Diabetic product design hits close to home for ASU students
In February 2010, Ben Skousen learned that his 2-year-old son had diabetes. The senior industrial design student in ASU’s InnovationSpace program said the diagnosis was life-changing.
Each night at 2 a.m., Skousen and his wife are roused from a deep sleep. Most often, the job of glucose monitoring falls to Skousen’s wife who grabs a bag of medical instruments and stumbles down the hall into their son’s room. After fumbling with the lights, she pulls out a lancet and pricks her son’s finger. A drop of blood is captured on a flimsy test strip that must carefully be inserted into the tiny slot of a glucometer. If his glucose reading is high, she reaches for a syringe and administers a dose of insulin.
By the time it’s all over, the Skousens are wide awake and struggling to get back to sleep. They are likely to repeat this ritual each night until their son reaches adulthood.
“I want to improve this process so that my wife and son can have a good night’s sleep again,” Skousen said. He plans to specialize in medical product design after graduation in May 2011.
Skousen may get a head start on his wish in the 2010-2011 InnovationSpace program, a transdiscipinary product-development lab in the ASU School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. His Team Nexus is one of three student groups sponsored this academic year by Dow Corning, the Michigan-based company that specializes in silicone-based technology development. The teams are charged with utilizing the company’s materials in the design of a device or system that will help users better manage a chronic medical condition.
After crunching the numbers, Team Nexus chose to focus on diabetes. According to research published in the 2009 issue of the journal Diabetes Care, nearly 24 million people in the United States, alone, have been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2034, the number is expected to jump to more than 44 million people.
“When I learned about what a huge problem diabetes is and how it’s growing, that made focusing on diabetes worthwhile for me,” said Ana Field, a visual communication design senior on Team Nexus. “Our project could help so many people and do so much good.”
Business student Carolyn Stearns also is eager to improve the daily lives of people with the disease. She has struggled to manage her Type 1 diabetes since childhood. “The goal for me is in this project is to make something that I would buy,” she said.
Stearns points out that insulin-delivery technologies have improved exponentially. With careful monitoring, people with diabetes now live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. But strides in diabetes technologies have far outpaced design innovations in the user experience, Stearns said. In an optimum regimen, for example, diabetics test their blood sugar an average of 10 times daily. To conduct each test, Stearns must pull out a messy collection of implements. Many of them, such as test strips, are small and difficult to handle. Inevitably, some users drop their glucometers on the floor and tiny parts break off and scatter, forcing them to buy whole new monitors.
Sharps containers, used to store used needles, are bulky and unsightly. So when she’s at school or work, Stearns collects her used needles in a plastic pouch in her handbag, which often causes her to stick herself when retrieving a pen or her car keys. Most of her fellow diabetics simply discard their needles in public trashcans, a practice that poses hazards for everyone.
For their mid-year InnovationSpace assignment, Team Nexus has created three product concepts that help solve some of these problems. During the spring 2011 semester, students will choose one idea and develop a detailed product and engineering design, branding and communications strategy and business plan.
Their first concept Creo (from the Latin for “create”) features a modular and fully customizable carrying system for diabetic implements. The system can be stripped down to carry essentials for a night on the town, or expanded to store products on an extended European backpacking tour.
“By making it easier to carry your supplies, you’re better able to take care of your condition,” Field said.
Novo (the Latin word for “change”) is a portable device for disposing used syringe needles.
The third concept, the Wingman, rethinks the entire blood sugar-testing system. The device combines multiple functions in a single design that is so easy to use that it can be manipulated with one hand, says Albert Hsia, the team’s biomedical engineering student. According to Skousen, the Wingman includes at least one no-brainer design feature: built-in illumination so that parents like him don’t have to flick on their children’s bedroom lights in the middle of the night to carry out a simple blood test.
No matter which product concept they choose to develop for their final project, the members of Team Nexus plan to keep the spotlight squarely on making it easier for diabetics to manage their condition.
Skousen said that the problem with so many products currently on the market is that the user has to adapt to the medical device.
“We want to turn that around and make sure the device adapts to the user,” he said.
Written by Adelheid Fischer, manager, InnovationSpace