Category: Improve

Elevators and Nosocomial infections

Nosocomial infections are infections that patients contract inside of a hospital, due to contamination or germs present there. A patient undergoing treatment at a hospital is almost always has a weak immune system, which is more susceptible to infection. And the odds of contracting an infection are higher in operation theatres and ICUs. Most likely because those needing to be in the ICU or get operated are in a far more immunocompromised state.

Now ordinarily hospitals are brilliant at spotting and solving hospital related risks and challenges. Having been an examiner for a prestigious award that company, hospital and educational institute teams compete for in areas of innovation and improvement, I have seen the top projects being showcased, and they are impressive. The meticulous tracking and calculating of various data points, identifying causes, finding and implementing solutions, and tracking effectiveness, and then setting up a cycle for continuous improvement.

So it is concerning when nosocomial infections account for 5-10% of all patients in an acute care hospital in the US [+]. And the numbers are even more concerning in India, where our hospitals are far more crowded, with little concern or respect for regulation. Here in India, nosocomial infections are as high as 11-60% in ICUs [+].

While this one is quite obvious, assuming ICU cleanliness follows the highest of standards and procedure, I think a bulk of these infections occur in elevators. Elevators are known to be extremely contaminated, the buttons in particular.While I unfortunately don’t have a broad solution idea to offer for this challenge, I do have some almost obvious suggestions:

  • If a new private hospital is being constructed, try and create an isolated elevator between ICUs and operation theatres. Often, patients are carried for surgery in common elevators, exposing them to every visitor who might have visited someone with another infection, which they are likely to catch
  • Again, for new hospitals yet to be constructed, ideally have the wards frequently visited by visitors on the lower floors, and have sloped ramps for people to walk up and down to those floors (say up to second floor). That way, a bulk of the visitors who would ordinarily use the elevators could be saved, thus perhaps making it economical to dedicate at least one elevator purely for shuttling only patients between  ICU and/or operation theatres.
  • A shield-type enclosure (might look like the mosquito nets for beds) over the patient’s trolley while being moved might help contain their infections and reduce spread while in the elevator
  • Limited options for public hospitals or those with limited budgets, seem to include:
    • stricter laws for visitors,
    • encouraging the use of staircases by visitors,
    • installing affordable disinfection tunnels, and making masks compulsory for visitors
***

This concern was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. What we share is either an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

The Middle Seat

In 2019, the US FAA approved the company Molon Labe Seating‘s (MLS) landmark seat design for commercial airplanes.
 
What MLS did, is take the problem of discomfort of middle-seat passengers, and attempted to solve it by:
(i) widening the middle seat (from 18″ to 21″), and
(ii) placing the seat slightly lower, and slightly behind the other two seats.
Like this: https://youtu.be/LbWyXPYAXU0 
Unless I’m wrong about this, the FAA’s blessings might make the middle seat passenger more uncomfortable than she already is, if airlines buy into the new design. Here are my limited views about this. I did enjoy studying this. Hopefully MLS finds these inputs helpful in making flying a bit more comfortable.
 
For clarity, let’s break the challenge MLS was dealing with, into its components:
  1. Seat width
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward)
    • Height
  3. Wing passenger movement
For simplicity, let’s consider an obese person who gets the middle seat.
 
