The design community and wider technology teams working in medical technology innovation at Cambridge Consultants are passionate about improving women’s healthcare. It is an area that we believe is often underserved, and we want to take every opportunity we can to redress the balance. This was just one of the reasons we were delighted to welcome to CC Aashi Srivastava, a hugely talented young product designer with a passion for women’s health and design within healthcare.

For a number of years, we’ve supported the New Designers awards, a brilliant platform for connecting the next wave of talent with companies like ours. Aashi, a recent graduate in product design and technology at Loughborough University, is the deserved winner of the 2022 Cambridge Consultants Associate Prize for Breakthrough Design. When we greeted her at CC’s Cambridge HQ for a reception and prize giving, Aashi took the opportunity to meet members of the team – including our Women’s Health Interest Group – and share her winning design.

Called Maia, it is a perineal tear recovery kit promising on-demand, low maintenance and reusable cooling pain relief, combined with a digital companion app. The system tackles some of the many deficiencies in maternal healthcare associated with perineal tear management and was designed in collaboration with leading UK birth trauma experts and healthcare professionals.

Inspiration, ideas and innovation

In my role as Head of User Centred Design at CC, I was keen to sit down with Aashi to explore her inspiration, ideas and hopes for the future of innovation in women’s healthcare. She began by explaining her route into design:

“I was delighted to do my degree at Loughborough because it is so well known as one of the best places for design. I started there on a product design and engineering course but very quickly shifted over to the design school which was much closer to the skillset that I wanted to develop. I chose to look into the healthcare field within the broader area of femtech – and soon began to hone in on what I saw as the underserved maternal healthcare area.

“When I was selected to go to New Designers it was really awesome. It’s something you really look forward to when you’re starting university, but I’d looked up to it since I was in sixth form, so it was a full circle moment for me. Attending was amazing but when I found out that I got the award from Cambridge Consultants I was ecstatic. It was particularly good to be able to speak to the team at CC as like-minded people who are as passionate about medical design as me. For me that has been one of the biggest achievements that has come out of going to university.”

A focus on user-centric design

As part of the team responsible for setting the criteria and judging the award, I can say without hesitation that Aashi’s design really leapt out at us. We were looking for projects that have impact and show innovation – and we were most definitely interested in concepts with a very strong user-centric focus. That was something that really excited us about Maia. There was obviously personal passion but there was also a real understanding of usability and the needs of the stakeholders. For me that’s the foundation on which good design is built. We weren’t looking for sculpture, we were looking for something that was inspiring, different and incredibly useful. Aashi described how she achieved that feat by doing her homework:

“In my months of research, I was shocked to discover that 95% of first time mum’s suffer a tear during birth, and that in statistics that are specific to the UK, six per cent are third or fourth degree tears. That’s an awful lot of women dealing with major physical trauma. There are certain products on the market such as indiscreet inflatable cushions or inefficient ice packs, but I found that women were resorting to primitive and makeshift solutions such as frozen vegetables. It really is quite shocking.

“My design features both physical and digital components. The physical part resembles a maternity pad which has an inbuilt gel pack – essentially it comes with a discreet and portable cooling unit that can be kept in a pocket. When a woman feels inflammation and pain – even if she is out and about – she can initiate a liquid cooling system that circulates through the device. The concept is much safer than more primitive methods that can cause cold burns.

“The digital side of things is all about tackling the problems of emotional trauma during the mother’s recovery period. Women will often go through emotions of abandonment, neglect and isolation during this time. Often these quite grave areas of childbirth go unspoken, so women sometimes feel alone and struggle to relate to other people around them. So, the first feature is a platform to connect mums to other mums in their vicinity. This makes emotional connections much more meaningful than connecting through formal organisations.

“Another feature of the app is about providing a good base of information. There’s not a lot of guidance out there on a host of very important matters such as infection signs to look out for. Having an information hub that can be readily accessed is really important for women. The third feature is focused on accessing local support. Should I speak to my midwife, should I go to the hospital, should I speak to the GP? It’s the sort of service that can allow women a recovery period with a way to contact people you need and gain an understanding of the process that is there for you, so you are not left in the dark during your recovery.”

Making an impact on women’s health

As for the future, Aashi warmed to CC’s vision – of a future unconstrained by current thinking – when I mentioned it to her: “Absolutely I am full of hope about the future. One thing I’ve realised, even as I start out on my career, is what sort of impact medical design can have on healthcare. There is a huge variety of people out there who will end up using medical devices, and a huge variety of medical conditions that need to be addressed. I’m personally really excited about it and look forward to continuing to explore areas of maternal and women’s health – and making an impact.”

A great answer I have to say Aashi – I couldn’t agree more. If anyone out there would like to discuss the topic of design innovation to meet the challenges of women’s healthcare, please reach out to me and the team by email. It would be great to continue the conversation.

Andy Pidgeon
Head of User Centred Design

Andy Pidgeon has been creating innovative and successful new products for over thirty years across a wide range of market sectors. A keen desire to understand the user has always been the key to his approach which has latterly led him to work in the medical sector as the head of User Centred Design at Cambridge Consultants in the UK.

Connect with Andy