Archive for category design

“Body Metrics” human data exhibit launches

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose launched its latest permanent exhibit called Body Metrics. This was one of my pet projects and it took quite some effort to get Kaiser Permanente to fund the exhibit development.

You can see Lath Carlson, VP of Exhibits at the Tech and me demonstrating one of the stations during a media preview on Oct 29, 2014. Tim Ritchie, The Tech’s president mentioned that “The technology involved here is incredibly complex — I think it’s safe to say it’s the most technically ambitious exhibit ever attempted at a science museum.”

This exhibit is all about teaching visitors that their bodies generate data. Visitors begin their experience by checking out a Sensor Kit, a customized three-part system that measures, records, and displays six metrics in real time: activity level, tension, mental focus, talkativeness, attitude, and the number of people nearby. 


There are 5 stations to explore and collect data which can then be visualized by placing the Sensor Kit on the “Data Pool” table – a custom 12ft multi-touch table top (right).

The table displays metrics from the entire visit, including how visitors reacted to everything they saw and felt. It delivers “context awareness” about what might have happened to lead to each emotion, as the data is overlaid on a cascade of photographs recorded by the Sensor Kit.

It’s pretty amazing and you should go check it out!

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Your Smartphone Will Be A Medical Device…Very Soon

It probably won’t be too long before we will see the first FDA-approved smartphone. Given the incredible rate of adoption for consumer mobile health sensors and the apps that manage their data streams, it seems inevitable that the market demand for a phone that generates and interprets health data, and then offers advice based on that data, will easily outweigh the cost to develop it. In fact, Nokia (surprisingly) just announced that they sponsoring the Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE for $2.25M to help make this holy grail phone a reality sooner than later.

The global competition is intended to “stimulate the development of sensors and sensing technology to drastically improve and expand the quality and access to healthcare across a wide variety of settings for consumers all around the globe.” There are actually 3 challenges and the first one concludes in May of next year while the final wave receives its award in the fall of 2014. Not sure if this will save Nokia or if $2.25M is enough of an incentive, but I’m betting that someone else will be on the market long before Nokia can commercialize the winning tech.

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Own Your Health

Over the years I’ve come to notice that confidence is really the root of any behavior change, especially for changes that affect your health. I also think that there are residual cultural norms here in the US which discourage self-empowerment regarding health. However, I’m happily observing that many online health resources are both democratizing decision-making and eroding those cultural norms to finally give Americans a greater sense of health ownership.

Online searches for “health ownership” will give you different interpretations of what that phrase means but to me it describes the self-confidence to participate in decisions about your health. This participation is in part the result of a more democratic relationship and greater partnership with our doctors, but it also comes from personal investment.

The more time spent researching conditions online, or tracking them via downloaded apps or embedded sensor technologies, the more invested in the experience we become. It’s the same strategy Mint uses to suck you in; the more data you invest, the more control you feel you have of your financial destiny.

What if a reliable and easy to navigate Personal Health Record (PHR) interface were available to aggregate health data – and they are coming – then those who opt to use it might feel as in control and excited about managing their health as they do now about managing their money.

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Design In/Is Business

Leveraging design and design teams to increase competitive advantage is getting more notice in large organizations thanks in part to events like the Design Management Institute’s (DMI) “Re-Thinking…The Future of Design” conference in San Francisco this past June. Key design leaders across a broad spectrum of industries shared conversations on stage about how they used design thinking tools to create value for, and facilitate change in, their organization.

What struck me most is that design teams increasingly seem to also serve as innovation teams for the business. John Fly, the VP of Strategic Planning at Miliken & Company talked about successful designers being able to toggle between solving both business problems and design problems and often solving business problems with design solutions. The biggest hurdle in this process usually comes from finding a common business/design language. However, understanding the business inside and out increases credibility and leads to better decisions for the business.

I was most focused on what Bob Schwartz, GM of Global Design for GE Healthcare had to say because of my personal interest in improving healthcare through design thinking. His decades in design management had obviously honed his business navigation skills and it was through a combination of analogies, storytelling techniques, and an empathy workshop that he was able to build consensus and unify his design team of 46, spread over 5 countries.

Pushing empathy as a key driver for design and business decisions led to the redesign of several GE products – particularly in the pediatric space where the design team created a MRI scanner and scanning process from the perspective of a child. A story was developed for the children to engage in before they came for the office visit and the scanner room maintained the story’s imagery throughout. This environment reduced anxiety during the procedure and ultimately improved test results. The success from this storytelling approach filtered to the sales force and acted as a powerful motivator to increase sales.

My hope is that more examples like this will bubble to the surface and motivate investment in design teams and the value of design thinking processes across the entire organization. Giving every business team the license to think creatively and more empathetically will foster solutions to support humanity and not just the bottom line.