Looking at the above components:
  1. Seat width – going by the video, actual seat width has not increased, but only the seat (stretching under the armrest) and backrest are wider. This would undoubtedly be more comfortable than the present seats. However, the armrests would still press into the stomach region of an obese passenger. Fixing this would need a seat redesign, as it would be tough to widen the gap between armrests without narrowing the passage area
  2. Seat position
    • Position (backward) – Purely from a position perspective, the MLS design is an improvement. Ordinarily, middle-seat passengers perhaps have even less privacy than others (ever been in the middle seat looking into your phone, and realized your co-passengers were too? :P). With the centre seat slightly behind, its passenger would at least get some privacy for suffering the seat.
      My bigger concern: The back of any person, is not a flat plane. It curves slightly at the shoulders, more if the person hunches. In the current design, an obese person’s shoulders might extend into the backrests of seats on either side, whether they are all in upright or reclined position. With the new offset layout, it would be very restrictive (and for some, claustrophobic even) as it obstructs at arguably a person’s widest cross-section.
    • Height – If the obese passenger is short (maybe under 5’3″, the lower new seat position works fine. But for an average to tall passenger, it is a transition from uncomfortable, narrow seats; to uncomfortable, narrow and low seats – which means not only might their back hurt afterwards, but also their thighs and calves
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, the wing seat passenger moves straight in and out. With the MLS redesign, they would have to zigzag their way in and out (and for loo visits) – a partial inconvenience

Image [2018]: source

Using the above 2018 seat comparison by SeatGuru of popular US airlines, I took a simple average to arrive at:
Seat width: 17.885″, and Seat Pitch of: 33.35″.
 
Now, here’s an alternate layout that I’m suggesting. It takes MLS’s new (wider) seats, but at normal height.
I rounded down Seat Width to 17″, and Seat Pitch up to 34″ for ease of scale and representation.

In the above image, the section on the left depicts a sample 9 rows of economy seats on the left section of an aircraft with the existing seat layout. The aisle would be on the right of this section. Similarly, the right side of the image is my suggested new seat layout pattern. For a sample 9 rows (total 27 economy seats in the existing layout) on the left section of an aircraft, my suggested design (right) offers hopefully a better layout with the trade-off of 1 seat (total 26 seats). 

Possible advantages of my suggested design:

  1. Seat width – the new MLS wide seat design, which seems marginally more comfortable. However, only a complete redesign allowing for wider gaps between armrests would actually make it better for the passenger
  2. Seat position
    1. Position (backward) – 3 seats slightly offset from the other, forming an “A” layout (if you consider all 6 seats, three on either side of the aisle in a given row, they would form an A pattern, with the aisle seats forward, and the wing seats further behind for the same row). Seemingly more uniform level of privacy irrespective of seat. And each passenger has zero obstruction of adjoining seat backrest or passenger on one side
    2. Height – all seats of same height to prevent added leg/thigh and lower back fatigue for middle-seat passengers
  3. Wing passenger movement – currently, passengers need to turn 90° into or out of their row. In the suggested layout, while visits too the loo would involve a bigger angle of turn, but only boarding and disembarking would be at only a slight angle from the aisle.

Thoughts?
@MLS, like you, I’m simply looking at it from trying to improve passenger experience. Hope you find this useful.

On the topic of airline seats, here’s an old thought I had.

The Middle Seat analysis was part of an initiative called RattL ’em.
What is RattL ’em?: We are constantly fascinated by companies, products and services.
So, every few days, we send out an email to, or share an idea online about a random company anywhere in the world that caught our fancy. The email either contains an idea for a new product or service, a concern area to focus on, or a new feature or improvement to their portfolio.
We do it for free. And for fun. And the company that receives it is free to use the idea, with no financial or other obligation toward us. We think of it as our way to be the best at what we do in the field of innovation and design strategy consulting.

Between Optimism and Pessimism

Image: source
 
It helps to have a positive mindset, especially in a crisis or trying time, since those with a negative mindset crumble quickly. But even optimism and some values have their limits, especially if the related (undesirable) circumstances stretches longer than one’s optimism.
 
In junior college, I used to attend these tuition classes. In my batch, were these two buddies from another college. I had become friends with them. One of them was a smoker, and I’d often see the other friend try to reason with him with a real sincerity, to quit smoking. On one or two occasions, when only the non-smoker friend was around, I’d ask him how confident he was of getting his friend to quit smoking. He was very certain about it, and it was reassuring to see the power of friendship.
 
There was a gap of a few months before I met them again during that year. And it was perhaps the last time I met them, during the preparatory tests before the year and the tuition class ended. And when I met them, I saw something I had not factored in. The non-smoker was smoking outside the building.
 
