The Role of Design in Digital-Physical Innovations

Darrell K. Rigby’s article in the Harvard Business Review, “Digital-Physical Mashups,” encourages businesses and organizations to meet the needs of customers who “weave their digital and physical worlds so tightly together that they can’t fathom why companies haven’t done the same.” When building digital capabilities, large corporations have tended to keep their digital departments independent from the core of their business to help quicken the development process and to ease management pains. That disconnect often creates a communication gap, which hinders digital-physical innovations and creates inefficiencies in the customer’s user experience. Rigby recognizes these problems and offers advice in finding solutions. I chose to focus on the first three practices he shares in helping companies integrate their digital-physical worlds in a way that is sustainable and robust, and have highlighted the role designers play in implementing each practice and creating a competitive advantage.  

Rule #1: Build your strategy around digital-physical fusion. It can be your new competitive edge.

Making the digital-physical fusion a strategic and financial priority enables a company to assess their current position, revealing areas that need greater attention. From there, design researchers play an important role in exposing the white space for new opportunities that could leverage and enhance the company’s existing products and services. Once the adjacencies are identified, industrial designers bring ideas to life and the focus shifts to the customer.

Rule #2: Add links and strengthen linkages in the customer experience.

A company that adds these links, “thinks systematically about each piece of the customer experience” by developing “innovative components and weaving them into a holistic system.” User and digital experience designers make sure the ‘links’ or platforms are interconnected, testing usability and coherence, and ensuring the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Companies are leveraging technology to engage customers, which in return, strengthens and increases brand awareness. An example of this is how the Marriott has now partnered with Liquidspace, an online platform that allows people to book and share workspaces, to make better use of their underutilized meeting spaces. Additionally, Harvard, MIT and Berkeley have redefined higher education and their traditional brands by extending beyond a physical campus that students pay to attend by offering free online courses through edX. As the technology behind these business adjacencies becomes more of a commodity, the crafted user experience design and the physical/digital design are crucial factors in differentiating companies from their competitors.

Rule #3: Transform the way you approach innovation.

Rigby encourages leaders to consult with or build teams of complementary experts to engage in every step of the process to “generate more wide-ranging, innovative, and integrated solutions.” This comes to no surprise for design consultancies where industrial designers work closely with engineers from the early stages of a project, but in large corporations where departments are more separate and communication happens less frequently, which can negatively impact the product/services created.


The practices Rigby presents establish a path to guide companies through digital transformations, while also revealing the need and value of design professionals in helping to build a competitive edge across all innovation projects. Evident in the examples provided, many industries from hospitality to higher education, are well on their way in the digital transformation movement. Other industries such as medical technology, healthcare and pharma are making significant strides, although at a slower pace, due to regulatory and liability setbacks. Designers are presently making an impact in the digital-physical fusion of devices on the consumer side of healthcare through mHealth and Telehealth, and these products and services will continue to extend into the clinical space. As regulations and liabilities evolve and new technologies are introduced, designers will continue to drive change across medical industries to meet the expectations of 21st century patients.



Talk @ GA: A Day in the Life of a UX Designer at Essential


Last month General Assembly invited Margaret Jacobi and me to introduce a new group of potential UX professionals to our field. Our session, entitled "A Day in the Life of a UX Designer at Essential," provided an overview of the key activities, collaborations, processes, and concepts that make up what we do as UX designers. UX designers know the reality is that no two days are alike in our profession, and this is especially true for a consultancy like Essential--this variety is what makes UX such a dynamic field. But the tools we use, goals we drive towards, and general processes we follow are important resources to learn and weave into the fabric of our professional sensibility.

The talk was well attended by both prospective career switchers and hiring managers looking to build, or collaborate with, a UX team. Margaret and I highlighted the things that really make us excited as UX designers, many of which are possible because of Essential’s diverse client and project base and frequent involvement in early product development research, strategy, and planning.

At Essential, UX designers work on digital products that might be delivered through web browsers, mobile apps, or embedded interfaces for clients in a range of industries. We therefore follow a flexible process that allows us to choose the right activities and tools to move towards key objectives on the path to a clear design intent. Our work gives us the opportunity to engage different development methodologies, business models, user audiences, and channel strategies; but the goals we track and drive towards along the way are pretty consistent.

