MDE

The Master in Design Engineering (MDE) program is a two-year, collaborative degree program between the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). Since the program began with a single cohort of 15 students, we have grown into a community of 42 current students, 49 alumni, and dozens of faculty, staff, and external stakeholders who have enriched and guided the program. Throughout, the program’s mission has held fast, providing students with the necessary technical and critical skills to examine, understand, and develop solutions to some of the complex, vexing problems of our time.

Now, in what has been an unprecedented academic year due to COVID-19, the fourth cohort of MDE students will graduate and launch into the world, and this booklet presents their final projects—the Independent Design Engineering Projects (IDEP). Much like a thesis, IDEP requires a synthesis and application of the general approach and methods for examining, understanding, and developing solutions that students learned in the first year of the program. Additional skills are introduced and developed during the second year as part of the two-semeser IDEP course.

For IDEP, each student has selected a real-world, societal challenge of his/her choice to address across the two semesters. Working with stakeholders, students have leveraged a combination of design and engineering methods with the goal of producing and testing a prototype at the end of the spring semester. The end result is a range of projects as diverse as the students themselves, and pursuing those projects took the additional ingenuity and flexibility demanded by a global pandemic. To that end, the students have shown great resolve and adaptability in navigating upheaval, and we are proud of them and their dedication.

As a program, we present the 2021 projects!

Joanna Aizenberg
Program Co-director Master in Design Engineering

Martin Bechthold
Program Codirector Master in Design Engineering

Divyanka Kapoor

MDE

Blossom: An App to Support Autistic Individuals and Their Families

Advised by Mary Tolikas (SEAS) and Elizabeth Christoforetti (GSD)

Families with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have to undergo various challenges, of which a substantive percentage is because of lack of social acceptance, understanding, and opportunities. Families face financial, emotional, mental, and social hardships, often resulting in estranged relationships with extended family and friends, isolation from neighbors and friend circles in routine recreational and leisure activities, and a limited, sometimes nonexistent support system. This situation is much more pronounced for individuals who are autistic—they are often misunderstood and their inability to conform to standards of social communication leads to chronic loneliness, isolation, and bullying. 

To solve these challenges, I am creating BlossomBlossom is an app that enables online and offline interactions of autistic individuals and families in their local communities. The app helps create a social community for parents of autistic children and autistic adults to connect with families on a similar journey in their neighborhoods by enabling localized interactions and providing a resource pool of recommendations and ratings of local providers. The app does that by allowing parents and autistic individuals to connect with and meet other families based on their location, age, interests, neurodiversity, and, most importantly, their autistic sensitivities. The long-term goal of the app is to enable an interdependent society of autistic adults and their families in local pockets to foster deeper relationships and remove the isolation and loneliness faced by them.

Graphic illustration of nine smartphones all showing different screens of an app, under the title "blosssom." Below are the words "bloming relationships, one autistic family at a time"
Introducing Blossom, an app for autistic individuals and their families.

Nishu Lahoti

MDE

digitalGov

Advised by Mary Tolikas (SEAS) and Elizabeth Christoferetti (GSD)

Through work experience and catering my master’s coursework toward this subject, I have learned that governments at all levels are actively seeking to transform their operations to keep up with a rapidly digitizing world. While some are building digital service teams that can reform their operations from within, most governments simply do not have the capacity to hire technologists into government. As a result, they have to partner with external vendors to make this change a reality. 

In speaking with both vendors and city stakeholders, it became clear to me that a more formalized marketplace could improve how governments digitally transform. This marketplace might help cities better understand the market landscape, help smaller government technology players be seen and understood, facilitate transactions between these two players, andpublicize data for cities, vendors, and citizens to see where public dollars go.

Graphic titled “digitalGov Marketplace” showing two inputs, Market Landscape and Education with More Visibility and Connections Leading to a graphic labeled “Facilitate Transactions leadning to an outpu graphic labeled Publicize Data for Cities, Vendors, and Citizens.

