Boothies Use Design-First Strategy to Try and Solve T1 Diabetes Challenges

by Pooja Dave, Class of 2020

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Last weekend, on Nov. 10, two teams from Booth, CHIdeation and Maroon Mid-westerners, participated at the Kellogg Design Competition (KDC), an initiative sponsored by Medtronic. Along with 38 other teams from across three countries, 12 resolute Boothies rolled up their sleeves and spent 3 weeks on intense user research, interviews, ideation and iteration to respond to the prompt “How might we address the behavioral and psychological barriers in Type 1 (T1) diabetes patients to the adoption of insulin pump therapy?”

In the lead up to the final demo day, three workshops - on user-research, storytelling and problem solving - helped us structure our approach to the problem from a design-first perspective. The experience helped “[open] my eyes to what design thinking is all about” according to Shining Li from Team CHIdeation. Nicole Newman from Team Maroons “never thought [she] could learn so much in so little time.”

In order to understand the space more deeply, both teams spoke with T1 patients, their friends and family, and MD/MBA students. The teams also received special assistance from Professor Michael Alter and Professor Lindsey Lyman to systematically distill insights from these conversations and build solutions around them.
One fascinating part of the design-centric journey was building user empathy. In order to better understand the issues faced by our target audience, a few of us carried around mockup versions of a wired insulin pump strapped onto our waist in order to empathize with the physical and social challenges faced by pump users. Akhil Naru of Team Maroons “underestimated how much we could learn just by talking to our target stakeholders” and noted that these personal insights translated into more valuable inspiration than any survey.

An example of a mock-up worn by team members to try and empathize with the difficulties and frustrations felt by users of existing insulin pump technology.

An example of a mock-up worn by team members to try and empathize with the difficulties and frustrations felt by users of existing insulin pump technology.

Our teams spent many an afternoon on brainstorming sessions to “diverge” (a creative problem solving approach pioneered by IDEO to incorporate divergent viewpoints) on solutions and come up with a refreshing range of ideas such as a smart tooth-cap sensor that auto-detects carbs/glucose in the food and auto-adjusts insulin secretion, or a skin-colored pump that conforms to body shape. There were some more viable and feasible solutions that we “converged” on.


Our hosts conducted 3D printing and typography workshops as we waited for finalist selections. While the behavioral, social and psychological challenges for T1 diabetes were difficult to demystify, this complex problem was unpacked with great dexterity by the finalists (students from Rotman, Berkeley, and Kellogg) - who were poised, polished and purposeful. They addressed different pain points in the ecosystem - educating and hand-holding parents of very young patients, crowd-sourcing diabetes awareness and diabetes-friendly food on demand. The winning solution was around creating customer-friendly free-trials with a viable business plan and feasible technical solution.

“KDC was a great opportunity to build unique and valuable problem-solving skills, as well as to meet new classmates,” said Claire Olsen, Team Maroons, although the sentiment was shared by us all. We walked away with a varied set of perspectives and design-centric toolkit to approach problem-solving. We also embraced the overwhelming realization of how privileged we are on the health front, giving us something to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.


Team Maroons, including Author Pooja Dave (left), in the photo on the left, and Team CHIdeation on the right learned and implemented design-centric problem solving principles in the Kellogg Design Competition while facing off against 38 other teams. This year’s challenge focused on overcoming barriers related to treatment of Type 1 diabetes.