friend or industry colleague, it could be their description of the issue.
One key thing to remember with defining a problem or opportunity is to
make it sound positive, irrespective of how grave or pointless the situation
might seem. A lot of companies are prone to defining/ framing what hurts first.
Their definition ends up being a problem statement which sounds grim. The
disadvantage of doing this is that when you invite people to think of ideas,
even as part of a brainstorming exercise, a grim-sounding problem statement
stifles the thinking, and will hugely limit the number and quality of views
that you receive.
On the contrary, if you turn your problem statement into an opportunity
statement, people ideating will be in a positive mindset, and be more attuned
to think of creative ideas. Try to notice the difference of mindsets the
following two statements evoke. Read them more than once if necessary:
A Problem Statement: “How can we drastically reduce our after-sales
service related expenses?”
An Opportunity Statement: “How can we redefine our service arm to be more relevant to customer needs, while not proving expensive for us?”
As Abraham Maslow once said, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Defining a challenge too negatively and very precisely might give you solutions that just create more problems of their own.
Empathize with intent – This is the fun phase, where you spend time
observing actual users in their natural surroundings. See how they consume a
product or service. How they interact. And you must do this in the subtlest way
possible, even when you are interviewing or interacting with them. Especially
if the process is delicate or embarrassing for the end-user, or if the user is
introverted or are in some way intimidated by you and your team’s presence.
One important thing to remember in this phase is to be subjective with the empathy, but objective with what they share with you. If you have a subjective mindset when trying to find learnings, you might tend to get lost in a problem. And depending on the type of assignment, it might leave you either in disbelief, or maybe even depressed or an emotional wreck, depending on the kind of problem you are working to solve, as users expose you to severe difficulties or bitter experiences.
Instead, empathize with users as they walk you through their journey, experiences, feelings, and thoughts. But look at it from behind a glass wall when taking notes or drawing inspiration or conclusions from it. That way, your focus is not diverted by problems but instead stays focused on noting down those problems and possible thoughts, reasons, etc., that might spring to mind. The focus will help you then work towards getting rid of the problem, as opposed to being overwhelmed by it.
Redefine – After gathering user insights, we revisit our original definition with what we have learned. After enough information has been collected in the earlier stage, the team debriefs. The information is shared amongst team members without contaminating it with their inferences. That way, each member gets a clear sense of how things presently are.
Often, when tasked with solving a problem for someone, even when we have little or no information to go with, we are eager to get started with identifying potential solutions right-away. You might have seen this tendency in yourself and others (I tend to, from time to time), where someone mentions a problem, and without stopping to understand more, you start rattling possible causes or solutions.
That happens when we go with our definition of someone else’s problem. Which is why, after an initial definition, once we get a better understanding of it from actual people facing the problem (in the ’empathize with intent’ stage), we redefine the challenge more accurately, based on what we have learnt.
Ideate – This is the stage where designers would take the information they have gathered and use it as inputs that they put through a choice of design thinking tools. Tools including the brainstorming or versions of it, to contra-logic, worst-idea, brain-writing, trigger questions, changing perspectives, etc., and then use anchors, forced combinations and connections to come up with numerous ideas. The more ideas, the better, and the crazier the ideas; even better!
Prototype – Prototyping an innovative solution is akin to shaping a solution using two pairs of hands – your design team’s, and your users’. In the previous stage, you would have identified some potential ideas and possible directions regarding a solution. This is where you need end users to help you figure out what works for them, and what does not.
The objective of this stage is to be able to move rapidly towards a final solution, with minimum investment (as far as possible) on experiments towards refining potential solutions. The moment each prototype becomes too expensive and complicated, there is a tendency to either convince yourself and your team that it is a great solution (because of the effort that went into it. It is a cognitive bias called the IKEA effect).
Another possibility is that if you encounter a roadblock at this stage, your team or the top management might get easily demotivated and consider it a colossal failure, solely because your team spent a fortune building a prototype that user groups did not like or approve of.
Instead, make the most basic and low-cost but effective prototypes possible. Use anything from sheets of paper for story-boarding, to card paper or cardboard, Styrofoam and other craft supplies to work toward a final solution. Your objective with each prototype, is to test no more than one factor or variable you need clarity on. Test too many criteria, and the learning becomes unclear.
At workshops I conduct, I sometimes take my old letterheads for participants to use for discussions, sketching, or to make things out of.
