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Designing a Better Solar Suitcase

In a bright room in Google’s community space in San Francisco, three top Bay Area designers unpacked a suitcase. Under the watchful eyes of six We Care Solar team members, they unpacked cables, lights, phone chargers, headlamps, and an array of metal hardware. With the contents sprawled across a large table, they tried to imagine how to use each of the items they had just unpacked. Their mission? To help We Care Solar improve the “out-of-box” experience of its newest version of the Solar Suitcase.

Already, 2,800 of our compact solar electric kits have made their way to health facilities in remote communities in Africa and Asia, enabling health workers to provide better around-the-clock obstetric care. But while our equipment is designed to be rugged for harsh environmental conditions, technology alone is not enough. We lead multi-day workshops to enable our technical partners to become skilled in installing, using, and maintaining Solar Suitcases. As demand for our “magic yellow boxes” has grown, the need to simplify the experience of first-time users has become paramount.

With a generous grant from the MacFarlane foundation, We Care Solar is embarking upon a journey to do just that. Led by design experts Sam Lucente, Peter Wyatt-Brandenburg, and Tom Dair, the We Care Solar team engaged in a series of exercises to re-think the user-experience.

Our engineering, program and executive team mapped out the journey of the Solar Suitcase from the time it is manufactured until the time it reaches a rural village. We reviewed the steps required to install the Solar Suitcase, and looked at each component from the perspective of someone without English who would need to understand its use.

We brainstormed how to use symbols, colors and iconographic tags to help guide the assembly and installation process. Together, we considered ways to improve the packaging, streamline the installation process, and simplify the use of the Solar Suitcase.  By the end of the day, we had identified several strategies to meet our objectives, and all agreed that the day had been a success!

And this is just the beginning. In the next three months, we will be working in depth with a design team to build upon these initial ideas, conduct field tests in Africa, and create new manuals and videos to complement our newest product.

From left to right: Christina Briegleb, Hal Aronson, Brent Moellenberg, Rex Lu, Sam Lucente, Peter Wyatt Brandenberg, Laura Stachel, Tom Dair, and Samantha Parsons.



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