Hiroaki Shindo

MDE

Re-Locator

Advised by Martin Bechtold (GSD) and Julia Lee (SEAS)

COVID-19 has accelerated the trend of remote working. Before the pandemic, it was tough to imagine that so many large traditional companies would implement it. The movement made urban people think twice about whether they would be happier relocating to a smaller city with rich nature or working arduously to pay for their expensive urban life.

However, most people face difficulties when they start thinking about relocating—for example, the rent, climate, convenience, access to the station, etc. The situation gets truly complicated when they have families that they need to move together. Now the family needs to adjust the preferences of each other and the proximity to school and office.

Furthermore, it is uncertain for most workers whether their company will preserve a remote working policy. If they moved to a faraway place from the office, their commute would be painful once their employer changed the policy. But it would be a lost opportunity if they live too close to the office when the policy is extended.

Re-Locator reduces this painful uncertainty of the remote workers who are considering relocating from urban cities. It will suggest places to relocate based on the preferences of their household members. The suggestions also include the commuting cost projections based on the different scenarios of remote working frequency. Cooperating with the local government, which is eager to entice younger generations to come to their town, it will also allow the user to gain more information and support for their relocation.

Re-locator. Image: A white line illustration of a city next to mountains and trees with clouds on a blue sky background and pale grey foreground.

Nupur Gurjar

MDE

Jeevika: The Human Face of Climate Migration in Bangladesh

Advised by Rahul Mehrotra (GSD) and Julia Lee (SEAS)

Climigration essentially means migration induced by climate change. Sudden disasters displace large numbers of people for relatively short periods of time, but the slow-onset and graduate climate events, like river erosion, sea level rise, and temperature change, are likely to permanently displace many more people, leading to serious humanitarian crisis concerns. In 2019 alone, erosion destroyed the homes of at least 8,000 people in Bangladesh’s northern districts during heavy July floods that swept through the region and displaced at least 300,000 people across the country. Due to the gradual, unpredictable, and relatively “invisible” nature of these climate change drivers, these events fall through the cracks of standard policies, programs, and evacuation measures that apply to disasters like floods or cyclones, which are more “headline-grabbing” as well. This project is an attempt to reinforce the distribution of agency to communities at the grassroots level by empowering them to navigate the impacts of climate change, preventing hasty decisions to migrate toward precarious environments. An experiential tool, with emphasis on visual interaction for rural and possibly illiterate/semiliterate populations, enables the diversification of livelihood options and provides access to resources, organizations, kinship network, and information that is essential for this largely environmentally driven economy. These livelihood options are recommended through a conscious climate variability monitoring infrastructure run by local organizations using geospatial analysis so that vulnerable “hotspots” could be identified for climate change mitigation.

Three smartphone screens on left showing graphic features of the software. Caption reads: “Visual Interface application for climate vulnerable communities.” And a map of Bangladesh highlighting small areas in blue with label “.Geospatial climate variabilitymonitoring for Bangladesh”. Title: Jeevika: Climate Migration, Consciously.

Below the title words, “Climate Migration, consciously” is an image of hands holding a smart phone that says “Jeevika” on the screen. In the background is a map of Bangladesh, with small line drawings of people in various daily activities to the top and left sides.

Series of screens showing the words Adoption, Stakeholders, Solution, The ’Nudge,” and Impact. Below is a graph with a line zig-zagging between “Positive Experience” and “Current Pain Points.”

Collage showing a variety of different screens in the app.

A series of seven phone screens showing different images of people, landscapes, text, and icons.

Hands holding six printed flyers showing a design approach for service adoption to build empathy and trust in the potential benefits of the platform on the ground. (Text in Bengali.)

