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Design Thinking: A Tool for COVID-19 Prevention Prototype Development

It has been over a year since the beginning of COVID-19 global outbreak, and the world is still adapting to the new normal situation. In order to help society be better protected from the illness, Mahidol University, a member of Thailand One Health University Network, conducted a series of workshops on “Design Thinking for COVID-19 Prevention and Control with Clinical Management” in November, December 2020 and in March 2021. These workshops resulted in 10 prototypes of innovative products that help to make COVID-19 prevention more comfortable, effective, and creative process.​

For example, among the winning designs is a smart mask that protects from both SARS- CoV-2 and PM 2.5, the harmful dust particles found in polluted urban air. This mask also allows to eat and drink easily with the zip! Cleansing tubes that are made of nature-friendly packaging materials with alcohol gel and moisturizing coating for a pleasant after touch can be attached to hand watch and make sterilizing process enjoyable. Smart helmets not only protect motorbike drivers from potential injuries, but also measure their temperatures and filter the air. In the future, some of these innovative projects may receive funds from the Government of Thailand for actual production.

At the core of the effort is Design Thinking – a creative approach or social technology for problem solving. It allows to focus on user’s experience, but also to consider technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness. Design thinking process releases creativity and catalyzes innovation. This method consists of five phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. It can be applied to any field, and the Mahidol University team saw its potential in COVID- 19 prevention and control.​

Through various workshop activities, such as brainstorming, buzz group, prototype presentation and feedback, the participants came up with out-of-the-box solutions that can improve our daily experiences in times of COVID-19 pandemic. Over 60 participants - faculty members with human, animal, environmental health, and social sciences backgrounds, learned about Design Thinking and how to implement this approach to address COVID-19. Ten best prototypes were awarded with seed funds for pilot production.

Complex issues require comprehensive solutions. The multidisciplinary team of lecturers who participated in the workshop is now equipped with an approach to solving any problems creatively and can use it to teach their students. The design thinking tool can be applied for solving complicated problems similar to COVID-19. When dealing with a crisis such as this pandemic, it is important to define the right problem and develop the right solutions.

- Personal protective equipment, distancing, and group size standards in this photo were consistent with local public health guidance and COVID-19 status in the specific country and time it was taken. This may not reflect best practices for all locations where COVID-19 is still spreading. -

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