When we came across this unique take on the clean birth kit we were really impressed--anything that puts a unique, positive spin on creating a safer birth is very welcome! This Tibetan birth kit combines 'how to' images and actual implements in a beautiful box meant to be given as a wedding gift. The RISD team rebranded the concept of birth kit as 'sanitary item' into wedding gift. To be clear, this birth kit was only taken through the prototype stage and is not available anywhere for purchase (yet).
Kathleen O'Donnell, Soomi Lee and Esther An worked on this project as part of a RISD course in 2010 for a studio class titled "Design for Social Entrepreneurship" taught by Sloan Kulper. We interviewed Kathleen O'Donnell to find out more.
We've seen a lot of birth kits, but this design is really different--what was the inspiration?
To be honest, I think we started out by trying to make a birth kit as simple and inexpensively as possible. However, after some online research, we quickly discovered that there are dozens of organizations out there who are doing exactly that: providing inexpensive, simple birth kits to developing countries. At some point we realized that the problem with these birth kits wasn't necessarily their contents, but their distribution methods. From that point on, we began to explore the possibility of re-branding the birth kits as wedding presents, rather than as a kind of necessity, or sanitary item.
What kind of research did you do for your idea?
Being based in Rhode Island, the majority of our research was conducted online, by researching relevant anthropology articles and studies. We were very fortunate to be put in touch via Skype with one woman who had grown up in a rural region of Tibet. She was tremendously helpful in explaining many of the local customs and traditions, especially with respect to weddings and the traditional daily routines for men and women.
The Tibetan birth kit is a beautiful design-- how did the design evolve?
Two key ideas drove the design of this birth kit - ease of use and acceptability as a wedding present. For the interior of the kit, we designed each of the pages to unfold out of the box in the order that they are needed. Each page contains a large illustration of the action to be performed, and any tools required for that action (such as cord ties, razor blades, or soap) are contained in a sealed plastic bag on that page. The exterior of the box was designed to reflect some of the cultural traditions about marriage. Judith (our Skype contact) mentioned that wedding presents are always presented wrapped in a white silk scarf, or katag, which symbolizes good luck. Likewise, the red color of the box was also chosen for its lucky connotations.
Do you think this is something that could be produced locally?
It was always our intent that the final design be something that could be produced locally (or at least quasi-locally, in one of the larger cities in Western China). The prototype we made was entirely assembled by hand, so I think it's just a question of sourcing the individual components for the kit, and whether or not it would be cost-effective to do so locally.
What do you wish had happened when you finished the design?
Although we tried our best to make the design as clear and appropriate as possible, a lot of our design decisions were based on incomplete information and our best instincts. I would have loved to see this idea go through a few rounds of user testing to see if it has the potential to become a reality and hopefully make a difference for women in this part of the world.
Please give us your feedback on this fascinating rebranding idea.