One question we were asked to address was “what makes a good user experience?” This in itself could be the topic for an entire talk, but we summarized our perspective in these three points:

  • At first impression, communicates with the user on an emotional level
  • When being used is intuitive and seamless to the user—a perfect fit
  • Overall is thoughtful and deliberate on all touch points

For us, the blend of emotional and functional user connection--appropriate for the audience and use context--with a genuinely thoughtful design process is what unites many great experiences. Not all experiences need to look the same, follow the same patterns, or have a high level of visual polish in order to be successful. It’s about being authentic and deliberate when designing and going out of the team’s way to do the right thing for users during development.

Another big topic we covered was our high-level design process, which we split into seven steps. Again, we don’t always follow these steps in exactly this order, and we frequently need to repeat some of these steps to get finer definition of key moments in the experience. But these milestones are easy to keep in mind when helping a team drive toward a finished, user-centered product:

  1. Gathering it all: collecting all the knowledge a team has, and does not have, around an area
  2. Choosing a path: defining success criteria, desired experience attributes, target audience(s), and benefits that an experience will deliver
  3. Asking questions: filling knowledge gaps and evaluating the definition through exploratory field research, stakeholder interviews, and workshops
  4. Sketching solutions: establishing clear definitions of the key paths users will follow through the software; focused, low-fidelity iteration of possible solutions that evolve toward one or two cohesive experiences along the primary scenarios
  5. Figuring out what works: identifying strengths and weaknesses of each approach through evaluative user testing, through either observational sessions or role-playing activities
  6. Locking it down: tracking resolved and open issues while iterating on the design to arrive at a final intended design that the entire team approves
  7. Making it real: working collaboratively with development, marketing, business development, and others who will make the vision into reality to ensure the evolving design is consistent with the spirit of the approved design intent

Again, this process is not set in stone for all of our projects, and in reality there is lots of iteration, sketching, and collaborative work across all these stages; however, for us these seven steps establish milestones to ensure a project moves forward from fuzzy and lofty goals to the right experience, thoughtfully designed and focused on the right user contexts and strategic objectives.

There were many excellent questions that highlighted for us some of the worries and preconceptions that accompany the public image of the UX profession. Many people were concerned about following "the process" exactly every time and learning each and every tool in the process before even getting started. Others felt they needed to learn how to write production-level front and back-end code before getting in the door. And yet others felt they might have difficulty collaborating with other teams in the name of creating the best experiences for the people who use a company's products and services.

We were quite pleased to shed some light on the current state of UX that reflects its more developed position at the table in many organizations, especially in Boston:

  • There is no one process that must always be followed, but in practice a team can learn to consider a progressively focused set of objectives and activities that a team should follow to guarantee progress and measurable success. Many of these goals and questions become second nature with experience, as they all support the creation of great experiences for us as people.
  • While code is a critical medium for designers to understand, particularly on the logical and structural levels, successful UX designers certainly need not write immaculate, shippable code. But a thoughtful UX designer will develop over the course of a career a set of tools for bringing ideas to life, and code can be a great tool for this task. At Essential, we use a combination of index cards, pencils, Adobe CS, and--yes--just enough front-end code to do this. The key thing to remember is to remain flexible enough to respond to any new constraints, dependencies, and opportunities; and to always keep the big picture in sight.
  • And finally, we were pleased to report that we have met many clients (and prospective clients) from many industries who have understood the value of UX in their business and have invested in building internal teams and/or involving designers early in the product development process. We see this trend continuing to develop across even more industries and into parts of the business that may not typically think of design as a core driver, such as service delivery (but that’s a topic for another day).

It’s always fulfilling for us to meet people who are excited about UX and the ways in which the process and methods can make our lives easier, empowered, and connected. We hope to meet many of those who came to our talk in the future as practicing UX professionals!



Government Program Evaluation and Design

As evaluation practices increase, what role can design play?

