Design that Matters Goes from Inspiration to Sketch in One Easy Step

Design that Matters (DtM) is a non-profit that uses the power of design to find the best opportunities for technology to have a massive impact serving the poor in developing countries. You may have already learned about us from the SOLIDWORKS blog or November Webinar. In the earliest stages of our design process, we need tools to rapidly visualize new medical device ideas. Thanks to SOLIDWORKS, our designers have moved their sketching process from paper and pencil into the digital world, enabling us to quickly visualize organic forms while still keeping them realistic. We used this digital sketching process to create the early concepts for our Pelican pulse oximeter to identify newborns with pneumonia.

Pneumonia is the leading disease killing children under five worldwide. Every year, pneumonia kills more children than AIDS, Malaria, and Tuberculosis combined. Pulse oximeters are a non-invasive way to measure blood oxygen saturation to identify the most severe cases of respiratory distress. A red LED light and an infrared LED light shine through a part of the body such as the finger, palm, or foot to a detector on the other side. Design that Matters is creating a pulse oximeter to enable community health workers, nurses, and doctors to identify newborns with pneumonia, enabling them to get respiratory treatment and antibiotics.


In order to better understand the state of the art, DtM Designer Will Harris and I visited the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. DtM is lucky to have a close partnership with the NICU at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Neonatologist Dr. Steven Ringer. During our visit, we discovered it was difficult to align the LED and the detector across the foot, often leading to poor signal and no usable reading.

How might we create a device that clearly indicates how to put it on the newborn’s foot so the LED light and the detector will be aligned? Dr. Ringer looked down at his own feet. Like so many medical professionals, he was wearing crocs that day. His observation; no matter what size foot you have, you can always correctly orient your foot inside a large croc.





We returned to the Design that Matters studio. Will took a 3D scan of a newborn doll’s foot and imported it into SOLIDWORKS. He then scaled the resulting file to generate multiple size feet representing premature to term newborns. Using the feet as a marker, he then sketched the all-in-one newborn shoe pulse oximeter. SOLIDWORKS was the perfect tool to quickly replicate the curves of a shoe in the right size and shape to fit well on a foot.


Another observation we made at Brigham and Women’s NICU is that there is one pulse oximeter for every baby. Each baby is monitored continuously during their stay ranging from hours to months. In developing countries, many healthcare centers and hospitals don’t have a single pulse oximeter. We realized the need for a tool that community health workers or nurses could use to make quick checks on many newborns. We were inspired by cheap clip-on adult fingertip pulse oximeters available at local drug stores in the United States. Our MIT and Rhode Island School of Design student team and DtM Designer Will Harris both used SOLIDWORKS to explore a variety of clip-on forms.


Dr. Regan Marsh is Director of Emergency Services at Mirebalais University Hospital in Haiti with Partners in Health. During an interview with DtM, she mentioned that it is easy for pocket-sized devices to walk away by theft or unintentional misplacement. Dr. Marsh challenged DtM to find a way to attach the Pelican pulse oximeter to an IV pole. Will Harris drafted a concept in SOLIDWORKS based on standard-size IV pole geometry. This led to the idea of a unique docking station that could also hold cleaning supplies to keep the reusable device sanitary.

SOLIDWORKS is an incredible tool to bring us quickly from inspiration to visualizing our ideas in a realistic way. This enables Design that Matters to more quickly hone in on the right answer, bringing us that much closer to saving lives. We look forward to turning the best Pelican pulse oximeter idea into a product over the coming year.

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Elizabeth Johansen

Elizabeth Johansen

Director of Product Development at Design that Matters
Elizabeth leads DtM's product design process. Using her engineering experience and design thinking background, she leads designers, professional volunteers, students, and contractors to create world-class designs with positive impact for low resource communities in the developing world. Prior to DtM, Elizabeth worked at IDEO for 8 years. Her experience spans strategy to design for manufacture for clients including Eli Lilly, BriteSmile, Reynolds, Target, Becton Dickinson, and 3Com. Elizabeth also speaks and facilitates workshops about design for social impact to audiences ranging from budding social enterprises to the largest bank in the world. She holds a B.S. in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.
Elizabeth Johansen
Elizabeth Johansen
Elizabeth Johansen