Dr. David Swann, ABC Syringe project leader and lecturer at Huddersfield University, gives our readers some insight on where the winner of the World Design Impact Prize 2013-2014 is headed and how innovation in product design brings about social good.

Q: What has been going on with the project since it was awarded World Design Impact Prize 2013-2014?

Winning the award has contributed greatly to people’s awareness of the project and the problem it solves. Responding to many international enquiries for information and exhibition requests has dominated my time in recent months. Since April the project was shortlisted by the London Design Museum for Design of the Year and selected by UK Trade and Industry to highlight UK creativity and innovation at exhibitions in Istanbul (Turkey), Liverpool, Glasgow and London (United Kingdom). As I write this, I am in Taipei (Taiwan, Chinese Taipei), the designated World Design Capital 2016, supporting Taipei’s Design & City Exhibition where the project is current being exhibited.

Q: What are the next steps for ABC Syringe? Is it still in the prototype phase?

We have now a working demonstrator and undertaking some research around sterilisation to resolve some technical challenges of the design. So the work continues at the University of Huddersfield, which incidentally has joined Icsid as an Educational Member since winning the award.

Q: How did you feel while rethinking one of the most significant medical products with over one hundred years of legacy? Did you feel constrained, pressured, or inspired? Was it a challenge? Any advice you would give to people working in similar fields? What did it mean for you personally to win the WDIP?

Preventing unsafe injection practices is an ongoing challenge but a challenge where the perfect solution already exists—the auto-disable syringe (AD) pioneered by Marc Koska OBE and founder of the SafePoint Trust. However at the point in time we engaged with the challenge it is fair to say that other than Marc’s brilliant work, curative prevention was not the epicentre of attention for the WHO. This has now changed with the WHO about to commence a major global initiative related to needle safety that will include the curative prevention.

I think the award for the most significant medical product must go the AD syringe. I think what we can add to the mix is the potential enhancement of existing medical devices by making invisible risk visible and empowering patients and doctors to make better risk decisions.

As one can expect, the commercial challenges are on going and this can be frustrating. I think the priority for designers engaging with global health challenges is to work backwards. From the very outset gain a deep understanding of the procurement processes and implementation protocols of major organisations and agencies your product will engage with and achieve this through the professional diversity of you team. This knowledge will influence your design decisions and approach.

Winning Icsid’s prestigious award especially when they are so many great social design projects out there, is very humbling but also provides us with the motivation to succeed and the necessary leverage to overcome such barriers.

Q: Are there other health related problems that you would be interested to tackle? What is your next project?

As a design researcher you only have to read the news to recognise there are countless of research and innovation opportunities. The difficulty lies in remaining focused and not being distracted. I do have two other projects that are in the early stages of development but cannot reveal too much about them just yet. But they both share the same philosophy as the ABC syringe: global health challenge, design influencing behaviour change and super frugal solutions.

Q: What role, in your opinion, does design play in managing large-scale disasters?

People have said design is the universal language by which science and technology communicate with the world. I would prefer to think that through design we could show our humanity to the world.


About David Swann
David Swann joined the University and the School of Design Technology as a lecturer in 1993. Co-founded the BA(Hons) Transport Design course in 1997. As course leader, he supervised and macro-managed a final year student design project that lead to the creation of the Toniq R sports car. Recent activities include the commercialization of his award winning and internationally patented 21st century nursing bag, and the design of a new, affordable syringe device to reduce unsafe injection practices in developing countries – a practice that kills over 1.3 million people each year.

David is a Reader in Design and the Subject Area Leader for Product Design and Interior Design at the University of Huddersfield.

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