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A Maker’s Approach to Health

I’m noticing a bit more of a shift toward self-reliance in what is known as the “maker movement” and highlighted by events like the Maker Faire in San Mateo each year. This observation might be more of a symptom of living in the Bay Area, but I’d like to think that the increasing popularity of steampunk is also fueling the fire of a do-it-yourself culture.

I’ve always had a propensity to want to make things, partly because of my creative background and inclination but also because the process and tangible end product are so much more rewarding than just throwing down a couple bucks. I have mountains of crafts projects stashed away but an equal number in everyday use or pulled out for special occasions like this past weekend’s Steampunk Exhibition in Emeryville where I decked out in regalia that I had partially made, modded and refurbed myself.

So, why couldn’t we take a similar approach to our own health? Where we spend time carefully crafting the food we eat, or the containers we carry our lunches in (steampunk lunchbox anyone?) In our increasingly virtual world, creating tangible things is hugely gratifying, and making things that make you happy AND healthy are the most valuable way to spend your most precious commodity – time.

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My Dream 3D User Interface

One of the slides from my presentation.

Frankly, I’ve pretty much reached the point of exhaustion with tracking my life through the Archive. It’s been over a decade of meticulously shooting, collecting, prepping, organizing and assembling as many data channels as possible into a single “scrapbook on crack” stream. At 19 volumes, this project that has fed most of my OCD tendencies, needs to take on a new form so that I can get on with my life.

I didn’t fully realize what I needed in an interface to execute this phase change until I was intensely interviewed (for 3 hours) last November by a team from Jump Associates. Apparently I met the requirements for an “extreme user” of notebook documentation and thus made the perfect subject to probe for ideas. The session turned into therapy for me as I dolled out all my “in a perfect world” scenarios for documenting my life.

The key take-away for me was that this new interface MUST be tangible. If I can’t move stuff around with my hands, feel textures, physically arrange images/ideas/data in a space, then it just ain’t gonna work for me.

The problem is that the technology just hasn’t fully arrived yet. But there is some cool stuff out there for content access (a la Minority Report, but called the g-speak spatial operating environment) and for content entry/interaction (who hasn’t seen Pattie Maes & Pranav Mistry’s TED talk from last year?).

The questions is, how do you combine these technologies (instant tangible data entry with instant tangible data access)? I want to gather information, sort it, rank it, edit it and then store it in the appropriate category all within a few simple moves. In fact, maybe I could turn it into an interpretive dance…

I’m going to speak about this during the Quantified Self Meet-Up next Wednesday the MedHelp offices at 927 Market Street.

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Design and the Art of Complexity

DMII recently attended the Design Management Institute’s annual meeting titled “Design Complexity and Change” at MIT. Without a doubt, this was another call to action for great design minds to help save our increasingly complex world from destroying itself. The message was echoed by speakers from corporate design centers within Nike, Virgin Airlines, and GE, within design education by John Maeda at RISD, and also from a political source pushing legislation to form a US National Design Policy to create national design standards within the government.

The motivation to engage design and designers in solving some of the most complex problems from pollution to social justice has finally come, even if only from a place of desperation. The decades of excess and deregulation have given way to economic hardships that demand more creative problem solving to ensure survival. Corporations have been discovering that design often provides a competitive advantage, but how many more times must we endure requests to make whatever we are designing look like it came from Apple? And really, does Apple-style design solve all problems?

Virgin DesignFor some, yes. Joe Ferry, Head of Design at Virgin Atlantic stated simply that they “design to survive.” A competitive advantage based solely on design (of every aspect from crew attire to corporate website interaction) has allowed the tiny airline to not only survive, but also remain profitable while almost all other airlines are stuck in the red. Virgin has transformed the unpleasant experience of flying back into a glamorous event by eliminating complexities and coveting details from mood lighting to the sexy leather bomber jackets pilots wear.

However, design thinking can be used for much heavier lifting than a sexy user experience or sleek interface. Nike is in the process of redesigning their products down to the component level to reduce waste and energy via a process they coined “considered design.” Lorrie Vogel, GM of the program, explained how integrating environmental impact into each step of the design and production process has yielded dramatic returns in reduced company-wide energy and water consumption and increased recyclability of their products.

But what stuck me as the most valuable use of design thinking was Dori Tunstall’s presentation on her work to form a National Design Policy. This document (and subsequent organization) would be responsible for creating national design standards for communications and materials produced by the government.

Dori emphasized that design plays a significant role in social inclusion as it translates values into tangible experiences. As an example, government butter and its generic, uninspiring package design pronounces to the consumer that they are not worthy enough to get a color picture on their food package like everyone else. National design standards could also help with daunting problems like simplifying the complexities of voting though coherent page layout and typography. Guidelines would set standards for legibility, literacy and accessibility for all government communications.

