Image courtesy of the UN Population Fund. Article by Beth Comstock, Senior Vice President & CMO, GE.
According to the United Nations, today we celebrate the birth of the world's seven billionth person. This is both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Awe-inspiring when we consider the new ways that technology will connect those seven billion people and the tremendous opportunity it creates. Terrifying in that it raises some serious challenges for society. How do we feed, clothe, treat, educate, and supply power to seven billion persons, all while not destroying this beautiful planet?
There has never been a better platform upon which to showcase the power of design thinking than this moment. The complexities of our expanding world require innovations that go beyond simply adding more to meet the growing demand, but that identify the true roots of the demand, consider the context surrounding the need and apply creativity and empathy to defining the solution. In short, design thinking is the answer to managing the growing global community.
The good news is that brilliant designers around the world are already hard at work creating these solutions. Consider—how would you house seven billion people, when two billion are surviving on less than one dollar a day? You'd need houses that were both safe and functional, and that cost only a few hundred dollars. Sound impossible? Patti Stouter, founder of Simple Earth Structures, proved us wrong. She recently won Vijay Govindarajan's and Christian Sarkar's $300 House Challenge with a home that would cost $293 to build.
Or, think about the challenges we face delivering water and sanitation, when already one billion people lack access to clean water. IDEO is doing some incredible work with the people of Ghana to create better access to sanitation services via portable, low-cost, functional toilets that will reduce spread of disease while preserving the dignity of the Ghanaian people.
And I'm not the only one lauding the power of design. Across industries we are witnessing an increased focus on solution-centered designs. Design with the Other 90%: CITIES, a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibit at the United Nations in New York City, is filled with real-life examples of how designers are addressing major world challenges. I encourage everyone to check out the broad range of powerful designs on display, such as the Millennium School Bamboo Project that addresses the large number of Typhoons in the Philippines and bePRO motor-taxi helmet for motorcycle taxis in Uganda.
Michael Kimmelman of The New York Times summed it up best when he said, "[The beauty of the designs on display at the UN] lies in providing economical, smart solutions to address the problems of millions of the world's poorest people."
At GE, we develop technologies to address many of the world's challenges in healthcare, energy and transportation, and it's not a coincidence that design is increasingly becoming a cornerstone of our growth strategy. By marrying simplicity and practicality, meaningful design will be the key driver of our competitive advantage and, if done well, improve lives.
We recently announced a global commitment to accelerate cancer innovation. As part of this, we have dedicated resources to improve a woman's journey through breast cancer with better designed technologies and a more patient-centered approach. This has struck many of our partners as unconventional. On the surface, design and cancer may appear disconnected, but in reality, studies have repeatedly shown that by designing a better patient experience, you can actually affect measurable improvements in patient outcomes. Breast cancer is highly treatable, when caught early, but many women avoid screenings because they find the experience cold and uncomfortable. We are partnering with top female designers—hailing from places like Smart Design and Cleveland Clinic—to help us re-think the way we approach mammography, create a better screening experience and, ultimately, saves lives.
Initial design concept of a new mobile mammography machine GE's designers are working on as part of its new breast cancer initiative mentioned in the piece. It's called SenoCase, and was designed to deliver breast cancer screening capabilities to the millions of women around the world who live in remote, rural and underserved communities and lack access to existing breast cancer technologies.
But whether it's what we are doing at GE or what the designers featured at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibit have done, designing solutions comes in many different shapes and sizes. Just look at what designers Graham Wyatt and Kevin Smith of Robert A.M. Stern Architects created at the living-learning Kohler Environmental Center where teams of students will compete with one another to see who can live most energy efficiently. These designers found a unique way to educate the youth today through design so they can learn to live more efficiently tomorrow.
If it's delivering clean water to rural communities, providing new forms of education to students or creating a new mammography experience, I believe there is no right or wrong way to design as long as it provides meaningful solutions for people across the world.
The seven billionth person will enter this world unnoticed by most, but the impacts of a growing population will, at some point, touch us all. Designers of the world, get ready. Your time has come.
About Beth Comstock
Beth Comstock is senior vice president and chief marketing officer of GE. She leads GE's organic growth and global commercial innovation initiatives, as well as the sales, marketing and communications functions. She is responsible for the GE-wide business platforms ecomagination, devoted to reducing environmental impact with new technology, and healthymagination, focused on using innovation to deliver better care, more affordable, to more people. She is a member of Nike's Board of Directors and a trustee of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.