Ebola Pandemic Response

Applying historically proven eradication methods to social media. 

Hypothetical Premise

A pandemic has just hit the United States in a rural community. 40%-50% of people infected will die. Identify the biggest problems currently facing response efforts and develop a novel technology-based design solution. 


Lead Product Designer 

4 weeks

Come up with 50 ideas and narrow them down to one viable solution in 4 weeks.

Context: 4 Stages of an Epidemic

All disease outbreaks naturally have a bell curve shape. Eradication efforts that start early have the potential to shave off the top of the curve, saving countless lives in the process.

We developed concepts for every stage, but ultimately focused on eradication, because proven methods of eradication have not been significantly updated since the 1970's and is ripe territory for a design intervention, in this case using social media platforms. 

Source: TEDMED: Larry Brilliant: Is the End of Pandemics in Sight?   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS3jY4IY7N8&feature=youtu.be&t=3m33s

Source: TEDMED: Larry Brilliant: Is the End of Pandemics in Sight?


What has worked before?

Door to Door Eradication
Smallpox Eradication Program (SEP)
Larry Brilliant
1966 - 1980

Poster encouraging the reporting of smallpox to authorities. 
ca. 1973-1977

Report Smallpox poster
ca. 1975


Smallpox Eradication

In 1974, just as organizations were getting Polio under control there was an outbreak in India. An unprecedented eradication effort was put into motion. The first image below is of Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist was part of the Smallpox Eradication Program:

  • Mobilized 150,000 volunteers, who knocked on 1 billions doors. This is what is called door-to door eradication, and was the most effective part of the program.

  • They did this in areas where it was thought that there were no cases of polio. Despite there being no data to support cases of Polio in these areas, every time they knocked on doors there was a spike in reporting and a spike confirmed cases of polio.

  • This effort worked, and by 1980 Smallpox cases dropped to zero.


What social media platforms are best suited for updating eradication efforts?

Going door to door made sense in the 1970’s, and to some extend it still makes sense today, but how can technology and social media change they way we approach the eradication problem. Below are some examples of self reporting platforms that influenced our concept. 

Listening to Experts

Although we did not have direct access to the world's best experts, their talks are readily available. We watched hours of talks about bird flu, Polio eradication, and self-reporting platforms.


Larry Brilliant

Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who has been a major part of the eradication effort of two diseases. Smallpox and Polio.

Laurie Garrett

Pulitzer prize-winning science journalist, she is a leading expert on the topic of the avian flu. 

Screenshot 2017-05-02 23.12.36.png

Dr. Philip Green

An ER doctor in Walla Walla, Washington who developed a hospital procedure for ebola preparedness. Dr. Green was our primary subject matter expert.


Our Solution

Screenshot 2017-05-02 22.28.17.png


  1. Raise awareness

  2. Increase reporting

How it works

  1. Log into Facebook like normal.

  2. An alert will be pinned to the top of your newsfeed. “you are in the affected area.”

  3. The message will be displayed in the same language as your Facebook profile.

  4. Complete a survey, and can share your support through a post.

  5. If your answers indicate you might be infected.

  6. Can be seen by a Nurse and tested for Ebola.

  7. Data collected for eradication effort.

  8. Aggregate data is shared through an API with the CDC, WHO, and Health department.

Why Facebook?

Our concept is not dependent on using a single social media platform. However, our original inspiration comes from the work of Larry Brilliant and his door-to-door eradication effort, where the goal was to talk to one person in every household in affected areas of India.

  1. Monthly Active Users - Just about everyone in the United States has at least one family member on Facebook, who signs in regularly. 

  2. Verified Identity - Unlike many social media platforms, Facebook profiles rely on being personally identified, rather than using a pseudonym.

  3. Reach - Facebook has the largest social graph of family and friends in the United States. 

  4. Reach - Facebook is a global company, uniquely situated to expand this concept to different countries.

  5. Experience - Facebook has experience in releasing self-reporting social good projects on it's platform, such as Safety Check.


Our goal was to show the alert in as many situations, on as many devices, with as few images as possible. It was important to show how the alert would appear both on a mobile platform and a computer, and to users who speak different languages.

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Scoping the Problem

We stated this project working as individuals, then later formed teams. As part of my personal process I creating a grid of cards to represent the problem space. I watched lectures from experts in the field, and tracked what I felt were the most important topics. Then ranked them from 1-5 based on the severity of the problem. 

511 - Pandemic- Stage 1.png

Next, I developed broad solutions, and categorized them based on which stage of epidemic curve they addressed.

Ranking Problems

The most severe problems spaces in the modern world, ranked by severity.

Screenshot 2017-05-02 23.16.34.png


Ranking Solutions

Top solution spaces from this exploration. When we met as a group we decided to combine two ideas: 1. Creating a platform for self reporting. 2. A plan for door to door eradication, similar to the one used for smallpox in India (more on that later).


Evaluating Feedback

This is one of my favorite parts of the project.  I created a simple color-coded system for organizing the feedback. As a group, we consolidated the feedback into easy to understand lists.

Screenshot 2017-05-02 23.22.53.png
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Graphing Feedback

Here you can see the three ideas that received the most feedback. Although concept #3 was the most controversial, it also received much more attention than any other concept- ultimately we saw this as a positive sign. 

Screenshot 2017-05-02 23.30.40.png

Methodology for Improving Concepts

  1. Address the questions (yellow) without compromising the positive aspects (blue). Use these questions to further develop the product.

  2. Address the negative feedback (red) without compromising the positive feedback (blue) or the new features (potential blue) created from questions.

  3. Understand trade-offs and begin making decisions. It's impossible to move all questions and negative feedback into the blue column. Make the concept as strong as possible by understanding the trade-offs, then gather more feedback and start the process over again.


Peer analysis

Rarely in the working world are you afforded the chance to see the work you are pitching against. However, given this opportunity I felt the need to create a competitive analysis of what was working in the presentations of our peers, as well as competing ideas. This allowed our group to quickly settle on a look we were all happy with, and move forward with the ideas that we felt were the most competitive. 

Screenshot 2017-05-02 23.33.46.png


Personas have a tendency to feel canned. We grounded our personas in the rural area of Eastern Washington State. We wanted our personas to be fact-based, user-centered, and realistic.


Experience Map

We developed an experience map, using feedback gathered from researching pandemics and interviewing people around us about medical emergencies.

  • Represented experience stages as columns.

  • Changed our y axis to a metric that was easier to understand - “stress.”

  • Added quotes.

  • Making the live / die scenario more clear by citing a 50% death rate from the CDC.

  • http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/


Next Steps

Once our final presentation was over, we took questions. Our concept was still topic of intense inquiry and discussion. Some of the questions I had answers for, and others I was filing away for a potential stage five. If there was a stage five, here are the topics I would like to explore:

  1. Prototyping the questionnaire intended to raise awareness

  2. Interview with experts in Eradication. Ideally experts with first-hand experience with developing eradication efforts.

  3. UX Mockups, mapping out the user experience on every device. 

  4. Begin exploring addition features which can leverage the particular aspects of the Facebook graph (or other alternate platform).

  5. Expanding the idea beyond the US, and beyond Facebook. For example, China does not allow access to Facebook. How would this alert on RenRen?