Alan WebberSo many of the complexities we deal with in modern life can be simplified though design if we choose to engage our creativity. As Alan Webber noted, design can be used to solve problems, initiate change and announce innovation but, at the same time, change only happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the cost of change…

Article published on the DMI site here.

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Register now!

We are actively accepting registrations for the two healthcare innovation unconferences I’m working on in October:

HealthCamp SFBay in San Leandro on the 5th can be registered for at:

BIL:PIL in San Diego on the 30-31st registered for at:

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Designing a Healthcare Unconference

As social media approaches adolescence its hallmark of “spontaneous user generated content” has also spread into all kinds of seemingly unconventional places like the world of conferences…that have been morphed into UNconferences. I’m always a bit surprised at how few people have actually heard of an unconference since the concept has been around for a few years now, I’m guessing it will become more mainstream in years to come.

Our friends at Wikipedia describe it as a “facilitated, participant-driven conference” which basically means and bunch of people show up at a designated place for a specific topic and spontaneously decide what the presentation topics are going to be. And yes, most of the time this results in pandemonium as participants jockey to get their talks in the larger, better-equipped rooms. But the net of an unconference can be far more productive as almost all participants are actively engaged in the content and structure of the event.

So, I’m working on one of these things. For those familiar with the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences with their highly polished presentations, invitation-only guest list and $5,000+ participant fees; the free unconference analog is called BIL (as in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure notoriety). And for the medical fanatics out there, a special TED was formed called TEDMED with pretty much all the same parameters as TED. It only makes sense to provide an all access and free BIL:PIL unconference as a community-driven forum for current and aspiring healthcare thinkers to share and collaborate. This October (30 and 31st) will be the first BILPIL to be held right after TEDMED in San Diego.

BIL:PIL logoThe BIL:PILLers are a bunch of scrappy healthcare renegades with a surprising amount of clout. We secured the San Diego State University BioScience Center and already have an impressive list of speakers willing to come and talk about whatever healthcare related topic they feel is relevant at that moment. This healthcare innovation unconference will bring together over 200 entrepreneurs, health professionals, technologists, and laypeople to describe the future of healthcare.

I’ve been working on the cat-herding part of the project but also managed to design the identity for the conference (within the brand parameters established by the original BIL franchise). I also created a visualization of the key content areas we hope to attract people to speak about :BIL:PIL Topics

Check out the site at, register and help “set healthcare free” with us this October!

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Design is the Strategy

DMILast week I assisted the Design Management Institute (DMI) with their “Re-Thinking…Design” conference here in San Francisco. During this dynamic meeting, several talks focused on validating and communicating design value in the business environment. Perhaps this focus had something to do with the fact that Roger Martin (dean of the Rotman School of Management) was one of the MCs. For someone so steeped in classical business education, his adamant support of design thinking was a remarkably refreshing thing. What struck me the most was the dialog he set in motion about how design IS the strategy.

Roger opened the conference with a compelling discussion about the process of migrating design into business thinking. Acknowledging the demand for ever-increasing innovation, he conceded that design thinking was one of the more successful ways to achieve the volume and diversity of ideas needed to help an organization successfully compete. However, the ongoing challenge is how to convey and garner support for this very non-linear and non-structured creative process within a left-brain-dominated and risk-adverse business environment.

Claudia KotchkaUniting two seemingly disparate disciplines is obviously a challenge, and so leveraging a pull vs push strategy for design integration was advised. Claudia Kotchka explained how she brought design light to Proctor & Gamble (P&G) by first keeping a cache of design success stories on hand and then actually making management participate in design problem solving exercises with the IDEO team. Only after personally engaging in the design process did the management team truly understand the value of design thinking and the need to integrate it into the overall business strategy. In fact, design is now so highly valued at P&G that there are several senior design leaders who sit at the strategic decision-making table.

Another approach is to attack design integration as an actual design problem itself. Jesse James Garrett, president of Adaptive Path, suggested that the organizational structure/decision-making process should be viewed just like any other design constraint within the project scope and thus navigated accordingly. IDEO’s CEO, Tim Brown, recommended to experiment and prototype in volume early in the process while savoring the surprises such as finding out that the accounting team is shockingly creative.

However, it doesn’t make things easier that designers are notorious for not accepting the value of business thinking. In fact, many downright oppose the constraints and rigid process of business operations. One of the funnier quotes of the conference came from Bill Buxton, principal Researcher at Microsoft, who simply observed that “designer rhymes with whiner.” But opportunity lies in these differences and finding a common language is well worth investing in.

What it comes down to is that strategy is about inventing a new tomorrow. After decades of profit-maximizing objectives driving strategic decision-making, the economy has finally run out of steam and gumption. The time is ripe for the human-centered values of design thinking to be recognized as a valuable way to archive a more sustainable future. DMI’s agenda is exactly on this page and the conference, supported by all the dynamic speakers, called on us to learn the language of business, become part of the strategy and help facilitate change.

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