IDEO CoLab Makeathon 2016

80+ designers, entrepreneurs, researchers, and makers selected from a pool of 1,000+ applicants came together in Boston to examine the intersection between emerging technologies and the five core human needs: Mobility, Work, Health, Money, and Food.



“Well, not like it’s a big deal, but I just don’t feel like asking for special recommendations—maybe I just don’t feel comfortable telling others that I am diabetic.”  
- J. R., 56 year old

Our team was assigned “VR/AR” and “Food” as our themes and during our first brainstorming session, one of our team members shared a story about the restaurant experience of his grandparent, a type 2 diabetic who had a hard time adjusting to his new lifestyle, especially to the new eating habits. The rest of the team all related to this experience one way or the other. We all have family members or friends who are diagnosed as type 2 diabetes and are embarrassed in public to ask for a special menu for diabetic. To have a more comprehensive understanding of their situations, we call our family members and friends who are or are close to diabetic patients. Our findings are as follows:

  1. Although our sample size is small, all of our interviewees are type 2 diabetics, which means that they have to adjust their lifestyle habits
  2. Our interviewees express helplessness of forgetting their health condition, especially when it comes to ordering food
  3. Our interviewees feel embarrassed to ask in public if the restaurant has special recommendations for diabetics, since they are unwilling to admit that they have that condition
  4. We learned that the daily insulin input for the diabetics depend on what they’v eaten that day
  5. It is quite difficult for newly-diagnosed diabetics to incorporate daily insulin injection as a routine

We could have gone further to do more research online. But due to our time constraint, we decide to focus on the discoveries above and define our problem space based off these discoveries. 

Defining the problem

Newly-diagnosed Diabetics have trouble adjusting to their new lifestyles and are uncomfortable sharing their health condition with others, especially in public spaces. 


“I would not want anyone, or anything, to tell me not eat an burger when I really want to. That sucks!”
- Dan DeRuntz, Design Director @ IDEO CoLab


After we defined our problem space, we started ideating through coming up with “how might we” questions. We narrowed down to three questions that are essential to coming up with a well-rounded solution. 

  • HMW inform the diabetics about their food choices while protecting their privacies? 
  • HMW remind the diabetics without undermining their restaurant experience? 
  • HMW help form habits in an educative and friendly way? 

After another brainstorming sessions in response to the HMWs above, we decided to build a two part system that has a mobile application and an AR application on a head-mounted device (e.g. Google Glass). The data collected by the AR device will be sent to the mobile application, which will calculate the daily dosage of insulin input for the patient (precision medicine) as well as planning and suggesting future food choices for the patient by learning their eating behaviors. 


We built four iterations based off the feedback we received from the IDEO staff who acted as “potential users”. 

After gathering the feedback, I started using Photoshop and Sketch to mock up a conceptual mobile application under tight time constraint, while my teammate used Unity to build a AR mock that was able to recognize menu items and show relative information. 

We also drafted the business model feasibility for our application together. 

Our final prototype successfully addressed the problem space. 





We had less than 30 minutes left to complete our user testing because we spent a huge amount of our time iterating upon prototypes. Although we did not have any actual user to test on since there was not any diabetic patient present. All the participants of the Makeathon became our potentail users and they enjoyed their experience. One said: “I would like to see this to develop further into a general lifestyle app for anyone who needs special food accommodation. I am allergic to nuts.” 



What have I learned?

I feel lucky to be one of the 80 participants out of more than 800 applicants to experience this design sprint with some of the most talented designers out there. I learned to iteration quickly under time constraints and stress, I learned to ask better questions for more valuable feedbacks, and I learned to work with strangers, who became my friends in 8 hours. I think I’v walked out of the Fidelity Building feeling more confident as a designer—the experience is definitely not about moving pixels and making things look nice, but thinking holistically and empathetically.