Vision 2020: Top 3 Design-Think Challenges for India

AngelHack 2019 Hackathon: 160 sleep-deprived participants over 32 teams in Delhi. Running on rocket-fuel overnight to compete for the most innovative ideas

Sure! You could make a billion-dollar startup. But am always disappointed by the challenges that startup teams choose when am out mentoring, conducting Design workshops, or as part of a jury at a hackathon. C’mon folks, once you launch a startup, you are taking huge risks with careers, your finances, mental peace, and taking on unimaginable stress. At least choose a problem that will have a significant impact on the lives of people. Learn to think this way: you could make a billion-dollar startup and have a positive impact on a real-world issue that impacts the 1.3 billion people of India. So let’s call this Vision 2020 as it is already going to become a terrible pun for the next decade. And let’s set our eyes on the top 3 challenges and opportunities facing India that need you to come up with some brilliant Design-Thinking.

Design-Think 1: Health Creates Wealth

According to the Indian healthcare industry “is expected to reach USD 372 billion by 2022.” If you search the web, you may find articles on the top healthcare startups from India driving huge revenue and impact. Here is one for instance from Ink42 with the list being led by, DocsApp and Forus Health. The Design-Think challenges to solve in India are huge and diverse. Focus on the people, their diversity, economic disparity, the poor ratio of patient-to-hospital-bed, and the outbreak of diseases. Look at child-birth, women hygiene, medical tourism, rural medicine, affordable diagnostics, insurance. The list is endless. Here are my top 3 Design-Think guidelines for Health challenges that often seem overlooked in startups:

  • Ethics and Transparancy: How many of you actually feel you can trust your doctor and the call for diagnostics? That the medicines are not spurious or fake? This is a big-ticket design challenge and whoever cracks this is sitting on a gold-mine
  • Privacy: A patient’s crucial and private medical-data is being harvested every time a lab-report or a diagnosis is whatsapped by the patient or the doctor. I am truly appalled at the amount of patient-data that is harvested or leaked by players within the healthcare and insurance industry. Yes we need strong government regulation, like HIPAA in the United States, but we also need startups that help us from getting our privacy invaded when we are at our most vulnerable. Case-in-point: All those doctor-appointment booking apps, I have no idea how my data is being harvested and even sold. And I do not have an opt-out option.
  • AYUSH: India is at the forefront in the world of offering various medicine-systems and not just allopathy. For instance, our government has AYUSH that officially recognizes Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, Naturopathy, and Homeopathy. Couple this with medical-tourism as also the need for affordable healthcare, indigenous knowledge, the dilemma and fight against the medicine patent system, and you’ve got opportunities that can scale from India and sweep across the world.

Design-Think Challenge in Health: Neglected Rural Population

So, you want one random, Design-Think challenge? Solve the problem for the neglected rural population of India. According to KPMG, 75% of India’s doctors focus on 30% of the population, the one that resides in urban India. That’s just about 442 million people. That still leaves a population close to a billion people, taken care of by the rest 25% of doctors. The rural population of India also suffers from access to public hospitals, affordable diagnostics, medicines, and a lack of insurance.

Design-Think 02: Unemployment

India has an unemployment rate of 6.2% and it further spiked in Feb 2019 to 7.1%. Accurate, credible, and verifiable data on unemployment in India is hard to come by. However, no one disputes that there are some specific aspects of Unemployment that need deep Design-Thinking:

  • Educated Unemployment: This is a peculiar problem of India. Education is not related to jobs. Some interesting factoids to chew over are in this article by The Hindu.
  • 94% of Engineering Graduates Unfit for Employment: This figure may sound controversial and was initially disputed. A McKinsey report pegged that figure to around 75% around a decade ago. Since then India has had low-quality and sub-standard engineering insitutues mushrooming across the landscape, and the industry is beginning to realize that figure is not off the mark. Take a look at this article by EconomicTimes.
  • Skills-gap Report: Sorted by industry and state, here is a comprehensive executive brief, on the skills-gap in India, published by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and according to this only 47% of people completing their graduation are employable

