Poster of a person in labor leaning over a chair, captioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."

Co-designing with doulas

I worked on a team that conducted a design research and co-design project with doulas, who are emotional caregivers for parents during the birth process, working anytime from pregnancy to the post-partum stage.

After talking to many doulas and birth professionals in greater Boston, we found that doulas experienced difficulty getting paid for their services because many major health insurance policies do not cover them. To address this issue, we designed a paradigm-shifting cultural intervention: a campaign centered around images of a variety of birth experiences and an inclusive and affirmative slogan, #yesthisisbirth. The campaign seeks to educate the public about birth options, challenge preconceived notions, invite people to engage in conversations about birth, and overall, create an expectation of empowerment and choice throughout the birth process. We believe that it is only once our culture has this expectation that health insurance companies will cover doula services.


Conducting user research

We interviewed fifteen doulas, midwives, and perinatal specialists in the Boston area to establish an understanding of birth work. We used card sorting and collaborative sketching to flush out priorities in doulas' lives and practices and areas for improvement.

Identifying values and opportunities

Many of the doulas we spoke to experienced tension in their practices around getting paid, as doula services are not covered by many major health insurance policies, despite research suggesting that births with doulas in attendance have lower rates of medical intervention and therefore lower costs. In the United States, less than 20 major health insurance companies cover doula services, and even these companies typically only do so occasionally and by special request.


Developing user personas

We distilled our learnings into three main doula personas who might interact with our product:

Her-Body-Her-Rules Huron is a strong feminist doula who cares most about empowering people. 

Pay-It-Forward Petel is a parent and doula who prioritizes supporting other parents in the birth process.

All-Natural Aral is a more experienced doula who wants to help people have access to natural birth options.


Sketching interventions

We narrowed our focus to doula awareness. At the root of the insurance issue is that our society does not accurately publicize the variety of choice expectant parents have when planning for birth. We sketched interventions that would bring awareness to choice in birth and create demand for health insurance coverage for doula services, such as a Netflix documentary about doulas. We brought our ideas to our users for critique and reworking.

Prototyping a campaign

The culmination of our project was a campaign proposal. We mocked up materials for an advocacy campaign centered around affirmation of choice and agency in the birth process.

Poster of a person in labor squatting with their partner holding their arms. Captioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."
A person in labor squats with their partner behind them. Captioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."
A person giving birth in a water tub, cCaptioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."
A person having a C-section, captioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."
A person in labor doing the "doula hula." Captioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."
A person in labor on a hospital bed, supported by a nurse. Captioned "What does birth look like to you? #yesthisisbirth."

Spring 2016
User-Oriented Collaborative Design
Olin College of Engineering
Team: Tom Heale, Anne LoVerso, Brennan VandenHoek