Developing biometric technology and devices with a view to formally identify the 1.5 billion people in the world who lack formal identification — mostly in the developing world and who critically lack access to healthcare as a result — is a noble but difficult feat.
A small ambitious team from the University of Cambridge have developed Simprints, a nonprofit award-winning fingerprint scanner which aims to penetrate the most far-reaching places on earth with a view to offering healthcare solutions to those ‘invisible’ humans who need it most — by instantly accessing their medical records.
However, the Simprints team — with all of their Cambridge PhD brilliance — discovered firsthand just how difficult developing such technological solutions can be. They won funding, they packed up their prototypes — and they headed out to introduce their new product to the developing world. But ultimately, the Simprints product wasn’t received (or as durable) as they’d hoped.
In the non-profit sector, donors give money to the companies they support and believe in, and those companies go on to produce products for end-users. But too often the buck stops there — the companies don’t close the loop thoroughly enough with the end-user. As a result, there is often a gap between what is a good idea and what is truly useful and meaningful to the people a product or service is created for. As it turns out, User Experience Design isn’t always a budget line item with grant money, but the Simprints story was so compelling Smart Design agreed to take on the project pro-bono. We signed up with them as a partner, with a passion to see them succeed.
The critical element of the Simprints product that needed refining was what we at Smart Design call the ‘last mile of design’. We promptly stepped in, bringing decades of experience to the table to ensure that Simprints’ impressive technology — a wireless portable fingerprint scanner that is 228% more accurate, and four times cheaper than the best products on the market – could reach those most in need and essentially save lives.
And so, with our backing, we walked Simprints through a fairly typical service design process to define the UX of both the fingerprint scanner and the app it connects to. This included analysing task flows and designing feedback across digital and physical touchpoints. We tracked the patient journey and created a storyboard to illustrate both the needs of the patient and healthcare worker while taking into consideration cultural and literacy differences to identify how Simprints could best communicate the technology in the underserved communities it’s designed for.
After the new user-centric design process was developed we were able to bring to life the next generation Simprints’ fingerprint scanner; it is more robust and offers a more intuitive, efficient, and valuable experience for the healthcare workers and the poor communities that ultimately use them.
Unfortunately, the Simprints story is not unique. In fact, many nonprofits find themselves in a similar position when creating solutions for the developing world. Too many initiatives end up falling short of their potential; there are graveyards of good intentions dotted throughout the developing world. However, we spotted the potential impact that Simprints could have in the developing world — and knew that improving the product’s finite details could ultimately save the lives of many previously invisible people. We wanted to help, for example, the millions of mothers and babies who die as a result of not receiving basic perinatal or postnatal care (of which 70 percent are preventable).
The Simprints team are now working in the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, to help mothers gain access to basic care that will improve their chances of survival. By correctly identifying mothers and babies, who can then be properly tracked, vaccinated, and have their overall chances of survival increase against the odds it will contribute to a better world. As a result, Simprints received even more accolades for their biometric scanner, including UNICEF’s ‘Changing Children’s Lives for the Better’ award.
Formal identification — especially in poverty-stricken communities — can help improve peoples’ lives on many levels: from receiving better healthcare to rightfully obtaining their food and financial quotas to quelling official corruption (that too often sees subsidies end up in the wrong pockets) to receiving a better education through increased attendance. Biometric technology is crucial to helping the world’s most needy and deprived.
We hope that by creating more design-capable companies who aim to make a difference, we can bring the power of design to the world’s biggest problems. Working with Simprints has emphasised the fact that the relationship at the core of the nonprofit model needs to change to ensure that organisations increase their impact — and in this case, give the 1.5 billion invisible people a better chance in life.