Making wearable technology meaningful

Sean O’Connor

Despite a lot of hype, it’s not much of a stretch to say that wearables haven’t made much of an impact on consumers and haven’t come close to reaching their full potential. The problem today is that wearables are being generalized to a mass population for simple, discrete and short-term events (like tracking how many steps you walk per day), which offers very little long-term value to a person. That’s why so many people abandon their wearables weeks after buying them. Companies can do better than this.

We think the real opportunity lies in flipping the model on its head – i.e. identifying more specialized use cases that will create a large impact on smaller groups of people. This approach can be especially powerful in health care, where reliable, continuous support is often imperative, but hard to come by, especially in the management of chronic disease care. Cloud computing and wearables offer up the potential to seamlessly integrate into our lives and provide meaningful guidance around our health on a daily basis, yet, to date, our approach to health care has been very transactional and one-off. Wearable technologies can enable us to enter a new era of empowered patient care.

We challenged a group of our designers, strategists and technologists to explore this future vision for how wearable technology might better impact health care management. We’ll be showing you a few of our design visions in this three-part wearables series.

Today, we take a look at the first concept in this series called Bolu, a Type 1 Diabetes monitoring system, which helps kids, their parents and caretakers jointly manage the day-to-day aspects of the disease. We spoke to the team about the creation of Bolu:

What was the problem you were trying to solve?

“Type 1 diabetes is a serious, chronic condition. While it doesn’t have a cure, it can be managed, but it requires constant vigilance and monitoring, which can be challenging, especially for children. We know that parents often have a hard time letting go of control when it comes to dealing with their children’s illnesses and giving more autonomy to the child. We thought: how can we design something to help manage this serious disease and serve as a mediator of sorts between the two? We came up with a solution that focuses on improving the relationship between parents and children, to help them manage the tension they sometimes feel, and allow both parties some control and empowerment.”

Tell us about your design solution?

We looked at using all sorts of different graphics and communication systems for our app, but we realized early on that what people really need is an easy way to better understand what’s going on with their body, both when they feel good and bad with this disease. So in the app, we use a body and different colors to mimic how the child feels at different moments. We were trying to convey the idea of a smart buddy that is here to help the child at all times.”

What technology are you leveraging in your concept?

“Since Type 1 Diabetes needs to be tracked constantly, wearable technology has the potential to be a great solution. Most of the technology we used already exists – a continuous glucose and insulin sensor and an activity tracker. We also used a smartphone to monitor all of the inputs. However, we know that Smartphones aren’t perfect yet – batteries die, especially at inopportune times, and we need the battery to be perfect. One idea we have to circumvent this reality is allowing the wearable to vibrate when there’s a problem to alert you, especially if your phone battery died or you don’t have it with you.”

What’s the most important thing to consider when designing a wearable?

“You need a goal and a reason for making a wearable. It shouldn’t be a wearable just to be a wearable. It needs to be useful and serve a purpose.”