Design isn’t only relevant in the creative sphere, it can also have a substantial impact on medical breakthroughs and technological upgrades that can greatly improve the quality of life for millions of people — including those that are often under-represented in the health care sector.
Enter the 2021 Index Award, a biennial accolade with a focus on design and its potential for creating solutions that tackle (and perhaps solve) critical global issues. There’s even a category that focuses exclusively on the body, creating an opportunity for entrants to address gendered issues within the world of medicine — especially those that may often be considered taboo. Index Project CEO Liz Chong spoke about the importance of these new and innovative designs, explaining that: “there is still so much shame around female, trans, and non-binary bodies that impose harmful barriers to healthcare…[which serves] to sideline vital conversations and deny people access to helpful and even life-saving resources.”
But the finalists in the body category are hoping to change that through their design projects, all of which seek to create a more equitable future in medicine for all genders.
Below are some standout projects among this year’s Index Award finalists:
Creating Change Through Strategic Redesign
Some of the finalists’ work focuses on finding new, more innovative takes on already existing tools, devices, and technologies For example, the Hegenberger Speculum is a silicone device designed to be more comfortable for patients who require perineum stitching after childbirth. The current model is made of metal and has not been updated in over 100 years. The updated version’s creator, Malene Hegenberger, feels that the “taboo subject” of this common (9 out of 10 women experience perineum tears post-childbirth) health concern has contributed to the tool not being updated, or even discussed, in past decades.
Another finalist, Cirqle Biomedical, is looking to test a new form of birth control that is both non-hormonal and far less invasive than many current birth control methods. The product, a gel capsule called Oui, could provide more flexibility and comfort for women seeking to avoid the discomfort of implants like IUDs, and the unpleasant side effects of hormonal birth control treatments. Here too, a lack of innovation has left women with few options, many of which have side effects that can be anything from uncomfortable to life-threatening.
“Women’s health has been under-prioritized and neglected for decades,” said Cirqle’s CEO in a statement. With developments like these, the Index Project’s finalists hope to change that.
Creating Change to Tackle Systemic Issues
Another incredibly important redesign featured among this year’s Index Award finalists is improved rape kit for DNA collection. Complete with color coding, easier instructions for health care providers, and an accompanying instructional app, this kit, designed by Antya Waegemann, is just the first step in reimagining the whole system and creating a completely different culture around how rape kits are tested, making it easier for law enforcement officials everywhere to process them. Her company Margo also wants to work on other products and services, including increasing the widespread availability of kits, improving the tracking of processed kits, and providing much-needed support for victims.
DNA collection kits are incredibly important tools in sexual assault cases, and they often remain untested. In the U.S. alone, there’s an alarming number of backlogs for testing DNA in these cases, and the whole process, from collection to testing, tracking, and storing, is riddled with issues that are less localized and more widespread and systemic in nature. But at a time when nearly one in three women over the age of 15 and one in two transgender people have experienced sexual violence, the process needs to be reexamined and, in some cases, overhauled. Waegemann knows the importance of her task and remains hopeful, stating that she “really believe[s] that a product itself can change a system in a way that policy sometimes cannot.”
She’s not entirely wrong, either. New and reimagined technologies, products, and innovations in health care have the capacity to change and improve people’s lives, especially those who are historically under and misrepresented in these arenas. Through the efforts of these Index Project finalists, issues previously thought of as “taboo” enter the forefront of design strategy, spurring important, necessary action that has the capacity to make a real difference.