Here are aspects of the Unemployment challenge, that are mostly overlooked:

  • Emotional Impact: Our ethography raises unique challenges in handling the emotional, psychological, social, and cultural suffering caused by unemployment. These need to be addressed with equal measure.
  • Short Window of Being Employable: An average of 25 years in top-quality education usually yields skills that last about 3 years for gainful employment. Most people face insecurities from the incoming fresh talent, and soon end up in middle-level job rut and stagnation.
  • Social-Security: There is no safety-net for people who do not have jobs or have just lost their jobs. Indeed the government is working on it and talks about a 10-year window for it to be fully operational. That too for about 500 million people. What about the rest? Here, take a look-see

Design-Think Challenge in Unemployment: Frugal Innovation based Entrepreneurship in Rural India

Here’s one Design-Think challenge to stoke your imagination. Rising unemployment leads to migration from villages and rural India to urban cities that are already bursting at their seams. How can opportunities be created in the diverse cultural nuances of rural India, based on methods of frugal innovation, and of rural entrepreneurship, that create jobs and opportunities for people, where they are? Finding meaningful work where you are, is one of the basic tenets of Schumacher Economics and I find that quite compelling for a nation the size of a sub-continent.

Design-Think 03: Ecology

This one should have been number 2, but have kept it here because Ecology is a challenge that many new startups in India are trying to tackle head-on, with innovation and great ideas. Enough is already being said about India’s air-pollution, water pollution, soil-erosion, deforestation, soil-contamination, plastic-pollution, and more. The impact on life expectancy, health, economy, and on the planet is already well-audited and documented.

Design-Think Challenge in Ecology: Noise Pollution

Here’s a vector in Pollution that is seldom considered as a huge challenge among startups. Noise-Pollution. Kickstarter may have a dime-a-dozen noise-cancellation headphones and earphones, but these simply isolate the user from noise. How do you bring down noise pollution. The incessant honking of vehicles, the disturbances at night, the noise of planes, trains, industrial machinery, construction?

Bonus: Here’s another noise pollution challenge that am surprised no one has yet considered implementing. It’s easy and a lot of fun. Just measure the decibels of sounds and noise you will get in a bed at every hotel in India through the night for a restful 8 hours of sleep. The true offering of a hotel, is the quality of your sleep. This needs to be measured through this one important vector.

Look forward to more exciting, imaginative, and innovative solutions from india towards this meaningful challenges. If you’re the type who strongly feels about some of these challenges and wishes to solve them, but have no clue about Design-Thinking and UX Design, consider attending one of the workshops I conduct across India, to kickstart this revolution in Design. It will help you get started in ‘thinking’ in the right way about how to solve problems using the discipline of Design. No prior knowledge or qualification in Design required. Thousands of folks can tell you how much these workshops have helped them in every aspect of their professional and entrepreneurial dimensions, and how they have been able to become more innovative in whatever they do. For more details, log on to

Design-Think Challenge: Make Your Car-Horn Smart

About Time The Car-Horn Gets A Much-Needed Update

Design-think for smart horns for smarter cities
Design-think for smart horns for smarter cities

Cars have evolved dramatically yet the car-horn remains essentially the same: a brutish, beastly remnant that barks loudly and incoherently in our ears and our cities’ soundscapes with its harshness. Can design-think solve this problem? Here are some quick notes I made as I crawled in a huge traffic snarl in New Delhi recently, with horns just hooting and honking thoughtlessly all around.

Am looking forward to all of you discussing and pitching in with your design-thinking to give this a more evolved and final shape, and to have you implement at least some ideas to get the wheels moving in this direction. You sense the birth of new startups here?