The design world’s role in social innovation has grown tremendously over the past ten years. A human-centered approach to design yields products and services that are sensitive and responsive to the needs of the populations they serve. Designers use ethnographic and social science methods to get their creations right the first time and avoid user error after launch. Recently, trends in government program administration offer an opportunity for designers to participate after launch as well, in program evaluation.

Government programs are increasingly required to include evaluations as part of their budget, guaranteeing high quality and evaluating on a continuing basis so impact is clear. The federal government is driving nudges in budget allocation that set aside grant funding for evaluation. This incentivizes building on programs that are demonstrably successful and will ideally improve government initiatives over all. Evaluation takes the form of randomized, controlled trials where researchers select people to enroll in a program, organize a control group of individuals not enrolled and then measure the differences between the two.

Massachusetts is engaging in this evaluation-based approach, launching the largest social impact bond in the United States. The state is partnering with Roca for what is known as the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Pay for Success Project that aims to keep at-risk young men out of prison and employed. Roca is working with three other organizations for advisory services and upfront financial support, but according to the terms of a social impact bond, the program must have and meet specific, tangible goals in order to receive state funding. If randomized controlled trials show that the goals are met, the Commonwealth will contribute $11.7 million in funding procured from the US Department of Labor.


Opportunities for designers

David Bornstein’s analysis of these evaluation programs critiques that federal agencies fall short on maintaining standards of rigor and packaging evidence in accessible and timely ways. David Leonhardt’s article on the topic similarly cautions that “none of this work is sexy” and that those who oppose the process insist that measurement is too hard.

These shortcomings create an intriguing opportunity for human centered designers. Visual designers can convey evidence so that it is digestible and compelling. They can also help to create toolkits and guides to help organizations navigate the complex measurement process. Design researchers can use ethnographic methods to give quick but rich insight into how programs are impacting participants. Design thinkers can streamline the various components of these initiatives, taking a systems approach to the products and services involved. Finally, designers can help translate findings into opportunity areas for program improvement going forward.

It’s an exciting time for social innovation as sectors work together and experiment with ways to create more intentional and iterative programs. Let’s figure out, as a design industry, how we can join in this realm of possibility.




The Innovation Hype: What's useful in all the buzz?

The word “innovation” is brandished everywhere. It’s a compelling concept and every day we enjoy working with our clients to deliver them its promise. According to Google Ngram Viewer (which calculates the frequency of word use in publications between 1800 and 2008), “innovation” was used 73% more frequently in 2008 than it was in 1908. The increase was particularly steep between 1962 and 1974 and then again between 1993 and 2006. Why is it so popular? What are the different types of innovation so that we can be more specific when we use it? How are innovation concepts and theories commonly misused and how can they be helpfully applied instead? To answer these questions, I’m going to walk through highlights from a recent New Yorker article and examine Clayton Christensen and Don Norman’s innovation theories.


Why so popular?

Jill Lepore recently wrote a provocative article on the way society uses the term innovation - and particularly Clayton Christensen’s “disruptive innovation.” An American History professor at Harvard, she lays out an interesting historical review of the use of “innovation,” contextualizing its popularity within increasing global tensions and economic downturn. Change and improvement were synonymous in the 18th and 19th centuries when words like “progress” and “evolution” were more prominent. However, in the 21st century, she suggests society uses “innovation” and “disruption” to instead “skirt the question of whether a novelty is an improvement: the world may not be getting better and better but our devices are getting newer and newer.” This is an unsettling conclusion, pointing out the desperation and insecurity of modern day. It’s our challenge - and responsibility - as designers and innovation leaders to deliver novelty that also has a positive impact on society. A deeper understanding of the types and methods of innovation can help us reach this goal.  


Clayton Christensen helps us balance two types of success

Every innovation strategy firm has their own definition of innovation, so for today’s post I’m going to take us out of the design/innovation industry and bring us into academia. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School is the author of Innovator’s Dilemma, which examines how established companies can do everything “right” yet still miss out on market opportunity and even fail. Competitors (often startups) “disrupt” by offering a lower-quality, cheaper product and therefore tap a new market.

