Shedding Lights on Precious Lives

Image Courtesy of WeCareSolar

We Care Solar promotes safe motherhood and reduces maternal mortality by providing health workers with reliable lighting, medical devices, and mobile phone charging, all powered by solar electricity. In many developing regions common electricity to power health centers is either unaffordable or not available. This compromises the ability of health workers to provide safe and appropriate medical care. Nighttime obstetric procedures and emergency surgeries are conducted under suboptimal conditions, and in some cases health workers perform tasks aided only by the light from a kerosene lamp.

We Care Solar has been providing solar lighting solutions for maternal health centers since 2009. In 2019 they launched the redesigned high performance third generation of the Solar Suitcase, which includes many advanced functions and features. With the new product launch came the necessity and the opportunity to redesign the manuals, but for the system to perform at fully capacity proper installation and health worker education would be essential.

To understand the challenges in creating accurate and appropriate information for the end users, our design team traveled to various off-the-grid health centers in Uganda to conduct design research with installers and health workers. Several mock-up versions of the manuals were created to share various options on the layout of information with the goal of learning which options had the best comprehension and receptivity from the audience. While most of the subjects had some level of literacy, the team learned that detailed images, clear information graphics, and step-by-step procedures resulted in the best outcome for proper installation and usage of the system.

Off-the-grid Maternal Health Facility, Uganda
User Testing with Installers, Uganda: image courtesy of We Care Solar

The Installation Guide helps installers set-up the system for optimum efficiency and performance. The pictorial guide covers the installation of the solar panel, mounting of the Solar Suitcase on the wall, running the lights, and training the health workers on how to use the system.

The User Manual helps health workers gauge how to get the maximum performance out of the system. It covers how and when to use the lights, how to charge and use the medical devices, and how to upkeep and maintain the system to ensure years of service. The manual is housed in a pocket inside the Solar Suitcase door where it can be easily accessed for reference or to aid in the training of new staff as they come on the job.

Both the Installation Guide and the User Manual are color coded by section for easy reference, and while much of the information is detailed and somewhat technical, the chapter sections show a human side with the display of full-page images of actual health workers, mothers and infants experiencing the benefits of the system.

Beyond the design of the We Care Solar Suitcase Manuals, the design team developed the unpacking experience for installers that sequences components and parts of the system with steps outlined in the Installation Guide. This method of unpacking reinforces the proper steps in setting up the system and reduces the likelihood of losing or misplacing essential parts or components. When shipped the Solar Suitcase is organized on three levels:

The Top Level is what the installer sees when the suitcase is first opened. It includes a printed overview of all the contents of the Solar Suitcase to orient installers and set them up for success. The reverse side is a handy template for mounting the Solar Suitcase to the wall. The top level also includes a reusable bag containing the hardware and tools needed to install the solar panel and mount the Solar Suitcase. The bag is used to organize and carry the tools and hardware around the facility and on to the roof for mounting the solar panel.

The Middle Level consists of a reusable bag containing all the lights and wiring needed to install the lights in the health center. This level coincides with the section in the Installation Guide for optimizing the lighting set-up to best aid health workers with their tasks. Shipping the lights, hardware and tools in reusable bags cuts down on the amount of plastic packaging and health workers said that the bags would be handy for other purposes around the facility.

The Bottom Level includes appliances such as the two LED headlamps and an AA battery charger for the included fetal Doppler. These items are accessed and used as needed by the health workers and then returned to the Solar Suitcase for charging and storage. The design team created a mesh pocket organizer to safely house the appliance and keep them from being misplaced.

Finally as part the broader design program, the design team developed the product graphics and colors giving the new version of the Solar Suitcase a fresh and modern instrumentation like appearance. Cables for the lights and solar panel are color coded to ensure proper connection to the Solar Suitcase. The bright yellow suitcase remains as the signature element and representative of the We Care Solar brand.

We Care Solar Suitcase, finished installation

We Care Solar Suitcase has been recognized as the Best Inventions 2019 by TIME magazine.




Founder, Institute for Creative Integration, Human-centered design strategist

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Shin Sano

Shin Sano

Founder, Institute for Creative Integration, Human-centered design strategist

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