The future of industrial design and technology is in good young hands. That’s my overwhelming reaction after welcoming to Cambridge Consultants the winner and runners-up of a major student award we sponsored to honour excellence in breakthrough design.
We’ve been supporting the New Designers awards programme for a number of years now, enthused by the way this annual show connects talented design graduates with businesses like ours. In my role as Head of User Centred Design here, I relish the enthusiasm, fresh lateral thinking and sheer talent displayed by the next generation of industrial designers. This year was certainly no exception.
As is usual for our participation in the event, a team of colleagues and I set a brief for the show – this time to challenge students in the Breakthrough Design Award category. We were joined by a host of big name sponsors for the other categories, from Anglepoise, Aardman Academy and Habitat to Ford, Wilko and John Lewis & Partners. In all, more than 33 top prizes were up for grabs.
We were delighted to award first prize in the Cambridge Consultants section to Alice McCutcheon of Loughborough University for her incredible ‘Corti’ patch pump design, to improve the management of Addison’s disease. Along with my fellow judges, I was blown away by the extraordinary breadth of thinking and attention to detail that went into Alice’s design. When we welcomed Alice and the runners-up to a well-ventilated reception hosted in the top-floor suite of our Cambridge HQ, I was eager to sit down and discuss the inspiration for her creation.
I began by asking Alice what it was that drew her to industrial design in the first place.
Alice: “For me it was the potential to change lives and improve the quality of those lives that drew me in. I feel that it’s a really great mix between design and engineering – you kind of feel a little like an inventor as well, it’s really thrilling. I love getting an exciting new brief, having lots of crazy ideas come to you, and then turn that into a tangible product that you eventually see people using. And I do like choosing products that have a big impact on people’s lives, especially when their needs haven’t been considered before.”
That last point brought me neatly on to asking about her choice of project, based around the problems faced by sufferers of Addison’s disease.
Alice: “It’s also known as adrenal insufficiency and occurs when the adrenal glands don't make enough of the hormone cortisol. I knew I wanted to concentrate on the medical side and something immediately caught my eye in that there were a lot of unique things about this illness. For example, it’s a lifelong problem that people have, but there is a real gap in the market when it comes to helping them. My tutor has a friend who suffers from the disease, so my research really began there.”
As judges, we were impressed by Alice’s sophisticated and well executed patch pump design – particularly the depth of usability research and critical thinking. I asked her to give me an elevator pitch of its merits.
Alice: “The disease affects around 28,000 people in the UK, and the key pain points they have at the moment include the fact that they have to take three or four types of medication every day for the whole of their lives. This has to be adjusted daily depending on different stresses – they might not produce enough cortisol – and it can lead to them being very ill. So essentially what they have to deal with is bruising and infection, especially if they use insulin infusion pumps, which obviously aren’t really for this illness.
“The Corti device uses microneedle technology to deliver the hydrocortisone medication directly into the bloodstream, which helps to relieve the problematic fluctuation in symptoms. It also reduced the threat of infection because it uses a built-in cortisol sensor to create a semi-automatic dose adjustment system which regulates the dose – users don’t have to do that themselves. This was causing the people I spoke to huge fatigue, they felt they were consumed by the illness. The device also uses readings to alert the user and adjust doses to avert the danger of an adrenal crisis, which can be fatal in around one in five occurrences.”
Alice’s design incorporates an array of clever features, from the micro linear actuator that drives dosage and relays the cortisol sensor information, to the microneedle technology and biocompatible hypoallergenic silicon adhesives. I asked her about her key design focus.
Alice: “I’m very much user centred and for me the most fascinating part is listening to what the users think and need. Then it’s about ideation, brainstorming ideas – for me it’s the variety that keeps things really interesting. In this project I really also enjoyed the technical side of things, looking into the emerging technologies, how we can use AI and machine learning. The device links to an app with a symptoms tracker and the ability to relay an optimal dosage with AI and reminders about when to change the consumables and so on. The excitement comes from the variety.”
Alice and the runners-up were invited to Cambridge Consultants to spend time with design teams in two of our divisions – medical technology and industrial, consumer and energy. Their entries were then reviewed, and prizes awarded by Chief Sales Officer Tim Fowler. Along with £500, Alice’s design career will benefit from a period of support from the company. And well deserved it is too.
Before I sign off…
As a postscript to the awards, I just wanted to mention how much my design colleagues here enjoyed the ND Connect initiative, a key part of the New Designers programme. Students took the opportunity to have their portfolios reviewed by members of the Cambridge Consultants team – and benefit from constructive feedback with a real-world industry perspective. Our impressions of their work chime with what I said at the beginning – the future of design is in great hands.