How can Christensen’s theory strengthen our work? While many brandish the word “disruption” in a sensational and convoluted way (see Lepore’s full article for more on that topic), it is actually a defined phenomena that can be avoided. We can help our clients create strategies to avoid being vulnerable to disruption or even to disrupt a competitor themselves. We can also calm client’s fears that if they don’t disrupt the market, they will be disrupted themselves and therefore fail. There are other options; being disrupted doesn’t mean complete failure. Christensen has a concept called “sustaining technologies.” For example, U.S. Steel was disrupted by minimills, but the company did not fail as a result. Yes, it missed out on additional opportunity, but it still succeeded by focusing resources on a premium product (sustaining its technology) that minimills couldn’t threaten. Finally, the above relates to established clients, but emergent clients can also benefit from more deeply understanding the disruptive landscape. It’s important to caution that while Innovator’s Dilemma paints a romantic and appealing picture of entrepreneurship, it is a theory that explains why established firms fail, not a theory as to how startups succeed. Disrupting for disruption’s sake doesn’t necessarily make a successful startup. We can guide our startup clients to form productive strategies that are both disruptive and sustaining, with short term and long term benefits.

Don Norman helps us choose the right methodology for the job

Don Norman formerly of Northwestern University (among other faculty positions) breaks down innovation into “incremental” and “radical” and examines who produces each and how. Incremental innovation, similar to Christensen’s “sustaining technologies,” involves the steady improvement of product quality and is the most common type of innovation. Human-centered designers and design researchers contribute to this development process, identifying opportunities to make the product more usable, useful and desirable. Radical innovation, the more exciting but much more rare of the two, involves a technological breakthrough driven by an inventor’s exploration. His position that HCD does not create radical innovation has been met with much critique and spurs interesting discussion. In the end, like Christensen, Norman's theories similarly acknowledge how thrilling strokes of genius as well as consistent and reliable progress are valuable to companies.

As for the application of incremental and radical to a client context, this distinction helps us choose and justify our methodologies. His classification clarifies what clients can expect from each approach: radical innovation will jump to new design parameters but will not immediately produce a superior-quality product while user research will improve the quality of a product but will not create technological breakthrough. Both contribute to intellectual advancement, but in different ways and with their own limitations. Norman helps us align client expectations with outcomes.

A Christensen and Norman recap…

The more we hear and are asked to deliver “innovation,” the more important it is to be clear about what we mean and what we can create. These two theories can give us helpful frameworks as we guide diverse client types through the messiness of change.

These are the rules of innovation we learn from Christensen and Norman: 

  1. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement; it can just be newness. Make it an improvement.
  2. Disruptive technologies have market advantage because they are cheaper, simpler and therefore are accessible to a wider audience
  3. If you don’t disrupt, you can sustain. Sustainable technologies are also profitable and valuable to a business.
  4. Established businesses can have disruptive or sustainable technologies. Emerging businesses can have disruptive or sustainable technologies. Generally, it’s easier for startups to launch a disruptive technology.
  5. We know disruption happens and is something to be aware of. We don’t necessarily know how to avoid it or how to lead it.
  6. Most innovations are incremental.
  7. Radical innovations are very rare and hard to come by.
  8. Human-centered design and design research create incremental innovations.
  9. Technological invention creates radical innovation.


NYCxDesign Week - Part 2

Following the "It" convention of the NE IDSA conference we move to some of the trends from NYCxDesign week 2014. To echo our observations from last year the underlying trend was simplicity, the less is more mantra is still holding strong in 2014. 

Stain it. 

The broad use of colored stains on wood furniture was a pleasant surprise this year; the satin to matte finish quality with the underlying texture of the wood grain worked very well on many pieces. The stand out use of this finishing technique was on the furniture Muuto who has a great line of new products this year. 


Slice it.

Not entirely new, but the diagonal geometry trend is holding strong: Bold and accented lines and intersections; a visual disruption to classic lines. The furniture of Asher Isrealow with intricate brass inlays was skillfully executed, leading into our next trend. 


Bronze it.

