Devices & Diagnostics

Device startups get it: It’s the design, stupid!

People living with chronic health conditions were the first ones to jump on the design bandwagon. In 2009, Amy Tenderich of Diabetes Mine started an annual design contest for insulin pumps. She wanted one that looked more like an iPod than a clunky, ugly medical device. Tenderich went to the best source of ideas for […]

People living with chronic health conditions were the first ones to jump on the design bandwagon. In 2009, Amy Tenderich of Diabetes Mine started an annual design contest for insulin pumps. She wanted one that looked more like an iPod than a clunky, ugly medical device. Tenderich went to the best source of ideas for such a device: People with diabetes. She asked her readers to submit ideas.

A team of two grad students won the first contest, in part because they started their project by interviewing people with diabetes to find out “what kind of problems people with diabetes face on a daily basis, and what kind of solution might help.” Eric Schickli and Samantha Katz talked with patients, traded emails with a support group and attended a product expo. Katz was subsequently hired by Medtronic Diabetes to help design its next-generation insulin pumps. Tenderich explains why the team’s idea won the $10,000 prize:

“…the pair went beyond envisioning a stand-alone application that lets PWDs log glucose data, or calculate meal doses on a cell phone. Instead, they took a big-picture view by asking: Why can’t the functionality of these disparate diabetes devices be controlled via this little hand-held computer that so many people already use and keep with them constantly anyway?

…their winning design is called the LifeCase & LifeApp system, a combined hardware and software system for iPhones that combines a lancer, test strips, a glucose meter, wireless insulin pump management and disease management software all in one package.”

A sleek and user friendly design was a top priority for three of the companies featured in this month’s startup report. The Z1 CPAP machine is designed to increase the chances it will be used: It’s quiet, it’s portable, it’s small. Even the name of the company that made this device is revolutionary: Human Design Medical. I would much rather buy something from a company with a name that reflects a focus on customers than something than sounds strange and vaguely hostile (Stryker, I’m looking at you).


Download the November 2013 Startups Index


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Another sleep apnea product in this month’s report uses design to make life easier for people with breathing problems. The Somnarus patch replaces the wires of traditional apnea testing devices with a testing strip that looks like a Band-Aid.

Finally, the founder of Neurometrix started the design process with usability, instead of bolting user testing on to the end. Shai Gozani said that simplicity was his top priority: The last thing they (people with diabetic neuropathy) need is another complicated device to try to manage everything else going on in their lives. If it couldn’t be done with one button, that was too complicated in our minds.”

As consumers take the lead in the healthcare world, design will become even more make or break for medical device companies in particular and healthcare in general.


Download the November 2013 Startups Index