Similarly, I’ve seen friends and relatives languish in jobs they hate, simply because their optimism was regularly fed with hope from their boss, about a promotion or increment or the glorious career path that lay ahead.
 
So if pessimism isn’t desirable, and if optimism has its limits, or can be harmful, what could be an alternative?
 
How about if we simply focused on being efficient? That way, we might be almost equally prepared for both scenarios (good and bad), while working toward the best direction in the best way we can.
 
This obviously isn’t some breakthrough finding. Think about notable individuals in your life. There’s a good chance they are neither pessimistic nor overflowing with optimism. They keep their emotions in check, focusing on doing the best, in the best way they can. Undeterred by outcomes or people’s fickle opinions.
 
Be efficient.

WT f UX

Last week, I was speaking with a post-grad design student who had just finished her Masters, and was trying to figure out her career options. She mentioned that most job opportunities on campus involved UI/UX related to mobile apps or websites. Something that wasn’t to her liking. My suggestion was not to obsess too much about industry lingo, but instead, try to figure out across industry sectors, what she would (and would not) like to work on instead.
 
In the recent years, industry lingo has made the job market murky, with plenty of keywords being irresponsibly thrown about. A few years ago, a leading digital transformation company with some very elite global clientele got in touch saying they felt I was a good fit for a senior role at their company. A note on the position had words like ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ used generously. I got back to their HR contact to request her to explain the role in more detail to me. Turned out, they were simply looking for someone to help them with UI/UX for the mobile apps they built. I spent some time explaining design thinking, UI and UX, so she would be able to identify potential candidates better.
 
It obviously wasn’t her fault. Many industry sectors are evolving so rapidly for the past many years; with new skills, new terminologies and jargon popping up regularly. So much so, sometimes even human resources of such companies have not been adequately explained what and whom they should be looking for.
 
For starters, one can simply define UX (user experience) as the overarching journey to create meaningful experiences for users. And UI (user interface…design) involves different components of a product or service itself that strive to make better UX possible. Of course, the term UI tends to get used largely in relation to web and mobile or related display contexts, but let that not limit us by way of examples.
 
Let’s consider more traditional products. Take a car for example; some of them have a footrest next to the clutch, that drivers can rest their left foot on when not engaging the clutch, especially on longer journeys (instead of straining the foot by resting it only on the heel). Here, the footrest itself is a UI element that is added to improve the overall UX for the driver of that car (by reducing driver fatigue by way of the footrest feature).
 
There’s good UX and bad UX out there in the world. But here’s an example of arguably the worst kind of bad UI & UX. The seemingly invisible kind.

This switch panel is very old. From long before I knew what design thinking is. If I remember correctly, back in the day, such panels came with fixed square slots. One such slot of two would be used by one 3-point socket, or would accommodate two switches.
 
The left plug is of the refrigerator, and the right one of the microwave oven. While it might appear perfectly normal to us, there is a small invisible UX challenge here. The fridge switch obviously needs to be on at all times. The microwave however, is switched on and off a few times each day. The close proximity of the two switches is where the bad UX layout is at.
 
In an ideal layout, the switches be on either sides of the two plugs, thereby reducing almost any possibility of someone accidentally switching off the fridge while intending to switch off the microwave. And most of us might not even realize something like this when going about our busy daily routines. However, in such cases, our semi-conscious mind tends to be in a state of partial alert whenever we reach out to switch on or off the microwave. Because we do not want to accidentally switch off the fridge, but at the same time, it is too routine a task for us to pay 100% attention to it. Sometimes, we might reach out for the switch while reading something on our phone, or while speaking to someone standing opposite to the switches.
 
The reason we might not realize the layout flaw is because it is subtle. We might accidentally switch off the fridge 1 in 50 times, but for the other 49 times, we are probably in a state of partial alertness, for a task which should not ideally require that alertness of us.
 