Horns With Eyes

Let’s give eyes to our horns. Imagine we set up sensors in the car. Sensors that continuously monitor the eyes of the driver. The moment the driver presses the horn the sensors immediately track, in milliseconds, with sensors outside, what is it that the driver is seeing that prompts her to honk. In the case of motorbike and two-wheeler scooter drivers, the sensors and tech are embedded into the helmet and are synced with the vehicle’s horn. I know this is a rather sophisticated and demanding piece of tech, but it is possible. In fact, such ‘driver monitoring systems’ have already been designed and exist since more than four years. For instance, take a look here. None, however, explore how to integrate these smarts into a horn and to curb our propensity towards honking.

The smart-horn system not only quickly identifies what is the driver honking at, but also assesses why, using machine-learning. Here are some typical real-world user-case scenarios, and on how it is programmed to respond. The driver honks at:

  • A car ahead to give way. The system emits no sound into the open environment. Instead, it blinks an icon on the dashboard inside the other car and sounds a gentle, specific tone that indicates to the other driver to give way. Imagine the peace and silence outside.
  • A jaywalker who suddenly steps in front of the moving car or bike. A short note designed to alert but not alarm, emitted only in the direction of the jaywalker and adjusted to be audible enough for the short distance.
  • Children or a procession in front to give way. First, the system ensures the vehicle cannot speed in such a situation.The horn quickly changes its tone to a fun, cheerful, musical chime that will catch the attention of the children or the procession, and makes them alert and also happy. The volume of the alarm automatically levels down to fill only the area with the children or the group in front and not travel further than that. Did you know most horns are typically 103dB and above. Factor in closer proximity and that may cause permanent damage to ears.
  • A speeding vehicle coming headlong. The systems on both the vehicles will attempt to avoid the collision by setting each on a different course while dramatically slowing down the vehicles. Emergency warning tones and notifications fill the cockpit of the two cars. It also checks if the respective horns have to be sounded externally, and will rapidly decrease the volume as the vehicles near. Yes, you read that right.

Of course, in every situation the system will have a quick over-ride placed at the steering wheel, so the driver may blare away if required in any case.

Road-Rage? Just Horn OK Please

So what else can the system do? For trigger-happy, road-ragin’ folks who love to press the horn hard, the system will always play the sound of the horn inside the car for psychological comfort, without actually playing it outside in the open. This is a little like that camera-shutter sound you hear when you click a photo with your mobile-phones. There is no manual shutter mechanism in a smartphone. The system will also trigger the appropriate alert-sound and notification inside the targeted vehicle or towards the pedestrian, but with more pleasant notes and volume. More importantly, sensors monitoring the eyes and those embedded in the horn measure the psychological state of the driver. It specifically picks up cues for aggression, impatience, anger, rage, frustration, as well as panic, drowsiness, and even drunkenness. Based on these cues, the system will intervene as appropriate. The possible interventions that can be designed would need a whole, separate post, but you get the idea.

For instance, it could play soothing music; release calming and pleasant aromas to soothe the nerves; and even talk to the driver. In states of drowsiness it could turn up the music-levels, turn down the temperature considerably, and release sharp lime-based aromas in the car to make the driver more alert. In the case of drunk-driving, the system may suggest and even prompt the driver to pull over or even book a cab, and on refusal, may alert authorities and loved-ones as well.

Look Dashing on Your Dashboard

The local authorities could also set up analytics on the smart car-horn. Based on how sparing and courteous the driver is with the horn, parking-lots and gas-stations could offer discounts as a government incentive. The results of the analysus may also negatively or positively impact the car-insurance policy premium and bonuses. Yeah, this rabbit-hole can go quite deep.

The system makes the use of the car horn in our outdoors almost redundant, bringing much-needed peace and quiet in our cities and our lives. The sounds are also tailored to indicate context and emotion, rather than just blare the same loud and garish notes. For this system to be successful, the government needs to set policies, resources, and deadlines. Car and vehicle manufacturers could launch such systems as smart value-additions. And I foresee a slew of startups that see the numerous opportunities available in this space.

All of this may take anything from two to five years, but eventually our cities will get less noisy and more quiet, and our citizens more civil and courteous. We may then just finally say “OK TATA” to the rudeness and crudeness of the archaic car-horn.