Shaping the Future A Maker who uses Design Thinking to help others brave the Pandemic New Normal
American business writer Chris Anderson wrote in his 2012 book “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” that the next global industrial revolution would be born out of the culture of “Crowdsourcing” and the application of innovative technologies. “Maker” has since then become a popular term.
The Maker culture advocates solving communal, social, global and even human problems with technology, innovation and design and the recent global pandemic shown there are many unpredictable difficulties and challenges existing in our world. Tchiang Carlos Do Rosario, who has been teaching at St. Joan of Arc Secondary School for decades, recently used 3D printing technology to produce Mask Rings for those in need in Hong Kong. He was also joined by a group of volunteers in “printing” this innovative device for the fight against this pandemic.
“As a Maker, I am aware of the importance of understanding user needs and collaboration. The advice and support I got from Hongkongers are the drive for me to keep modifying my design. This continuous process preciously shows how design thinking can change the world,” he said.
The Eight-Step Design Process
As he flipped through his old portfolio filled with neat drawings, Carlos took out a blue door hanger designed for hotel rooms and said: “This was one of my assignments. I visited many hotels to study designs of their door hangers and find out what caused them to be designed that way. Finally, I came up with this design. Its upper part is a hook, and its lower part has a rotating disc where you can show different messages like ‘Do Not Disturb’ and ‘Please Clean My Room’.”
That was his first invention as a Maker. Observation and developing insights were the key to his success and those are also what Design Thinking is all about. Back in those days, this process was known as Engineering Design Process which contains eight steps: Needs Identification, Research, Developing possible solutions, Finalising promising solution, Prototyping, Testing and Evaluation, and Improvement.
“These steps are similar to what design thinking proposes, but that approach we learnt back then was just a linear design process, not a circular and continuous design thinking process. In other words, the process ends at the testing and evaluation stage, and further improvement will not be sought,” he said.
Co-creating Mask Rings for the community
As a Maker himself, Carlos thinks they are just like many other design thinkers. Their innovations and inventions are not driven by monetary gain, but by the desire to solve social problems with a humanistic attitude. As COVID-19 turned a global pandemic, many in Hong Kong had to hunt for face masks, and Carlos experienced the same. “I only had two masks at home in February,” he recalled with a bitter smile. That prompted him to use his Maker spirit to come up with an invention that can solve the mask shortage.
Holding the first respirator mask he bought, Carlos explained, “Many people chose to use reusable respirator masks instead of using surgical masks. However, filters were difficult to find and expensive. Some people ended up cutting surgical masks into specific shapes and attached them to their respirators with elastic bands. Some used 3D printers to produce different mask covers. But after doing some research, I found that these amateurish designs were either not airtight or use too many parts to assemble.”
Therefore, he started exploring a better solution and created a prototype. “The original version was just a surgical mask cut into a circular shape and attached to the filter opening. I called it a ‘Mask Ring’.” Carlos then shared a video of the prototype online, and soon received a lot of enquiries and orders. “I wanted to modify the design so I kept testing and repeating the tests, as known in design thinking. So I printed a batch of Mask Rings, sent them to the netizens for free and asked for their comments.”
The netizens’ feedback had improved the design of this low-cost Mask Ring, and Carlos was surprised to learn about the great demand for it, and that this little invention actually responded to a pain point faced by many. “People started to question whether a trimmed surgical mask with a much smaller surface would be filled with virus soon and fail to offer full protection. These feedbacks helped me realise that a great design comes from continual improvement, while the motivation and inspiration often come from the users. ”
After a dozen rounds of improvements, the Mask Ring now has a sealed design to block droplets and extend its product life. “The users had helped me identify many design problems, such as vulnerable parts, mask damages caused by installation, and the complexity in installation. Some later also asked me to develop Mask Rings for different respirator models, and they even sent me samples for research purposes.”
Changing the World with Maker spirit
We are all endowed with different strengths and resources. Design Thinking is to encourage a team to co-create with users as that can create more possibilities because of consolidating their resources. This concept of sharing resources and collective thinking is called “crowdsourcing”.
Carlos’ non-profit-making Mask Ring project has so far drawn plenty. “Some donated 3D printers or money, while some helped with the printing work, administrative tasks or product delivery. Now we have nine people and a total of 13 3D printers printing the Mask Rings round-the-clock, and handling the delivery tasks. We have sent out more than a 1,000 of Mask Rings for free so far. This would never had happened without these people.” This is indeed an apt example of the power of crowdsourcing.
Carlos also shared various other covid-related inventions created by school teachers who needed to continue their teaching for HKDSE students on his YouTube channel, and invited volunteers to co-create a simple plastic respirator together. “Though they might have a better understanding of user needs or better ideas than I do, they were not familiar with 3D printing or the technical skills required. So our team could offer our expertise and help them create a better product. ”
This project also renewed his understanding of the “Maker Spirit”. “Maker Spirit is actually the same as Design Thinking since it encourages us to innovate, consolidate our energy and resources to solve problems, and embrace changes and challenges through constant improvements. The post-pandemic world may be more challenging than ever, but whether you are a Maker or a Design Thinker, as long as you care about the society and the shared benefits of mankind, you will be able to change the world, overcome challenges and create a better life for everyone.”