As a UX designer or anyone who wants to create a more seamless experience around this, would ensure the fridge switch was either placed away, or access to it was covered or restricted (by placing a partially blocking partition if necessary).
 
Of course, thanks to progress in the switches and related products space, products in more recent years do not have square slots like this one. Instead, you can place switches and plug points anywhere along a line as per your preference.
 
Which brings us to trying to imagine what good UX design might be. It is one or more UI elements that make the experience so seamless for the user, that they get the task done with minimal mental processing, especially with frequent use.
 
In my book, I mention one about TV remote design – how some have buttons so well laid out (UI) that after initially familiarizing yourself with it, you can operate it without needing to look at the remote each time (UX). Well designed remotes follow a simple logical layout that makes it easier for the user to recreate a spatial position of essential buttons in their mind that are built around a central reference point.. A tacky button layout will have an inbuilt resistance, preventing the user from creating (and from remembering) a mental picture of the remote, and therefore being unable to use it without needing to first look for the button.
 
With a glaringly bad UI feature, a user almost instantly knows and doesn’t like it. However, with the seemingly invisible bad UI, the glitch might not be very obvious, and the inconvenience to the user too, might be brief and occasional. In such cases, the user might tolerate the product or experience, never at peace and enjoying it, but also unfortunately not aware enough to change it, unless a better product and the need to replace the old one comes along.

Hyperboles and Statistics don’t Mix Well

Do you use hyperboles often?
I do. Mostly with close friends and family, but when necessary, with clients or my students. Helps convey the meaning or gravity of an idea or situation.

Like when Gordon Murray says something like,
“Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because you didn’t fucking cook it!”

However, when you’re in a responsible position and you’re talking statistics about an important matter, hyperboles (obviously!) do more damage than good.

What’s your favourite or funniest hyperbole you’ve used?

Mine are usually said in the moment, so I don’t really remember them later.
But one I’ve used a few times with clients who create assumptions on a business model and then go on to create multiple layers of assumptions atop those assumptions, I’ve said something like, ‘now, it’s like you’re trying to pick curtains for the windows of your castle in the sky.’

Better Use of Time

Image: source

We humans have always dealt awkwardly with time. Some look for new ways to kill it. Others, better ways to fill it.
And the lockdown has really done a number on how we treat time; most likely amplifying our pre-Covid perception of time. So we have either gotten better at killing time (longer binge watching sessions), or a bit more efficient in some ways, to include the added house work (especially in places like India, where a lot of us were accustomed to having house help do a ton of the housework, but suddenly found ourselves needing to do it through the lockdown).

While I toggle between filling and killing time, I have struggled with trying to better manage it. And while I’ve always been aware of how short life is, the number of deaths in the last year have really highlighted the brevity of it.
Here are 4 habits I’ve been toying with in the hope of managing time better; with varying degrees of success:

