Design for Extreme Affordability, a graduate course offered by Stanford University, aims to give students the tools needed to “design products and services that will change the lives of the world’s poorest citizens.”
Offered by the university’s Institute of Design, 40 students from a variety of different disciplines complete the course each year, producing ten final projects that aim to achieve cheap solutions to serious global problems.
They are taught design and marketing principles, form student teams, collaborate with local partner organizations, travel to their project sites, prototype and test their products and present their final projects product proposals. According to the Stanford course website, emphasis is placed on “design for the developing world, including economic, technological and cultural considerations.”
When the course is completed, many students actually fulfill their proposal and see their idea through to completion. In fact, a considerable number of Design for Extreme Affordability projects have found global success.
For example, Embrace, an international nonprofit maternal and child health organization, was created as a result of the course. The Embrace Warmer, the organization’s central product, is a low-cost innovation to help care for premature infants in developing countries.
Usually, the solution for premature infants is to place them in an incubator until they are able to regulate their own body temperature. However, incubators are expensive and require electricity, training to use and maintenance. Consequently, mothers in less-developed countries must find different methods to save premature infants from hypothermia. They often resort to using fire, light bulbs or hot water bottles, all of which are dangerous and ineffectual. There was a clear need for an affordable, non-electric and safe method to keep infants warm.
This was the challenged posed to one team of graduate students taking the Design for Extreme Affordability course, and the Embrace Warmer was its result. The price tag is under 1 percent of the cost of a standard incubator, and its wraparound design is durable, portable, safe, hygienic and very effective.
The Embrace team’s idea has blossomed into an international organization that has reached over 50,000 infants across the world and made a real impact.
Stanford’s Design for Extreme Affordability is not just another school project. It is an intensive year where dedicated and motivated students–with support from expert staff–create practical solutions to life-threatening global problems.
With the courses direction, students have been able to consistently create innovative products that are making a difference in the world today. Hopefully the course will continue to inspire the university’s gifted students to direct their talents toward the global community.
– Emily Jablonski