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Over-Complicating Design

April 1, 2014

I’ve had quite a few conversations in my career on how much a design or process is being over-complicated by people who want to make things flawless.  I’m okay with flawless, provided it hits the schedule.  Of course, there are plenty of process people out there who have long removed me from the Christmas card list because I’ve pretty much made fun of their over-thinking.  While I realize that things have to work, I often wonder if an imagined flaw is really a lack of courage to do something innovative.

Here’s an example I found today, and it’s a great example of the first world versus the rest of the world.

Millions of poor people across the world could be saved from blindness thanks to a new phone app.

Scientists have created a ‘pocket optician’ which allows eye tests to be carried out anywhere on the planet.

The Portable Eye Examination Kit (PEEK) can be downloaded to a smartphone and used to perform basic eye tests.

A couple years ago, I ran into an organization that was trying to put the equivalent of a hospital into a shipping container to send to remote areas.  The head of the org noted that one of his bigger problems was the cost and size of the equipment.  But part of the solution that we were pursuing in that case was having college students design simpler and less expensive machines that could do a preliminary job like the design above.  While it wouldn’t be a thorough as an item that had gone through years of FDA testing, it would be portable and could screen problems faster, which would enable people in the field to send cases that really needed it to a hospital.

This is an innovation and practice that we need to think about more in any design.  While we certainly don’t want to skimp on a building foundation, we can use simple devices to screen for problems and refer the harder cases to better equipment.  I can see someone’s point that a simple device might miss something, but the lack of our ability to put the complex ones in the presence of people who need it misses a lot more.

Funny… this is an approach that will likely bring more medicine to developing countries and make the population healthier, but will be nearly impossible to use in a place like America or other developed countries where the fear of government and lawsuits will likely cost someone’s life…

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