  • Instagram on Weekends only: Sometime during the lockdown last year, I saw the crazy amounts of time I was spending daily on Instagram and wondered, “WTF?!” While I would see a good meme or funny pic or a picture that helped me connect two random thoughts together, it still felt like a criminal waste of time. So, I got into the habit of installing the app only on weekends, and uninstalling it on Sunday night. No Instagram during the week! At first, you might feel a restlessness and urge to flip through the app. But that restlessness is not about how important Instagram is to your life. It’s more like life asking you why the hell you’re wasting it on seeing mugshots of people, cars and pets, or funny videos, and not on something more worth your while. Now, I don’t miss Instagram at all, and even forget to install it on some weekends. And either way, Sunday night, it has to go. In case some of you wondered why I take forever to reply to Instagram messages; sorry. 😛
  • No Social media apps: Apart from maybe a WhatsApp, and any work related apps (like Slack, etc.) get rid of any social media type apps from your phone. Nothing to do with weekends, just get rid of them forever. Check them on the laptop if you must. No app, no temptation to keep checking them.
  • Don’t Multitask: You’ve probably heard both sides of this. Multitasking is great. Multitasking doesn’t work. Sometime when I started working in the venture capital sector, I finally realized how scattered my attention is. And given the multitude of work tasks, the only solution for me was to run quickly through different tasks. And to multitask. Sure, it helped to an extent. But in the years since, I have also tried ‘not multitasking’. Over time, my verdict is, ‘don’t multitask’. It does not work, because you are half-assing everything, and no one can ever work on or create something they are proud of, with a multitasking mindset. Instead, set limits of 60-90 minutes to dedicate to each task. Do nothing else at that time. Ideally, not even listen to music. And see the difference. The upside to this is also that you’d hopefully become picky (in a good way) about the type of work you choose to do, since it’s easier to focus on work you love, than just random work. Of course, it is easier said than done, and I struggle with it too, but the few times I can, the results justify the effort.
  • Single Topic Browser Tab: Here’s something that works well if you can stick with it. It is to do with browser tabs. Till recently, I prided myself in the diverse things going on in those 40-50 odd tabs that would be open in my web browser. But I’ve come to realize that it is the equivalent of multi-tasking. So what I do now, is starting with one tab, I limit the tabs to only those relevant to the task at hand at the moment. So for instance, if I was checking LinkedIn, only the LinkedIn page would be open – log in, check, reply to messages/comments, logout. Then if I were to research on some topic, if more than one tab is open, it would all be related to the topic and nothing else. Once I’m done, close all those tabs and move to the next. If checking Facebook is next, same deal – log in, check, logout.

Let me know what habits have been helping you better manage your time.

Life is a Highway

India – More highways or Better National & Public Transport?
 
This is an email I had sent to our Minister for Road Transport & Highways in January this year. Of course I am still optimistic (or delusional) enough to hope for a response or an opportunity to further discuss this topic. Either way, I hope they at least consider it for a moment.
 
email–
I have two thoughts to share with regard to your ministry’s awe-inspiring INR 3.3 lakh crore highway development plan [23 highways, 4-5 years]. It might help to reconsider the scale of the projects.
 
Please consider these two historical events:
Scenario 1: In the late 1800’s, electric car prototypes existed [William Morrison and others]. But given limited research and push, fuel-powered cars won, leading to a century of polluting vehicles and climate damage.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the late 1800’s and electric vehicles were pursued and developed!
 
Scenario 2: In the 1950’s, a few leaders and businesses saw great potential for plastic in consumer goods. Almost instantly, entire industry sectors were created around plastic goods and packaging. Half a century later, our helpless dependence on plastic continues, and its resulting ecological disaster is becoming irreparable.
Imagine the world today if a more long-term view was taken in the 1950’s and plastic was to be used sparingly and responsibly!
 
Sir, we are now at a similar crossroads with regard to vehicles in India. And you have the power to choose one of two possible routes for us. Please let it be the one that remains relevant half a century later.
 
Here are two thoughts for your consideration:
1. As autonomous vehicles become prevalent in the next 1-2 decades, we will most likely shift from a car ownership to a Transportation as a Service (TaaS) model, taking the usage efficiency from the current ~10% to ~90%. With this, the total number of cars needed could reduce to 1/5th its current growing demand [Ref.: https://www.slideshare.net/Ideafarms/transportation-2050-the-future-of-personal-mobility ]
 While cargo related road expansion plans could continue as planned, if we only add sufficient road infrastructure for passenger cars to factor a future TaaS model, our planned highways might not need to be as wide as planned, and the project cost need not be as high as it is.
 
2. India, compared to North America, has four times the US population living on an area that is 1/3rd that of the US landmass. Therefore, higher individual ownership of vehicles made more sense in the US given the distance between people and places.
   The Indian scenario is quite opposite. Many people on a smaller land mass. This means, a world class national and state based public and private mass transportation would be a more logical option to pursue than individual car ownership. If we simply build wider highways and push car ownership from an auto industry that is largely dependent on a captive domestic market but struggles to compete globally, we would end up with (i) an inefficient auto industry, (ii) traffic-jammed cities and towns, and (iii) huge, inefficiently used automotive assets sitting idle at homes and offices. We might lose our global efficiency and edge due to challenges this inefficiency would present not necessarily now, but in the decades to come.
 
