Design and Diabetes – the top reasons products fail patient needs

Timesulin cap timer at 3:17My colleague Marcel Botha has already written a great article about the design of Timesulin. I want to explore some reasons why, from the patient’s point of view, an innovative design process is not just a nice to have – but something that we should demand.

This is also the topic of my presentation at the International Diabetes Federation World Congress in Dubai on December 5, talking about how we applied software development methodologies (Heuristic Design) during the development of Timesulin. (If you are attending the conference, please feel free to join me in this discussion.)

When designing for people with diabetes there are a number of things to consider:

1) Recognition rather than recall-
When you are using a new product for the second, third, fourth time, you would think that you should be able to use all features without having to consult the user manual. You should be able to recognise right away – and intuitively – how to use it, rather than needing to recall what the instruction manual says.

Have you ever tried to access the memory in your blood glucose meters? It sometimes feels like you need to be a rocket scientist to navigate through the menu – this also assuming that the clock has been programmed correctly so you can get any value at all out of the memory. Make it more simple for us people with diabetes.

Blood sugar meter reading Error 5. What does that mean?2) Help users diagnose errors
Again, going back to the blood glucose meters. What does ‘Error 6′ mean? What is ‘Error 7’? Is ‘Error 14′ worse than ‘Error 2; HELP
Make it easy for me to understand what is wrong and how to correct it

3) Error Prevention
Rather than making it easy to understand what error messages mean – perhaps we can work to ensure there is almost no chance of an error happening.

4) Consistency & Standards
I should never have to guess what errors, words or situations mean. Keep it consistent, follow normal conventions that people are used to. For Timesulin, we use normal digits in a normal format that everybody is used to. HH:MM to show time, everybody knows how that works right?

IBGStar by Sanofi Aventis5) Make it look cool
As somebody living with diabetes and lugging supplies with me every single day, I don’t want to look like I am carrying a hospital around with me all the time. Make products that look nice, are easy to use and make me feel proud to own and use them rather then making me want to hide it from my friends.

A recent example that I love is the <a title=”iBGStar from Sanofi Aventis” href=”iBGStar, a new blood glucose meter from Sanofi. It looks great, it’s small, it connects to your iPhone/iPad…wonderful stuff.

6) System status
This sounds geeky but you know what – I want to be able to know right away that the tools I use to keep me going – like an insulin pen OR a blood glucose meter – works right away. I shouldn’t have to wait for 30 minutes for a light to start blinking OR some other action to start. When I feel nervous about my diabetes, I want to know right away what the story is and how I should correct it.

With the development of Timesulin our goal hasn’t been to make the most advanced product in the world that has every feature possible. Our idea was to make something that does one thing very well and as a result increases safety for people with diabetes, allows for better life balance and ultimately allows me to concentrate on enjoying life to its fullest rather than concentrating on my diabetes all the time.

We don’t claim to have solve every problem with diabetes – we just hope that we can solve one little aspect of it well. What do you think?


  1. Diabetes Design Challenges – New Frontiers : DiabetesMine: the all things diabetes blog - [...] packaging for insulin and for emergency glucose tablets to gadgets with features that are too complex, forcing patients to dig …
  2. Diabetes Design Challenges – New Frontiers - The Healthy Life Tips - [...] packaging for insulin and for emergency glucose tablets to gadgets with features that are too complex, forcing patients to …

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