The use of warm metallics; bronze, gold, copper finishes has exploded across the furniture and lighting scene. This is a trend we have been following for the past few years and it was fully embraced by designers like Tom Dixon who's booth was a beacon for all things bling. 


Light it.

The advances and availability of LED's for commercial lighting applications as sparked a huge push toward creative lighting solutions. The LEDs are so small that they can fit into anything making it possible to turn any object big or small into a light source for the home or office. 


Print it.

The last of the trends I wanted to share this year was the 3D print aesthetic, these cellular structures, repeating patterns, and natural formations can be related to the 3D prototyping processes that are allowing designers to push the limits of forms and materials. A great looking and smelling piece with this influence was the compressed coffee grounds table created by Amma Studio creates pieces with various reclaimed materials that celebrate this layered 3D print aesthetic. 


Overall there was lots to be inspired by at ICFF and NYCxDesign week this year and we look forward to what the designers of the world bring to the show in 2015!





NYCxDesign Week - Part 1

NYCxDESIGN Week was buzzing with great events this year!

May was all about design in NYC. Starting off with a well timed IDSA North East regional conference focused on Industrial Design and its relationship with startups and entrepreneurs.  The themes for this year were Design it. Build it. Fund it. and they were great prompts for some interesting speakers to share their experiences. Below are some of my picks for each.


From the “Design It” session Mark Prommel from Pensa shared the how the firm’s “openness” to publicly sharing conceptual work lead them to finding great collaborators, investors, and ultimatly the confidence to form Pensa Labs. One of the stories he presented was Street Charge, a project that evolved from a loose concept into multiple collaborations that lead to a licencing deal with AT&T who now has the product installed in public parks all over New York City to compliment AT&T's free wifi initiative.

In “Build It” a great talk came from Lauren Slowik, Designer Evangelist at Shapeways who presented the 3d printing service as a great venue for designers interested in quickly turning their ideas into products that can be purchased directly by consumers in a variety of materials. The print to order business model is a very interesting shift from the high volume plastic part mentality that so many corporations are familiar with. She wrapped up the presentations by sharing Shapeways’ collaboration with Nescafe who uses the service to print a cool faceted part for an "alarm cap" instant coffee lid.


Lastly “Fund it”, we heard from Miriam Bekkouche from the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, Debera Johnson from the new Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator at Pratt, and Zack Schildhorn VP and Director from the venture capitalist firm, Lux Capital. There are many options available for entrepreneurs and designers to get funding for their projects and each option comes with its own set of pros and cons. If you want to retain 100% control over your company or project it would be wise to avoid VC’s who will gain power to direct decisions in order to make the business a good return on investment. A common thread among the "Fund It" presentations was the significant investment and groundwork required by the creator(s) in order to be successful. 


To wrap up the day a informative talk on intellectual property and patents came from Charles Mauro of NauroNewMedia. He stressed the importance of confidentiality and protecting designs before sharing them on public platforms. By publicly sharing a design you immediately compromise your ability to file a design patent. It is also worth noting the difference between a design patent (how a product looks) and a utility patent (how a product works) which you can read more about on the recently updated USPTO website.

The legal weight of design patents has really been brought to light because of the Apple vs. Samsung trial of 2012 where Apple was awarded $1.05 Billion dollars for Samsung’s copying the visual characteristics of the iPhone outlined in Apple's design patents. - Mauro

It was great to hear this information shared at a IDSA conference that was well attended by young designers and students who may not of known the importance of design patents.

So, Design it. Build it. Fund it. and the lasting message of the day Protect it. concluded a great one day sprint of a conference full of useful information in our rapidly evolving industry. Stay tuned for Part 2, a NYCxDesign Week trend report to be posted soon!


Designing Health: Beyond The Electronic Medical Record

I recently attended HxRefactored, a healthcare conference aiming to “bring designers and developers together to improve the health experience.” The conference, held in Brooklyn, NY, indeed pulled quite a crowd and surfaced some interesting perspectives. It consisted primarily of talks, workshops, and panel discussions pertaining to “development” or “design” within the context of the health experience. I attended a dozen talks examining topics ranging from design research techniques (i.e. journey mapping, persona development, use scenarios) to…online pornography, I’ll explain in a minute. I’d like to share some of my takeaways as well as extend the discussion. The current state of the health experience is fragmented and limited in scope- failing to connect disparate sources of data into one cohesive system that paints a clear picture for individuals and society as a whole.  

