Today, meet the Grand Prize winners of the 2009 DiabetesMine Design Challenge, two graduate students who came up with the $10,000 idea for improving life with this illness. CONGRATULATIONS!

They are:

eric_schickli_portraitEric Schickli, a 23-year-old grad student in Northwestern University's Engineering Design and Innovation masters program (essentially a combined design and engineering program), and an aspiring product design engineer.



Samanatha Katz, a 26-year-old grad student majoring in Healthcare Enterprise Management, Marketing, and Design through a joint program between the McCormick School of Engineering and the Kellogg School of Management. She hopes to enter the field of medical device product development and design after graduation in June.

In case you missed it, their winning design was 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. (Read the Northwestern University brief here)

What's so special about the system they designed, from the point of view of an actual PWD?  Plenty, I'd say.  As noted, 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?

And just so you know, they didn't start with the iPhone. Rather, they started at the very beginning: by doing exhaustive homework on what kind of problems people with diabetes face on a daily basis, and what kind of solution might help.

Here are some key excerpts from my long conversation with them this week:


DM) Were you were working on LifeCase & LifeApp previously, or did you design it specifically for this contest?

S) We're both interested in design projects that have a social impact.  We had both seen and heard about the contest, and a professor connected us.  We started doing our background research in early April.

DM) You began by interviewing patients on what bothers them most about diabetes?  That's a lot to bite off...

E) {chuckles} I had easy access to my mother, who had whole host of things she hates about (type 1) diabetes. But we also contacted support groups here in the Chicago area. We sent an email query to one list, and received 8 or 9 responses within a couple of days, which was amazing -- you never get that kind of response with other design projects!

S) We talked with a lot of patients and even attended the ADA product expo in Chicago and talked to companies. We were looking for inspiration -- to understand the needs and see where we could improve on existing products.  It was readily apparent that a lot of these products are not aesthetic, they're not driven by the needs of users.

DM) Can you give an example of that?  What were the shortcomings of the products you saw?

S) The features seemed arbitrary and random, like with one glucose meter that had a drum of metering strips to store inside.  The drum held about 17 strips, and when we asked about the rationale for that, the company said 'that's all that would fit.'  If they're constrained by the size of the drum, that means they designed the outer shell first and then noticed that only 17 strips would fit inside.  But is this design ideal for the user? Probably not.

DM) And when did you settle on the iPhone idea?


S) We looked at all sorts of ideas first: products for children, for educating them, and also aesthetic solutions like different types of fancy carrying cases, skins for meters -- things that add a little pizazz to the current product category. Then we worked to narrow in on a single concept that would be most effective for people with diabetes.  When I saw all the different supplies a diabetic has to carry around -- all the extra things they need every time they leave the house -- I thought, wouldn't it be great to just grab my phone and it's all there?

DM) So you came up with the idea for a combined system based on a smartphone. Then what?lifecase-diabetes

S) Another round of brainstorming! Our design program at Northwestern is influenced by the IDEO design process, with an emphasis on following steps -- a very iterative process.  So we considered things like: Should the glucose meter be on top, on the bottom, or on the side of phone?  What should the main software screen look like so it's intuitive for people?  We made simple sketches and walked users through them -- a 'show and listen' process.

DM) What about creating the prototypes?  You had to make one for both the hardware and the software...

E) For the iPhone screen, we made a mock-up in Adobe Flash, which is a great tool for making really simple wireframes, and then taking it a step further with animations and interactive design. This is a static mock-up only, but we have thought through how it would work; we've looked at the Apple iPhone API.

The physical prototype of the case is an existing iPhone case that's been modified -- there's no electronic circuitry yet. It holds the lancer device on the side with a snug clip fit (like those used to hold markers for mini white boards).  We looked at things like making it rugged: Can it be inserted and removed time and time again without breaking?  We looked at products like the Pelikan Sun and the Renew lancing system, but we decided that being compact was more important than trying to change the current glucose testing paradigm.

DM) What about the "other end" of the pump?  Have you considered what kind of patch or pod might be used for insulin infusion?

S) The time constraints didn't allow us to go too deep into that yet, but we'd like to pursue it further.  Some kind of insulin patch or pod like in the OmniPod system is clearly the idea.

DM) So what's next for the LifeCase & LifeApp system? How will you use your winnings to realize this product vision?

S) We'd like to refine our system.  We realize that not everybody would use all the features, so we'd like to make it more customizable, but the setup can't be so complicated that it becomes a disincentive to use. Maybe we'll create a full-blown app with all the data manipulation, and also a light version.  Maybe the insulin pod could be removable or could be moved around more easily.

We're very excited about the possibly moving forward, especially about working with IDEO.  There are a lot of things to think about, including possibly teaming with an existing pump company.  When we asked some of them at the ADA expo: why can't you control the pump through the iPhone? They pretty much said, "that's the vision." This is really a consumer-driven industry, and we'd like to see people have improved choices.


** NOTE: Eric & Samantha are looking for additional feedback and input on their product design. Got something to say to them? Email your comments to **


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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.