So, if we create more efficient public and private mass transportation infrastructure like Singapore today, we can save investments on the current highway projects by making them more future-efficient. And the saved funds could be diverted to boost relevant economy sectors that will give us a global edge in the coming decades, while creating more efficient lives in a cleaner and traffic-free India.
end of email–
 
Thoughts?

Segway

Not sure y’all heard, but Segway stopped production in 2020.

Founded in 2001, those incredible-looking, futuristic two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporters were priced at a prohibitive $5000-8000 a unit.
Probably why, despite their universal popularity and appeal, only some 140,000 sold in two decades.

Along the way, Chinese robotics startup Ninebot started selling Segway rip-offs.
They then raised funding (from Xiaomi and Sequoia), and acquired Segway in 2015, offering it as part of their mobility products portfolio.

However, as of June 2020 however, due to low sales and some past accidents, Ninebot decided to stop manufacturing Segways. They seem to be doing well selling their own range of kick scooters, go-karts and other personal transport products though.

An odd end for what was once a fascinating, seemingly ahead of its time, self-balancing personal mobility solution.
I suppose that’s how progress works.
And perhaps ‘affordability’ should be an important element of it? Especially if the product has a mass appeal and can be made cheaper than you are.

How much Attention do you pay to Detail?

How much attention do you pay to detail?
I had read about this somewhere and found the attention to detail unimaginably inspiring.

The sculpture of Moses by Italian Renaissance artist, Michelangelo Buonarroti has a slight indent in the forearm (yellow marker).

That indent is not random.

Such an indent is only formed when a particular muscle is taut, which in turn only happens when the little finger is extended, as is seen in the sculpture.
Try it out yourself to check.

The incredible attention to detail clearly differentiates legends from the rest.

The Paradox of Colour Choices

Many of us are familiar with the paradox of choice, whether or not we have heard of the phrase itself.

The paradox of choice, is our tendency to believe that more options or variants or choices in a given situation or purchase event is a good thing. After all, who wouldn’t want more flavours in a cereal or jam, or more accessory choices when buying a car or colour options when buying shoes or maybe laptops?

However, I think it was psychologist Barry Schwartz who first argued that for consumers, eliminating choices in fact dramatically reduced their anxiety as opposed to making them more content or delighted. It also simplifies our ability to compare and decide quickly, as opposed to being confused by the complexity of the multiple options presented.

I personally went through a similar experience with my calendar app. I think I installed it sometime in 2013-14. It had a few basic colour options for each entry. And since it was quite basic, I felt the need for some features, and the flexibility of some more colour options, to be able to categorize different priorities or types of reminders by colour. So I signed up for the Pro version.

All of a sudden, I got access to probably three times the colour options which, after an update in the recent months, has now become unlimited colours! There are the basic 11 Google supported colours, 39 more on the app’s extended palette, and the ability to create custom colours using the colour slider or by entering a Hex code.

And with all the options, came the chaos. In an attempt to highlight different types of activities with different colours, in the hope of remembering to get them done, the calendar started looking nauseatingly colourful. And chaotic!

And as the different colours overwhelmed the senses, it became increasingly tough to remember and understand priority.

So I regressed to a better format. I now use less than the initial colour options I started with. And, just as with the paradox of choice, clarity has improved. Now timebound or important matters are in red or green, and everything else is in one colour. So rather than depend on multiple colours fighting for attention while leaving me in a state of chaos, now I am required to pay attention to each to make sure nothing important gets missed out.

Have you faced any similar choice paradox that you solved by simplifying?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[the before & after screenshots are only representational. The actual calendar was far more chaotic before, & far clearer now]

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