Back to online porn, Cindy Gallop, of TED fame, created the website (landing page is SFW). The site, which is not anti-porn, serves to educate the public about the differences between porn and real world sex. It does so through user generated content that is indeed real. What made Gallop’s talk relevant in a comparatively sterile health/design conference was just that- healthcare solutions in the past, have been sterilized and hard to relate to due to a lack of human emotion and holistic understanding. For example, Gallop explained that in order to really influence something, “you need to change the language around it.” That has certainly started to happen in the health world- although there are some parts of the industry that seem stuck in the past, specifically Electronic Medical Records (EMR).

In the current world of healthcare software solutions, EMR attract an incredible amount of mindshare and resources- EMR seemed to dominate the conference, perhaps because they are and have been the status quo for so long. What is an EMR? At the core, this is the software that some doctors furiously type into when you go in for a visit, attempting to document everything. In the past, medical records were paper-based files that detailed your hospital visits (or “encounters” in EMR language, friendly right?) prescriptions, injuries, conditions, etc. There has been an immense amount of academic and commercial study of EMRs in an effort to assess and improve upon them (notably, David, G. 2012)- I’ll add only a little to the pile, focusing more on opportunities and examples that look at how design has already helped the evolution of the health experience. EMR systems are just the beginning.

1. EMR & Information overload

EMR vendors seem to be stuck in a strange position where they don’t want to get caught not having a certain piece of information available in their software (even with so many third party EMR customization vendors). The result is information overload for the person entering data into the EMR during a visit (i.e. your doctor). This has numerous negative impacts.

- Incredibly high information density, which works for some people in certain contexts, demands the doctor’s full attention. This means decreased attention on you, the patient (i.e. Eye contact, emotional understanding, support) 

- Increased time needed for input. Doctors are busy. Every minute spent on an EMR related task is a minute not spent on actual patient care. Combine this with the already tight time constraints doctors face.

- Ethnographic design research (such as David, G. 2009 Discovering Work Through Ethnography) has been leveraged to help understand the reality of the entire context in which EMR data is collected, stored, and used. This has helped gain insight into the true needs and desires of the various stakeholders, without having such a negative impact on the actual health experience- needless to say, continuous field research is needed, especially efforts that take a step back to examine the health experience as a whole, and take into account new sources of data generation that are being created.

2. Not enough of the right information

The nitty-gritty details that make up our lives (and health) don’t fit neatly into the empty text fields of a clunky computer system. Information collected in EMR is not telling the whole story- it fails to connect the dots that fall outside of “encounters”. This is not an invitation for more text fields. Systems could integrate data from both existing and new methods of data collection that is more relevant, timely, accurate, and actionable (think outside the hospital i.e. wearables and other examples in #5 below). When data from disparate sources is pulled together, it will be easier to spot patterns in the population (i.e. through machine learning), leading to new health insights. The aforementioned advances combined with human doctors and researchers will revolutionize our health.

3. Poor (or no) visual representation of health data

One fantastic speaker at the HxRefactored conference, Stephen P. Anderson (, spoke of designing for understanding. He visually explained how effective visualizations can vastly improve our comprehension of data. Yet most EMR interfaces still look like they’re stuck in the mid-90’s. Visualizations are useful not only for displaying data, but also for entering and manipulating data (think sliders, interactivity). 

4. Limited visibility into my data -> less ownership

The data contained in your EMR is all about you, yet, have you seen yours? Sure it is available upon request, but why isn’t your health information streamed directly to you in real-time? Why isn’t it easily available to you? If you visit the doctor’s office and are diagnosed with something, rather than a rack of paper pamphlets in the waiting area, health data and preventative/corrective actions could be made more customized and relevant to you, so that you can act on it.  