Arushi Saxena

MDE

#EkMinute Project: A Social Experiment to Promote Smarter Mass Forwarding on WhatsApp India

Advised by Paola Sturla (GSD) and Fawwaz Habbal (SEAS)

We all have one older person in our life who means well but loves to forward clickbait. Specifically in the South Asian subcontinent, WhatsApp is an integral form of social communication and news exchange. However, digital and media literacy has not kept pace with the rate of social media proliferation. As a result, WhatsApp users of all ages and educational backgrounds are alarmingly susceptible to the spread of misinformation and fake news. The EkMinute (“one minute”) Project is a social experiment to minimize mass forwarding of fake news via WhatsApp in India. The initial target audience is Hindi- and English-speaking adults age 40+ residing in high-population Indian cities.

EkMinute has designed a series of creative and satirical WhatsApp messages (ranging from light-hearted to patriotic in tone) leveraging the visual vocabulary of popular Indian WhatsApp forwards. Messages discuss the harms of mass forwarding, attributes of fake news, and tips about fact-checking. They include familiar Indian motifs to catch readers’ attention and are designed to be forwarded. This campaign aims to understand users’ appetite for and interaction with digital literacy concepts while testing the promise of low-touch but scalable behavior change. Can beneficial forwards ever go viral as harmful forwards?

The logo for the EkMinute project, a digital literacy campaign by GSD student Arushi Saxena.
Large black text on white background. The first word is the hashtag “#EkMinute” highlighted in bright yellow above the word “Project”

An Instagram post from the EkMinute Project introducing a crowdsourced campaign in India.

A WhatsApp forward in Hindi and English that describes attributes of fake news forwards, showing an illustration of a person with the text bubble, “Don’t spread fake news like Malaria!”

A poster in Hindi and English that explains how to identify fake news and fact-check WhatsApp forwards.

A two-page Instagram-style animated GIF with first image saying “Do not swipe” and the second image discussing the harms of catchy forwards and COVID misinformation.

Anirban Ghosh

MDE

Gentoo Incubator: Increasing Capacity of NICUs in Emerging Markets

Advised by Luba Greenwood (SEAS) and Allen Sayegh (GSD)

Neonatal and infant mortality is a significant problem across the world. This problem is especially prevalent in emerging economies. For example, the neonatal mortality rate in India is five times higher than that in the US. There is also an urban and rural divide, with rural India having twice the rate of urban areas. The lack of access to well-equipped facilities and trained clinicians have been identified as reasons for this disparity. The Gentoo Incubator aims to reduce this gap by “upgrading” existing infrastructure to provide similar performance and care delivered in better-equipped settings. The Gentoo Incubator is an easy-to-deploy origami structure that can convert any bed or bassinet into an incubator. The “smarts” of the device is a separate electronics module that controls the air temperature and humidity inside the hood. The simplicity and ease of manufacturing the device help bring the cost down and reduce the need for specialized technicians.

Digital image featuring a clear plastic covered bassinet connected to a small device with air tubing and data cable to sensors. Label: Gentoo incubator with logo

Charmie Kapoor and Szu-Yu Patricia Lai

MDE

Khoj: A Support of Career Exploration for Indian Students

Advised by Jose Luis García del Castillo y López (GSD) and Luba Greenwood (SEAS)

Exploring and pursuing the right career at the right time plays a crucial role in mapping out the future for young students. It is a process that helps young minds in realizing their aspirations, understanding their motivations, and working toward gaining the right skills and experience. In India, the majority of ninth- to twelfth-grade students predominantly set out to pursue two main career domains—engineering and medicine. Despite there being over 250 emerging and in-demand career options in India, over 80 percent of students in this age group are directed toward this conventional, highly competitive path. What makes this problem unique to India is the systemic, deep-rooted society. These multifaceted issues emerge due to factors including parental pressure, social desirability, family financial status, and the job demand-supply gap. This entire system is not only causing a predictable talent gap in the Indian society, but preventing a large majority to contribute to the economy with the unique skill sets they possess.

Our goal is to address this awareness gap with Khoj, a service that helps students explore and pursue their career of choice in India from an early age by educating them about real-world career knowledge while keeping teachers and parents in the loop. Khoj provides clear and cohesive guidance for students to realize their strength and weakness, explore various career options, and build necessary skill sets for their future career. It also assists Indian students in gaining confidence by forming a circle of support from their parents, peers sharing the same interest, and industry practitioners. By introducing this model to Indian students, we are hoping to broaden their career choices and fix the predictable talent gap in Indian society by assisting students to make informed choices.

