Though scientific knowledge of blood and hematology has increased exponentially since the first blood banks opened at the turn of the century, the donor experience of giving blood hasn’t changed all that much since the 1950s. Sit down, feel a pinch, grab your reward cookie, and bounce.
Yet as the Boomer population ages and blood demand rises, many in the medical community are wondering whether blood donation needs a serious rebrand. For example, only 4% of eligible donors in the U.K. donate, says Ama Darko Williams, a student at the Royal College of Art. "With a growing and aging population, it’s crucial to attract more donors," she adds. As part of an Innovation Design Engineering course, Williams and her teammates, James Wright, Dan McLaughlin, and Zhanling Feng, set out to reimagine the blood donation earlier this year. The foursome culled insight from nurses, first-time and regular donors, blood specialists, public health experts, and transfusion recipients, all in the hopes of gleaning a small insight into how to improve the experience for everyone involved.
What they found was that there wasn’t one specific aspect of the blood donor program that needed to change. Rather, each individual component needed to be looked at to repair the overall system—not unlike a circulatory system. As a result, their final project, Haemobility, comes in the form of three interventions at different scales, a holistic kit of products aimed at helping the major stakeholders.
The first dealt with the turn-of-the-century discovery that transformed blood transfusions from a risky last-ditch option to a ubiquitous treatment: blood-type testing. "Less than 40% of the U.K. population know their blood type," Williams says. Finding out is expensive and complicated, and tends to slow down the U.K. donor process. The design team imagined a disposable tester not unlike a pregnancy test, which can be purchased and stored (perhaps in the bandage box, so there’s no need to gratuitously prick yourself). Once you dip it in a drop of your blood, you can send the tab away with your donor application to find out your type and register at the same time.
Another crucial problem with getting first-timers to donate blood is fear of needles—and fear of the horror stories of repeated jabbings. More important, nurses get hurt in needle accidents pretty often, costing the U.K.'s National Health Service about £650,000 per injury. The redesigned needle is retractable, almost like an X-Acto knife, and the ridge-covered tip is shaped to fit in the thumb and forefinger. "The needle is hidden to avoid injury and looks less threatening for the donor," Williams says.
Finally, the team rethought the space of the donation center, coming up with a mobile center that comes in a kit of parts organized around a mesh screen, designed to allow donation drives in diverse locations like malls and train stations. The idea is to increase visibility with the general public, and to calm latent anxieties. Each center is equipped with a friendly looking white-and-orange blood trolley with a vibrating arm, meant to calm and distract donors.
It’s unclear whether any of these designs will make it to market. But that’s not really the point here. What’s important is that the scope of what constitutes "design" is broadening. As schools like the Royal College of Art shift their focus away from a couple of myopic subjects and toward the world at large, they’re opening up students to problems in health care, science, and policy. Whether or not the projects make it to the mainstream, these kids will be better designers for it. It’s an exciting time to be a student, to say the least.
Check out more on Haemobility here.