Our customer consultation and product design journey (so far)

Village mothers focus group (cropped)

With a daughter working in sustainable design, a technology design enthusiast in Simon and my previous work as a small business advisor there was no way that the design process for a new diarrhoea kit was going to be overlooked. In fact, we made sure design was front and centre from the very beginning of our ColaLife journey – our early innovative design approach was featured as a Case Study in the book This is Service Design Thinking. We knew that children needed both rehydration (Oral Rehydration Salts – ORS) AND a zinc supplement to boost gut health, for 10 days – the recognised WHO treatment for diarrhoea since 2004. We knew almost no children were getting this co-therapy. The idea of a ‘kit’ was gaining ground, and we were one of the first to apply a lot of thought to putting ORS sachets and Zinc in one pack – a simple innovation: “co-packaging”.

As early as our first visit to Zambia, in October 2010, we were keen to gain insights from our future customers, on their needs, desires and preferences. Even at this early stage, the difficulty of correctly measuring water, to mix ORS at home, came up, as well as the idea that a litre of ORS was possibly too much to mix in one go for one child at home; litre sachets were designed for hospitals. We’d also got Zambian stakeholder support, just 2 days earlier, for designing both the product and its distribution for the commercial market. That meant making sure that the kit would be attractive, exciting and desirable – as well as affordable and easy to transport.

Just a few weeks later, at an UnLtd event in early December 2010, we put out a call for help with packaging design. Chris Griffin, of PI Global, was in the audience. PI Global went on to become our packaging design partner.

By 2011, PI Global, along with Charpak and Amcor, were working on the packaging for the Anti-Diarrhoea Kit which started life nicknamed ‘The AidPod’ and was to become ‘Kit Yamoyo’ – the Kit of Life. The first prototypes were ready by January 2012. But how sure were we that they would meet customers’ needs – and what were the key design features that would make the product a success? We decided to go back to our customers.

In Feb-2012, Dr Beth-Anne Pratt started with us as a volunteer in Zambia. As a social anthropologist, with years of experience in Africa and a research background on improving access to health technologies, Beth was keen to design focus group work and support its implementation and analysis. We had a deadline and she worked quickly. By April, the focus group leaders were trained, the materials were ready and were trialled on a local group in Lusaka. The ‘customer consultation’ sessions had already been booked Katete and Kalomo – our 2 trial areas. They began in May 2012.

Given the issues raised previously, in our informal soundings with customers in 2010, we’d originally planned to consult customers further on their difficulties measuring ORS correctly and their views on the traditional 1 Litre sachets available in the market. But in February 2012, we’d decided to prioritise asking health experts about the ‘sachet size’ issue. Within 2 weeks, we’d had a definitive answer from some of the most learned experts in the field of ORS, including Dr Olivier Fontaine from WHO: Litre sachets had originally been designed for hospitals, a child can rarely consume as much as 400ml of ORS in a day, and smaller sachets would be more suitable for home use. By early March our prototype featured innovative 200ml ORS sachets and a measuring function. Zambia’s Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authority and the manufacturer gave their views on our design plans and by late April – before the customer consultations got underway – we bit the bullet on sachet size to hit our packaging production deadline. It was a risk – but innovation is risky. We used the focus groups to check our decisions – and only found 3 respondents who were concerned about the smaller ORS sachet size. By mid-May, Beth had analysed and written up the focus group findings – you can read them here.

2016 Update: In 2016, our designs were included in the V&A’s permanent collection. By this time our design approach had been featured in many articles and blogs.

We later received widespread recognition for the innovative design process we had undertaken – with a realisation that it was very close to emerging approaches in improved design processes in general and also novel approaches to international aid and development: ‘Design Thinking and ‘Human-Centred Design’.