5. New Technologies: HealthTech/DigitalHealth/mHealth

I’ve already touched upon future technologies, below are some specific examples of products that are mostly available today. The future of the health experience exists in concepts such as “user generated healthcare”, “lifestyle based intervention”, and “predictive medicine”. These new opportunity spaces are made possible by advances in [often mobile] technology, and fueled by the desire for an understandable, realistic, affordable, and actionable perspective on one’s own health. The examples I’ve selected will by no means instantly make the world healthier, but just may help act as scaffolding for future growth and awareness of our health.   

Cue $150 ( 

Cue is a “deep” health tracker that uses lab grade tissue processing to provide you with a detailed look at your health (i.e. testosterone level, inflammation, fertility, influenza, and vitamin D). The companion smartphone app tracks these variables over time and provides suggestions on how to correct your levels. Never before has such technology existed for home use.


Wello $199 ( 

“It’s more than an iPhone case, it’s a powerful health monitoring device” that uses imbedded sensors (in an iPhone case) to deliver a snapshot of your health. It measures your heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen level, respiration, stress level, heart activity, and temperature. It gives you affordable access to data that used to require expensive equipment- and most importantly you carry it with you wherever you go. 


uChek $99 ( 

Uses your iPhone’s camera and flash to analyze urine analysis test strips at home. The companion app helps you track levels of various chemical and vitamin levels in your body (i.e. Bilirubin, Ketone, pH, Protein, Urobilinogen, Nitrite, and Leukocytes) it also helps you make sense of what the key indicators mean so that you can make smart adjustments to your lifestyle/diet.


Wearable fitness monitors from fitbit, Basis, Jawbone etc. $59-$199 

These have been around in one form or another for years, but the price, functionality, and acceptability is now more in-line with the mainstream expectations. Awareness of what these devices can do has continued to improve- and new offerings with advanced features are sprouting up.  

Neuma $1,500 (

Neumitra (one of the aforementioned advanced offerings) is a stress management data analytics startup that offers a unique personal stress monitoring and management service. Using embedded sensors, Neuma provides real-time, in the moment, stress feedback. Essential worked to create a low-profile, wrist-worn sensor that monitors the users relative stress level to provide visual and tactile feedback while worn, and more detailed visualizations through the users mobile device. Integrated calendars and location services allow users to understand event and location based stressors to further their understanding and stress management effectiveness.


WellDoc ( 

WellDoc is a diabetes monitoring and education system that operates outside the clinical setting. Essential’s research with physicians and patients enabled WellDoc to create smart Web and mobile tools that coach diabetes patients to improved clinical outcomes and serve as a model for other chronic diseases.


MeYou Health ( 

MeYou Health is a healthcare start-up created by Healthways to engage, educate, and empower people to pursue healthy lifestyles. Through multiple engagements, Essential has helped MeYou Health and Healthways form early perspectives and user experience strategy in areas core to their mission. Essential used the process of participatory research to explore the ways in which potential customers define well-being, connect well-being and social networks, and physically map their interpersonal interactions, motivations, and barriers relating to wellness. From these rich activities we identified patterns that helped frame a user-driven product development strategy for using game and social network dynamics as motivation for people to achieve lasting health and wellness-promoting behavior change. 

iRobot RP-VITA (

iRobot and InTouch Health partnered to create a revolutionary new telepresence robot that extends the reach of physicians and nurses everywhere. Essential gave RP-VITA its human touch through the integrated design of a remote control app, onboard interface and industrial design, putting the patient/caregiver connection at the forefront of every design decision.

Apple HealthKit & Samsung’s Digital Health Initiative 

Apple announced a connected health platform, called HealthKit, that brings together data from the growing array of connected health devices into one place on your iOS device, which may unlock the power of Apple’s ecosystem to millions of customers (the way that only Apple seems to be able to do). Rival Samsung, also jumped onboard with it’s own Digital Health Initiative aiming to fund health software programs with an initial $50 million fund. Samsung combined that arm of their initiative with a hardware based health tracking platform, called SAMI, to keep tabs on your body at all times. With such large players aligning resources behind the new health experience, it seems that things are about to get a lot more interesting...