IDEO is the world-renown design firm that transformed Kaiser Permanente's modus operandi. They made the cover of BusinessWeek a few years ago.  They've won scores of design competitions themselves.

So needless to say, we're delighted to have them on board for the DiabetesMine Design john-lai-of-ideoChallenge, open for submissions until May 1, 2009 (so get movin'!).  IDEO Senior Design Strategist John Lai is one of our judges this year, and two of our Design Challenge winners will receive free consulting sessions with IDEO's Health and Wellness experts. In this final edition of our series of 2009 judges' interviews, John shares some of IDEO's thinking on how to design products that actually promote improved health.



DBMine) IDEO says they're "in the business of design thinking." What does that mean?

JL) Design thinking is an approach to problem solving using a designer's sensibilities and methodologies. We bring together people from different disciplines to explore new ideas that match people's needs with technologically feasible solutions and viable business models to offer greater customer value and new market opportunities.

Design methods that include observation, prototyping, building, and storytelling allow us to address a wide range of complex issues and offer appropriate solutions that can be implemented. Design thinking has allowed us to look at complex issues like people's attitude toward energy efficiency for the Department of Energy, a vision to inspire change in elementary school systems, or product implementations like a design language for HP Printers and the KwikPen, a prefilled insulin injector for Eli Lilly.

DBMine) Does IDEO have a special mission statement or mantra for its Health and Wellness practice?

JL) IDEO, as a design and innovation firm, works to create positive impact on people's lives. IDEO defines "Health and Wellness" in broad terms encompassing physical, emotional, environmental, and spiritual needs at both the individual and societal levels. We gain a unique perspective from working with clients across all sectors of health and wellness to humanize medicine, adapt health to lifestyles, and create new models for health systems.

In creating business value for our clients, we seek to design new therapies and processes that respect stakeholders, to promote human-centered delivery of professional healthcare, to enable healthy lifestyles and communities, to consider prevention as well as curative treatments, and to stimulate public awareness and education for both personal and community well-being.

DBMine) As noted, you guys helped design Lilly's Kwikpen product and also packaging for GlaxoSmithKlein's Alli diet product. Can you tell us just a little about the process that goes into researching success factors for design projects like these? lilly-kwikpen

JL) IDEO takes a user-centered approach whereby we gain insight and understanding of all the stakeholders, in particular patients or the end-users. The health industry is very complicated and the needs of clients vary widely.

We put together teams of people with different backgrounds and approaches, such as human factors specialists, engineers, designers and business people and others and go into situations with open minds and try to ask the "right questions."  The questions help us utilize the experiences and expertise of clients, medical professionals, and patients.

When we empathize and put ourselves in the position of the end-users, the opportunities for improvements become obvious.

DBMine) If form follows function, as they say, how would you begin thinking about making a device for diabetes injections or blood tests more, for example, more aesthetically appealing?

JL) With medical devices, form and function are tied together. The device must work well, be easy to use and in addition provide an engaging experience. Design thinking helps us acquire the inspirations and insights that inform potential solutions. We then generate sketches and prototypes and get them into the hands of users as quickly as possible. Getting feedback from end users and making refinements through iterating lets us create the most appropriate and desirable solutions.

Our designers are up to date on trends and leverage our experiences from other industries such as consumer electronics, furniture and fashion. We also carefully consider manufacturing processes, materials, colors, textures, and graphics.

Driving all this is the desire to create the appropriate experience for the users. Devices want to be comfortable and easy to use. We want the user to easily understand how to operate the device—which buttons to press and what knobs to turn.

Understanding the dosing is important and what kind of feedback and information to provide the user is also a big task.

We also try to address the emotional needs of the users by making needles less threatening and devices that don't look like machines. Sometimes it's appropriate for a device to be cool and fun, and sometimes it's better to be subdued and discrete. All this needs to be balanced with keeping the production costs down so that it's a viable business for companies and an affordable product for people and institutions. Device makers have been typically focused on the function and costs, and are just now beginning to understand the benefits of more appealing designs.

DBMine) Good point. What would you say is the most exciting aspect of this open innovation competition for diabetes?

JL) I'm always excited to hear from the patients and end users and see what they believe will make their lives better.


Thank you, John and IDEO, for an excellent fresh perspective!


Dear Readers: You now have exactly 5 DAYS LEFT to enter the competition, for a chance at $10,000 and the opportunity to ease life with diabetes.


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.