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Module 1: Understanding Design in Innovation

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From a Concern to a Palki

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This story is about the challenges of designing a palanquin or palki as it is popularly calledfor ferrying pilgrims to hillside shrine of Vaishno Devi in Jammu.Many pilgrims especially the old and disabled need help to negotiate the steep uphill climbup to this shrine.This Vaishno Devi yatra starts from a place call Katra and on this four and a half hourslong journey the porters dexterity in manoeuvering the palki through narrow alleys and slipperyroads is truly amazing.. But the palki itself the one that has beenin use for so many years is anything, but sophisticated.A heavy structure made of galvanised iron pipes, usually used for water lines are weldedtogether to form a structure.This is tied to a wooden pole which rests on the porters铆 shoulders, this unwieldychair continued to be offered as a service only due to the porters铆 ability to carryheavy loads, improvised solutions in emergencies and keep the passengers safe.We were approached by the government to redesign the palki.. Our basic brief was that we had to reducethe drudgery of the porters.. Make the palki lighter, but sturdier and moredurable.I took the resolve that I will reduce the drudgery of the porters.So, this was the championing the cause aspect we were talking about earlier.The context refers to understanding the users socio-economic and cultural and environmentalconditions.Made a trip to katra for getting a firsthand experience of the journey to Vaishno Devion a palki of course.The trip gave us an in depth understanding of the porters need and also made us veryvery close and empathize with the porters.We learnt to appreciate the special requirements of the terrain by translating our ideas intoactual prototypes.We had already crossed the first pitfall of the design death.It is not that this challenge was entirely new to us we had already designed a palkifor the tourist in the Ajanta caves, but the stark dissimilarity of the two terrains toldus that the Ajanta design would never work in Vaishno Devi.Now, remember we are looking at the context very closely.Yes.The traditional design also reflected that for Ajanta the four porters stand front andback on both sides like a square formation.. But for Vaishno Devi all for men are in singlefile.Why the single file?Just because they are very narrow alleys and very very crowded pathways with ponies andpilgrims; and hence if they are not in a single file they just cannot manoeuvre and actuallytake the palki forward.In fact, I must tell you this that when we tested out Ajanta palki just for checkingout at Vaishno Devi.You created the traffic jam.Yes and then the palki did not move.So, the, but the porters are very happy to use it.So, there were using early in the morning when they was less rush and they could still,they liked the lightweight design so they were using into only for the lightweight purpose.Making such observations was critical in making us more sensitive to the social and geographicalcontext in which our design was to make an intervention.. But they never considered building a road?There was a motorable road, path of the way, but the government agreed to keep commercialvehicles off the road so that porters will not lose their livelihoods.So, the very idea behind redesigning the palki was to safeguard their means of subsistencewhile reducing the load on their shoulders.Interaction with users led us to the third concern which is the comprehension, whichis the stage of arriving at design insights.The existing palki was heavy and easily damaged.The crude structure actually did not have the capacity to with stand the load of thepalki for a long duration of time they were good for some months, most of the time itwould be engaged by an aged or physically challenged pilgrim, who boarded the palkialong with a luggage.Whenever it broke, it was welded locally, but the material itself was not suitable forwelding.We visited the location several times during the design process.During each visit we refined our understanding of the porters铆 need.In fact, we were becoming very very emphatic to the porters铆 needs.We studied how the porters coordinated at bends and climbs.The manner in which they shifted the weight from one shoulder to another shoulder becauseof the very heavy loads was also studied in detail.We realized that we has to stay close to some time-tested features of the old design; thegrips at the right places for the porters and others in-built safety features that helpthem carry the passengers safely.So, now do we come to the 4th 毛C铆,the check?The check refers to creating a list of key requirements or we commonly say product brief.The major points in our product brief for the palki were to reduce the drudgery of theporters to make a change in the basic material for better durability, design a more comfortableseating arrangement for the pilgrims and create a long lasting product.The check captures all the insights thus it gives a clear direction for idea generation.The 5th 毛C铆 for conception refers to generating many ideas and combining them to create multipleconcepts.We incorporated the different requirements of various teams of porters whom we interviewedand thoroughly accessed the contexts to come up with as many as 5 different prototypes.Each of them was tested which let improvements in the next model.The choice of stainless steel solved the problem of durability and lightness, but we had tomodify the diameter of the pipes so that we could ensure strength and durability.The design process had taught us that we could not radically alter the existing design withoutseriously affecting the porters functionality because, they were using this palkis for ageshence we made some dimensional changes only after user testing in the field with the porters.Did you conduct any structural analysis?You caught us at the right place.In fact, we were late in getting back to our engineering professors to do a structuralanalysis.We took the help of a colleague from IIT, Bombay itself, Professor Yogesh Desai an expertin structures.He told us that our structure was unsafe for long use.He helped us redesign the chair for structural stability over a long period of time witha large factor of safety.The structural analysis helped us make our product more useable and to our surprise,it also improved the looks.The work of translating a prototype into a product, a designer thus needs to collaboratewith structural engineers and manufacturing experts.That brings us to the 6th 毛C铆, the crafting.Refers to converting the selected concept into functional prototypes and finally, tomass producible products.Why do you need to mass produce the palki?. Because there are around 600 porters and theyalso ferry pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra.After taking in all the ergonomic and structural inputs, we finalized the design of the palkiin bent and welded lightweight stainless steel pipes.To reduce the weight, the seats were made from perforated stainless steel sheets.The wooden pole from the original design was retained for better comfort at the pointswhere it came in contact with the porter铆s shoulders.Are we now at the final 毛C铆?Yes, connection is a 7th and final 毛C铆.It refers to the solution that leads to user satisfaction and delight thus completing theinnovation cycle.Nina can you please handover that model to me?In case of the palki, we took the final prototype to Katra for user trials.We were thrilled when both the porters and the pilgrims were very satisfied with theexperience.This story illustrates why the designer can never hope to work magic in isolation; asevery design project brings together skills from a number of interconnected fields.