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Designing a Revolution and Bringing Healthcare Tech within Reach

Krista demonstrates D-Rev
Krista demonstrates D-Rev's Brilliance phototherapy device. | D-Rev

Product design can have a tremendous impact on a person’s life. Steve Jobs knew that in bringing high quality, obsessively designed, affordable computers to the mass market. Design engineer Krista Donaldson, 2004-05 Executive Branch Fellow, knows that too.

After her fellowship placement in the Office of Iraq Economic Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, she took the helm at D-Rev, which stands for “design revolution.” D-Rev designs high quality healthcare technologies for underserved populations. As CEO, she has led the release of the company’s first two products: Brilliance – a new technology to treat neonatal jaundice, and a prosthetic knee for amputees. Both products are carefully researched, inexpensive, and designed specifically for low-income individuals. Her vision and success has earned her accolades as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, one of Fast Company’s Co.Design 50, and a TED speaker.

Donaldson opened her 2013 TED talk recounting her fellowship days when she focused on the rebuilding of Iraq’s electricity infrastructure. “I was there because I believed technology could help improve lives,” she said. But while the U.S. government had spent more than $2 billion on electricity reconstruction, many people still endured only intermittent access to power. 


Krista talks about the ReMotion knee in this video: | Dell

“How do you ensure technology reaches users?” she asked the audience. That’s the question that connects her experience in Iraq with her life today. When she joined D-Rev, she focused her energy on building a company that develops “products that actually reach users.”

“We're organized as a nonprofit so that we can focus on impact over financial return. We raise philanthropic funds for R&D, but once the product reaches the market, it is sold with all scaling costs covered by the purchasers. If we had to recoup our [costs], the final retail price would be too high for our target users. That would require the products to be donated, which is unsustainable.”

Released in 2012, Brilliance is far cheaper than comparable devices and is now in 36 countries. To date, it has treated more than 103,000 at-risk babies with high-intensity blue LEDs saving them from potential complications such as brain damage and deafness.

D-Rev product stats


Graphic from D-Rev website.

The ReMotion knee was unveiled on December 8. At $80, it is a fraction of the cost of similar devices. Designing with the end-user centrally in mind, it is durable, efficient, and affordable. With about a third of its revenue coming from foundations last year, the company strives for maximum efficiency. With the aid of Batman, Superman, and Robin – affectionate names for their high power workstations donated by Dell – the development team saved time and resources by designing in a virtual environment, circumventing the need to create and test too many physical prototypes. 

As a fellow, I gained a better understanding of how all the moving parts of government and diplomacy work. Diplomacy, like design, requires input from many people and synthesizing the inputs for a positive outcome. Today at D-Rev, we are talking more with governments and ministries. My fellowship gave me the experience to better understand the perspectives, goals, and processes of our counterparts at these institutions.

There are three main drivers behind D-Rev’s products. First, products must be world class: as good as or better than the best products already available. Second, design must be “user-obsessed.” The company sends design staff into the field to interview and interact directly with end-users in their unique environments. Third, the products must be sold instead of donated. D-Rev products need to be affordable and deliver both real and perceived value.

“A product that is valued by a customer is used by a customer, and use is what creates impact,” she emphasized in wrapping up her TED talk.