When you live with diabetes, so much of your brain is dedicated to it. There’s this constant drag of calculating numbers. You’re noticing how fast your body is absorbing carbs. Thinking about what you’re eating. There are all these metrics that you’re tracking. If we could automate some of that data, people like me could take their hand off the wheel and say “I’m in cruise control.”
It’s been a journey to get here. I was four-years-old when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I remember being in the hospital and my grandparents bringing me lego sets and telling me everything was going to be fine. I was on MDI (multiple daily injections) until I was in fifth grade when insulin pumps had become more widely available to children with diabetes. I jumped on one of those early Medtronic pumps and kind of went on autopilot from there. It was only after I graduated from college that I got turned onto wearing a CGM (continuous glucose monitor).
I also started connecting with innovators in the diabetes space like Brandon Arbiter, Howard Look, and Sara Krugman who were part of the early team at Tidepool. They turned me onto this idea of reverse-engineering diabetes devices and connecting them together, so they’re being smart and interfacing with one another. Eventually, I started using a DIY (do-it-yourself) automated system called Loop.
It was transformative for me. I met people from Tidepool face-to-face. I went to hack-a-thons. Suddenly, my dream of making diabetes data work better for me was all happening. I appreciated Tidepool’s mission and its values as an open source nonprofit, so I joined the team about four years ago.
As a designer, my job is to think about our users — what you’re trying to accomplish and how to make the interfaces and experience as simple as possible for you. As a user myself, I know I don’t want to bother with technology that is a pain in the butt to use. I think the diabetes device industry should be working to make diabetes easier however we can, so I’m excited about the innovations we’re seeing in diabetes tech.
I remember when I used to bring my diabetes devices to the doctor’s office where I was given three different reports. They’d study the charts trying to match data that didn’t fit together, only to realize the pump was displaying in AM instead of PM. Today, correcting device time is an easy fix with the right software.
The design decisions behind some of the diabetes technology coming to market in the next couple years prioritize giving you more control and letting you tweak and adjust your tech to meet you where you are. These devices will get us closer to a kind of autopilot mode so we don’t have to worry about diabetes 24/7.
You can see user experience design evolution if you look at the Dexcom G4 — a continuous glucose monitor that required a separate receiver that had to be kept near you at all times. I remember I would carry it around, and it would sit on the dresser next to my bed and buzz all the time when I was low or high. Carrying a device around didn’t seem worth the hassle to me, but then the Dexcom G5 came out, which allowed me to use my mobile phone as a receiver, and the user experience was awesome. The designers had done the work so that I didn’t have to carry a receiver around anymore. I could mute alerts as easily as I mute my phone and I could customize my notification preferences.
That evolution made me think: Each of these devices has a story. Why can’t we jam them together and make them talk to one another? And that’s what Tidepool’s focus on interoperability is all about. It’s a way to connect devices, data, and people. My work at Tidepool is focused on how to bring all that data into one place to make it work better for you, but with a user experience that just makes sense.
We’re taking part in thoughtful research into user experience so we can begin incorporating accessibility features our community cares about, too. A few months ago, I shared in this “Designing for accessibility with color” webinar that these small but thoughtful changes aren’t necessarily revolutionary. But the work to improve user experience is dependent on those of us designing solutions openly sharing our work for others to leverage and build on in new and innovative ways.
The problems we face in diabetes are difficult design challenges to solve, but I’m excited about the work we’re doing at Tidepool, and I hope you are, too.