A friend of mine tore out this article from the magazine business week for me the other day. First of all, how nice of her to think to do so, though I'm sure that, in part, it's because she's sick of me yammering on about how annoyed I am with the design (or lack thereof) of my pump. I'm not exactly a shrinking violet on that subject as you all know.
But whatever the reason, I was very grateful to her and immediately started to read it with both hope and trepidation. The title alone was pretty intriguing: my ipod, my cell, my insulin pump. Sounds familiar, right Amy? The second line of the title also showed promise: medical device makers are taking cues from user-friendly tech gadgets. Ok, ok, so were they about to reveal some new breakthrough in pump design that I hadn't heard of yet I wondered? I scanned the page as fast as my eyes could read. But unfortunately, it turned out that the answer was a most definite no. No breakthroughs, no revelations, just the same old posture that pumps are amazing technical feats (which they are) and there is new grooviness on the horizon with the advent CGM technology (check). It was more of an outsiders look at the stuff we all live with everyday. Cool that it was being written about, but sadly, nothing new for me.
I read on. The next paragraph talked about "the new role of design" in the medical products world. That sounded intriguing to me. They framed up how medical device companies are teaming up with industrial designers and seeking inspiration from consumer products to make their products more appealing to us. Hm. I wonder when exactly that teaming up is happening. In a nutshell the article posited that medical devise companies are now aware that with better design, people will be more likely to manage their disease effectively as well as prompt more customer loyalty to their brands. Yep, makes sense to me. Which led to a favorite quote in the article stating that design had "become a 'primary focus,' says Dr. Alan Marcus, global director of medical affairs at Medtronic. 'We're actively moving in that direction.'" Actively moving in that direction. What exactly does that mean? According to my pump rep, it doesn't mean anything aesthetically at least, given the fact that, according to him, any change, functionally or aesthetically means having to go through the FDA approval process again. Which means there isn't a whole lot of incentive for a pump company with an existing design to redesign for aesthetics or user interface any time soon.
But what I found most interesting about the article wasn't the rehash of stuff we already know as people living with these gadgets day in and day out. What was interesting to me was that there were some research data that spoke to the role of good design and medical compliance and behavior in a quantitative, statistical way. Design is so often dismissed as extra, "nice to have" component rather than a critical, integral part of making a functional and effective product or tool. The study this article references at least broaches that misconception. "Recent research bears out Baldwin's assertion that design can influence how a patient deals with his disease. At a meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Amsterdam, Italian researchers said they looked at quality-of-life issues for 1,341 patients with type 1 diabetes. They found people who used pumps such as the PRT System experienced 70% less therapy-related dissatisfaction than those who repeatedly inject themselves." Ok, so they're comparing pump therapy to shot therapy but still, it's a start. There is a correlation between design and behavior which is totally cool. It's saying that the technology and quality one uses to manage this disease impacts the experience, approach and behavior in living with it. It isn't a huge leap to imagine that if it was a matter of choosing between a beautifully designed, elegant, object of desire, well engineered pump and a clunky, brick-like, 1970's-esq pager style, well engineered pump we'd be looking at a very different business landscape on our hands. I'd of course, never trade off on trustworthy function, but assuming that's a given (which I think is fair at this point), I know which pump I'd choose.
Anyway, off I climb from my design soapbox yet again. In the end, it's great to see an article like this in a major magazine. A magazine, by the way, that's talking about diabetes from a business angle, rather than a medical one. A magazine that is acknowledging the business advantages that great design creates. A magazine that frames us up as consumers with the ability and desire to choose products that best address our needs rather than sad patients who get what they're given. I like that. I like that a lot.