Split screen comparing computer-generated lists “Before Khoj” and “After Khoj” with leading phrase “I want to become” The Before choices are “”a doctor” and “an engineer.” The After choices are: a doctor, an engineer, a dancer, a cricketer, an astronaut, a pilot, an artist, a lawyer, a fashion designer.

Image of two smartphones on a white background next to the words, “Khoj A new career mindset.”

Three smartphones with different screens showing info about career paths under the heading, “Khoj student app.”

A desktop computer screen showing a class roster list under the heading. “Khoj teacher website.”

Flow chart diagram showing positive and negative influences connected to a center shape that reads “Pursues a suitable career.”

Diagram showing app features for different users such as Student, Teacher, Parents, and Mentor.

Edward Bayes and Sarah Kovar

MDE

Yonder – Mindful Money With A Mission

Advised by Jock Herron (GSD) and David Parkes (SEAS)

The UK is facing a silent personal financial crisis. One in three adults cannot afford a £500 ($676) emergency1 and one in four households have under £100 ($135) in savings.2 Unsecured debt has tripled over the last 20 years3 to an average of £15,000 ($20,000) per household and is predicted to rise. Rather than helping struggling families, the current financial system often makes things worse through hidden fees and charges that take advantage of our very human mental shortcuts, and consequently has lost consumer trust. Yonder puts forward a proposal for the world’s first fully digital credit union, asking how its radical anti-poverty roots could be combined with the latest behavioral science and AI research to rebuild our financial system with community, common purpose, and mindfulness at its heart.

1 Ben Tobin, “One in three middle class Brits would struggle to pay a £500 bill,” YouGov, June 8, 2016.

2 Brian Milligan, “Millions have less than £100 in savings, study finds,” BBC, September 29, 2016. 

3Household debt in Great Britain: April 2016 to March 2018,” Office for National Statistics, December 5, 2019.

Picture of a smart phone and a credit card on a yellow background, with the heading, “Yonder. The world’s first fully digital credit union.”

Three images of phone screens showing questions for a user to answer.
Defaults and social proof make it easy to onboard.

Three images of phone screens showing information about payments and bills.
Find better deals on bills through choice architecture to decrease decision fatigue.

Three images of phone screens showing travel images, data analysis, and savings targets.
Connect cost savings to long-term goals and dreams.

Six images of phone screens showing data analysis, scheduling questions, maps and planning tools.
We help users make actionable plans to improve their financial lives.

Image of a phone screen showing avatars of people along with billing information for various utilities.
Save money and achieve your goals together with your loved ones and roommates.

Trevor Cobb

MDE

prisaVet: Access to Specialty Provider Expertise in Veterinary Medicine

Advised by Luba Greenwood (SEAS) and Jock Herron (GSD)

COVID-19 brought unprecedented strain on the veterinary healthcare system. To mitigate the risk of viral transmission amid the pandemic, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made swift changes to telemedicine policies, driving rapid adoption of new care modalities. prisaVet capitalizes on this shift in the regulatory landscape to transform the way general practitioners and specialty providers communicate. 

prisaVet is a telehealth platform that enables access to specialty veterinary expertise through physician-to-physician virtual consultations. The platform connects general practitioners with specialists through asynchronous video messaging, enabling them to share questions and insights about a case and to review essential patient documentation, all without the burden of scheduling.

This intervention seeks to impact three critical metrics: 

Time to care: The time from initial referral request to patient treatment. 

Cost of care: Total out-of-pocket expenses for sourcing specialty expertise. 

Reach: How many pet parents have access to top-tier specialty providers.  

Photograph of a billboard in front of a  city skyline from across a body of water. The red-and-white billboard reads: Grow Your Practice. prisaVet. Spcialist insights in weeks (strikethrough) hours.