It is only when everyone finds using anything lying around them as potential material for prototypes, is when prototyping will become far more prevalent. The same goes for ideating. If the materials you use are too fancy, you or your team might use it as an excuse to delay prototyping, or even ideating.
Which is also why, while a lot of design thinking workshops use post-its and put up pictures of it, few participants continue to use post-its to implement some of the tools they learnt. Because buying post-its is expensive and sometimes inconvenient. If you can’t make do with stuff already at your desk or around, the action gets delayed till you buy those supplies. Take this from someone who uses toothpaste or soap to write on the bathroom wall so that a potential idea does not disappear with the flowing water.
Test – Once you’ve completed the prototyping phase, you
move on to testing. The significant difference between the two is that while
prototyping was far greyer and also, the prototypes were far less expensive but
required a slight stretch of the imagination by the user, the testing phase is
that much more advanced, as it is that very close to the final product or
And unlike checking one feature at a time in the prototyping phase, here
you are testing the product or service in its entirety, towards ironing out any
features or poor service extensions that exist, by letting your users directly
interact with the solution.
The first rule to keep in mind in the testing phase too is that your
product or service is not final or finalized yet! There would still be some
assumptions that your team would need to test. For instance, it is one thing to
prototype with sketches or storyboards or even pretend mobile interfaces. Quite
another to have end users interact with your store layout or theme park or
Which is why we have the testing phase, where your team would help build
almost-final solutions to test them in the hands of a closed group of
stakeholders. It is great to have a select list of people who will evaluate your
creation. That increases the focus and feedback capturing. And what you will be
testing, are any assumptions that were earlier not tested, or that sprung up
along the way with the increase in clarity.
It isn’t possible to overstate the amount of valuable, even critical
insights that can be gained in the testing phase.
Testing is followed by eventually launching the product, service or
change – once all assumptions and user hesitations have been factored in.
After you’ve gained more realistic insights from real users who
interacted with your prototypes and brought you very close to a final solution
that you by way of prototypes and then running exercises with them in the
testing phase, you are finally onto an almost ready and well-refined answer.
Ideally, even after launch, the journey should be looked at like it is the making of a TV series. You’ve launched season 1 or 2, and it is doing well. But you need to check-in now and then as to how viewers are reacting and engaging with it. The bigger question in your mind always is, is there enough traction to demand a season 3, and if yes, would there be any significant changes needed (replacing actors, etc.) or is the show no longer relevant to its audiences. In which case, you then need to figure out what next. That way you are not going in blind with season 3, to later find out it lost its audience midway through the previous season itself.
One should remember that there is no perfect product, service, experience or solution to user needs or problems. And there are no runaway results promised by design thinking, the way some firms guarantee the ability to create viral videos. But yes, you always have a far greater chance of arriving at a product or service that people want or need by using design thinking, than by merely guessing or troubleshooting your way through.
The word ‘innovation’ does get passed around a lot nowadays. From large businesses to startups and perhaps even consultants like myself.
If you take a moment to think about it, innovation is not as commonplace as we might assume it is.
If you had an almost infinite budget, and you created a cutting-edge product, that is innovation, but probably not a great one, at least in my book, unless it is easily affordable by a good section of its total user base.
What does that mean?
In my book, I take a few examples. One of a hand-built, limited-edition supercar. Perhaps only a hundred, or even just 7-8 of them ever built. Each one will come with an astronomical figure on the price-tag. High input costs, the best of components and skilled manpower, and a high sale price.
That is not a great example of a true innovation, because only a few people would benefit from it, and it is easy to add technology with a huge budget.
Contrarily, what if a similar amount was invested on an early-warning system for storms or earthquakes that could benefit millions? Now that would be a true innovation!
Another example I mention in my book, is of the USD 120,000 Ottobock Genium X3 knee. It is a state-of-the-art prosthetic foot, also referred to as ‘the Maserati of microprocessor prosthetics.’ Again, at that price, only a few differently abled would be able to afford it to improve their lives.
Then there is the BMVSS fitted Jaipur prosthetic foot, that retails at USD 30-45. It has benefitted over 1.55 million people worldwide since the late 1960s when it was invented.
True innovation does not happen on huge budgets and unlimited manpower and resources. True innovation happens with constraints. Not just monetary constraints, but others too. But that is also when you sometimes get products or services that the world never forgets. Products or services that truly change lives
If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.
And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.