Statement of Objectives
From my application to the MIT, December 2014
Imagination, empathy and intuitive leaps, combined with extensive research, are essential for innovation. In the past, these have helped me identify patterns underlying the reality of human behavior, learning from reactions, probes and prototypes to design affordable, user-centric products for social impact.
Over the last few years, I have been deeply involved in researching the bottom- of-the-pyramid market to understand their needs related to healthcare, education,energy requirements and accessibility. This enriching journey has taken me through 16 states in India. I have gained a comprehensive working knowledge of maternal and infant mortality issues, rural transportation challenges, emerging rural markets, use of technology in classroom, energy consumption practices, rural electrification scenarios and limitations.
After four years of product design and human factors research at Embrace Innovations, I fully recognize that building a unique, affordable and effective product requires a deep understanding of the ecosystem, as well as focused research at each phase of product development. I am keen to translate my experiences into tangible solutions, and draw from my peers’ experiences at MIT to develop a deeper understanding of the human centered design approach.
The motivation of building products and the rush of rapidly converting an idea into something tangible is incomparable. MIT IDM Program will be the ideal place for me to learn how to build efficient products that address an identified need using technology and human behavior. Interacting with peers at MIT Media Lab will give me the opportunity to learn best practices from others.
MIT’s unique multi-disciplinary environment will also enable me to explore opportunities at The Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program. At Venture classes and collaborations between MIT and Harvard, particularly the Sloan Entrepreneurship Center will expose me to opportunities and people. This will catalyze my vision of creating a technology-based social enterprise and provide a holistic perspective on developing new ideas.
I have been part of organizations that create products for social impact and now want to explore emerging ‘next practices’ and disruptive technologies that could inspire new ways of solving the challenges for a user. Being a part of research projects in social innovation and product-service-system design will crystalise my ambitions particularly by applying human centered design and research methodologies in areas of education, health-care and wellbeing.
In my first year at the design school, I enrolled in a self-initiated project, unknowing that it would uncover my passion for creating products. I set myself an ambitious brief drawn from real life. As a child I accompanied my father on his business trips to Nathu La at the India-China border in Sikkim. While I waited outside the Commanding Officers Cabin for my father, I would take a walk to get a sneak peek into the living areas for Jawan’s(junior soldier) which was at an altitude of 14,140ft above sea level. The idea was focused on developing a solution to provide safe drinking water for the Army soldiers living in high altitude areas. In spite of initial set backs the result was an observation case study of the camps and outposts of the Indian Army in Sikkim which I presented to senior officials.
After two months of further research and prototyping, I reached a conceptual solution for a manual filter to melt snow into purified drinking water. A premier engineering institute, Sathyabama University in Chennai, validated the concept. Later, it was submitted to the Mechanical Engineering Department of Indian Army for further development. This was my first experience at the crossroads of innovative product design, social change and real problems faced by real people.
In 2010, I joined the founders of Embrace who had moved to India from Stanford University to develop an extremely affordable infant warmer. Their vision was to build an organization to give children an equal chance for a healthy life for developing countries.
Embrace for me was about having a holistic approach to understand the eco system and not concentrate only on making incremental inputs to generate solutions. Taking Embrace’s infant warmer from research, concept, design, to manufacturing was not only exhilarating and educational, but I developed a deep personal bond with the product and the people. Growing Embrace from a just 7 people to an 80 people organization, I learned the importance of company culture and the power of innovation.
Identifying unmet needs, enabling user-centric approach through deep empathy and being a voice of the user was my forte along with synthesizing research and generating insights to assimilate information to draw patterns. Heading the way for the team to constantly implement the human centered design at every stage of the product development was my key responsibility.
During 2011 we took up a new challenge at Embrace. We decided to empower mothers by providing a Kangaroo-Mother-Care(KMC) jacket along with the warmer. Research data showed kangaroo-mother-care was safer and an effective way for the mother-child bonding. To assess the feasibility of the idea I stepped into a role-play by stimulating the environment and practiced kangaroo-mother- care with a doll for four hours. Sitting in the KMC position exhausted me and off-the-shelf jackets were very uncomfortable. I realized we were still missing something and set out to the field to gather insights.
During the field research we heard interesting stories and pain-points from mothers on how kangaroo mother care was not seen as a need. We gained deeper insights on multitude of problems that rural women faced. They felt embarrassed if people walked in while they were breastfeeding; or felt sapped of energy because they were required to perform household chores in addition to taking care of the baby, etc. This helped us clearly state the question that we sought to answer: “How can KMC make a mother feel comfortable”. Collating and analyzing the research showed that mothers needed their space, an opportunity to take care of themselves and enjoy motherhood. This helped us create new solutions that led to high uptake and positive feedback from mothers. This accomplishment of empathetic approach to develop products made me realize the importance of research and possibilities of ground breaking outcomes.
As I move ahead, I still feel motivated to learn, explore and experiment without fear of failure. I am therefore confident that the IDM Program at MIT would transform me beyond a talented product & user interface designer in order to deliver solutions for impact.