I proudly present Samantha Katz as Exhibit A: the graduate student from Northwestern University who (along with project partner Erik Schickli) won last year's DiabetesMine Design Challenge Grand Prize, and was subsequently hired by Medtronic Diabetes to help design their next-generation insulin pumps. (See yesterday's big Medtronic announcement.) Samantha is living proof that "crowdsourcing" exercises like this contest can shake Pharma's big tree.

This year, Samantha is one of our expert judges for the 2010 contest. Here's what she has to share about it all:

DBMine) What got you interested in designing for diabetes?

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SK) I am naturally drawn to fixing things; for example, products that do not work as intended or services that are misaligned with the recipient's needs.  This led me to pursue a degree in design concurrent with my MBA.  However, the turning point for narrowing in on diabetes came when my teammate in the 2009 Design Challenge told me about the challenges his mother faced daily as a Type 1.  I knew nothing about diabetes until that point, but I immediately thought that there has to be a better way.  It has been a rewarding experience ever since.

Can you tell us about the experience of winning the Grand Prize last year?

I was completely surprised to have won among so many impressive submissions, and it was wonderful to receive validation from diabetes and design experts that my idea had legs.

On a personal note, winning the competition gave me confidence that my desire to make a career in developing products to improve the lives of those with diabetes was justified.  For the first week or two I felt like a mini-celebrity, since several design and medtech blogs had picked up the story, as well as one of my school's publications.  I also had the chance to spend a few hours with medical device design experts at IDEO, where I received valuable feedback on the design and shared ideas for improving upon it even further.

How much time did you spend creating the LifeCase/LifeApp prototype, and what were your expectations going into the contest?

We heard about the contest late in the game, so we only had a month to develop the concept, perform user research, and create the prototype.  It was a very tight timeline, but we felt strongly about our idea and thought the contest would be an opportunity to both hone our design skills and have some fun.

You've been hired by Medtronic Diabetes now, to work on development of new pump systems. What are your top priorities in evolving insulin pumps for the better?

As we are developing future product platforms, ensuring a safe experience is always our top priority.  Additionally, we are focusing on improved technology that leads to both improved clinical outcomes and a more convenient patient experience.

Clinical research has shown that combining the components of insulin delivery, continuous glucose monitoring, and therapy adjustment allows patients to tighten glucose control and achieve an optimal clinical outcome; so we will continue to focus on these elements.  Our goal is to develop products that fit more seamlessly into a patient's life, by giving users a product that is simpler to use, adaptable to their specific needs, and more comfortable.

Do you have any tips for contest entrants this year?

Research, research, research!  I'm always amazed by how different people experience ideas and products differently.  A design that makes perfect sense to you may be challenging for someone else to use, and a product that meets your needs may not have the same benefit for another.  The initial concept for LifeCase/LifeApp was certainly our own, but refining the design and features through several rounds of research where we spoke to and observed people with diabetes gave us insights that we could not have come up with on our own.

And of course — have fun!  This is a great opportunity to not only design, but also potentially improve lives in the process.

Thank you, Samantha. We're glad to have you, both on the panel AND in the industry.

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.

This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.