The winning design concept in our “Most Creative” category this year was an interactive toy called Jerry the Bear with Diabetes:
So who is “Design for America” and how did they come up with the concept of an interactive toy, and accompanying web community (something like Webkinz for diabetic kids)?
Turns out that Design for America is a new interdisciplinary student group at Northwestern University that focuses on “projects with a social impact.” You can view their wiki here. Altogether, there are about 40-50 members, who meet weekly to work on design challenges, partnering with various outside organizations. There’s also a Summer Fellows program that works with nonprofits, social services agencies, hospitals, etc. for a number of Health & Wellness projects, a very hot topic at the moment.
Some examples of the challenges they’re tackling now are working with a local hospital on hand washing compliance: Why is it so difficult to get people to do this? They’ll design a new product or process to encourage more hand-washing. They’re also working with a social services agency similar to a boys and girls club afterschool program on attraction and retention of kids in underprivileged neighborhoods in Chicago.
“They’re mostly engineers, but also some students from Arts & Sciences,” says Katy Mess, a staffer at Northwestern who’s the Design for America Coach and Strategist. “A core group of about 10 students worked on the DiabetesMine Design Challenge. They’re remarkable students — a lot of them are just freshman and sophomores. They’re eager to make an impact on the world,” she says.
Katy tells me that a number of students in the group have close family members with diabetes, so they were passionate about addressing the emotional needs of this illness.
The group did “lots of brainstorming… looking into type 1 and type 2 diabetes and the unmet needs, and this (solution for newly diagnosed children) was the favorite,” Katy says.
The group interviewed physicians treating diabetes, and also “went and talked to kids at a clinic for diabetes in Chicago.” They felt that a cuddly bear living with the same condition could help make children feel more comfortable with all the monitoring and administering of insulin that diabetes requires.
And our judges agreed. As noted, we felt that having a stuffed animal friend who also has diabetes is sure to help “normalize” the situation. To date, there aren’t any viable toys for kids with diabetes that offer an interactive experience.
Jerry the Bear, with his own functioning glucose meter, toy syringe, and glucose tablets — and his voice that tells kids how he feels — could be an ideal teaching tool for newly diagnosed children in hospitals around the country. The student group has also envisioned an online playspace, where kids could see and care for Jerry in full graphic action.
Will the group push forward to make this design a reality? “We very much hope so. It has great potential,” says Katy.
btw, even before the winners’ were unveiled, the students had voted to donate any cash winnings back into the Design for America program.
Congrats to these students! We certainly hope the funds will help you take your diabetes design concept to the next level.