Design Alumna Tackles Mobile Health Interventions in Kenya


Dr. Susan Wyche, Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University and a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Industrial Design alumna from Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design (BFA ’98), is currently pursuing mobile health intervention in Kenya for adolescents with Type 1 Diabetes.

Wyche’s project, funded with a grant from the National Institutes of Health, is collaborating with an innovation hub and a diabetes NGO in Kenya to conduct research and build the prototype. However, more than just a prototype, Wyche sees a bigger picture to this mobile health intervention.

“The broader goal of this project is to train public health practitioners and software developers to use human-centered design to build mobile applications,” said Wyche. “New research is needed to understand how to develop mobile health apps from an African perspective; building Kenyan institutions’ capacity to do this is a cost-effective and sustainable means of improving health outcomes.”

Maintaining a human-centered design approach to problem solving plays a strong role in Wyche’s work. For example, in working with smallholder farmers and local craftsmen in Western Kenya, Wyche was able to really dig into the problems that come with agricultural hand tools.

“Agriculture remains the dominant economic activity for people (especially women) in rural Africa,” continued Wyche. “Food production (planting seeds, weeding, etc.) is arduous and time-consuming. Prior efforts to design technologies that assist farmers with this have primarily focused on mechanization. However, most African farmers continue to use hand tools; in particular, the short-handled hoe. Other than replacing wood or stone with iron blades, hoe design has remained unchanged. Long-term use of these tools results in crippling lower back pain.”

To address this problem, Wyche used a human-centered design approach to develop new and improved hand tools for farmers and she collaborated with local craftsmen to manufacture the re-designed tools. 

“My ultimate goal is to scale the human-centered design process; that is, to teach local craftsmen how to collaborate with smallholder farmers to design locally relevant tools that are safer for farmers to use and that also improve agricultural outcomes.”

Wyche often reflects on her education she received at CMU, particularly her time in Steve Stadelmeier and Mark Mentzer’s classes. When her education is applied to her day-to-day, Wyche mentions her own role as an educator and a researcher.

“I teach a Human-Centered Design course at Michigan State University,” said Wyche. “I also teach a design to computer science students at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agricultural and Technology in Kenya. I draw from my CMU education when teaching these courses; in particular, the sketching and prototyping skills I learned.”

Read more about Dr. Susan Wyche's work >>

Susan Wyche's website >>

Date Published: 
Thursday, April 23, 2020
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