Lab.our Ward

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Year: 2015-2017
Where: Global
Project Status:

Lab.our Ward is an innovation project that brings maternal health experts together with product, service and architectural design to rethink the birth experience in low resource settings.

A cross-disciplinary exploration to co-create and ignite dialogue around innovations for better intrapartum care experiences in low resource settings. The project’s goal is to enable a smoother and safer maternal and newborn care journey by focusing on the experience of care.

Addressing care from three pillars – space, services and products – and recognizing a woman’s journey through the facility from her arrival to postpartum, the initiative takes the notion of a safe and dignified childbirth experience beyond just statistics and survival.

The Lab.our ward project has conceived of a model including more than 20 innovative design proposals for improved products, services and architecture, which support the woman’s journey through the facility. The model has been exhibited as a walk in maternity ward called Birth in Progress at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen in 2016. The team is working now on developing suitcase model and strategy to support piloting and implementation of the innovations.

The project started in December 2015 and will run until the beginning of 2017, after which the design proposals and suitcase model will be published under an open access license.

Addressing childbirth as a holistic experience

While maternal and infant mortality rates have dropped significantly in the last twenty years, complications during pregnancy and childbirth claim the lives of thousands of mothers and newborns each year.

Overcrowding, uncleanliness and the lack of essential health infrastructure mean that for many women, the experience of birth is neither safe, dignified nor comfortable.

As the number of births taking place in health facilities around the world continues to rise, maternity wards must be adequately prepared to deliver high quality care to women and newborns everywhere.

A woman’s physical surroundings during childbirth can affect her perception of how easy or difficult it is to give birth. Focusing on a woman’s holistic experience of childbirth, including the infrastructure, products and services available to her at health facilities, can greatly improve her and her baby’s health outcomes.

Multidisciplinary design approaches

The setup for this project was unique with the core team comprising of product and industrial designers, service and UX designers, interior designers and architects as well as midwives and public health professionals.

The work began with an exploration phase that included design and ideation exercises and workshops as well as trend analysis and topic immersion from a design viewpoint. During fall 2015 and spring 2016, research for design took place in Uganda, Tanzania (Zanzibar), Kenya, Nigeria and India.

The design team worked in close collaboration with health practitioners and maternal health experts. During the ideation and design phase, the core project team included a trained nurse-midwife who developed and tested the products and services, helping to translate them from low-fidelity concepts to higher-fidelity prototypes.


Lab.our Ward will result in an open library of ideas and design proposals that can be implemented in facilities to improve products, services and spatial design in labour and postpartum. The research is expected to be published by early 2017.