How to tick off your user….

The other night I was peacefully asleep, enjoying a pleasant dream, when suddenly….


After a few confusing seconds, I realized it wasn’t my alarm clock. It was my Personal Diabetes Manager (PDM) gently reminding me to test my blood sugar. Yes, I was expecting it, but, no … that didn’t make me any less annoyed.

That’s what happens when you sacrifice the user experience and design to cover your … Pod.

If you’ve read this post, you already know I’m an OmniPod wearer. OmniPod is a two-part insulin pump system from Insulet; I wear a Pod adhered to my body that administers insulin and I control the Pod with the PDM.

I’ve been using the system for three years and have been immensely pleased with it. Insulet seemed to have done the research to truly understand their users – something Daedalus advocates and perpetually strives for.

So I had high hopes for the recently FDA-approved second generation. Those hopes have been surpassed with the new Pods. Smaller, but capable of holding the same amount of insulin, the new Pod is lighter, easier to wear, and more comfortable.

But I’m disappointed with the new PDM. Why? Well, first there’s that gentle reminder to test my blood sugar. I put on a new Pod every three days, and that reminder goes off exactly 90 minutes after I put on a new one. It’s a great idea in theory – in those rare cases where something goes wrong with the new Pod, I’ll catch it before my blood sugar rises too much. But if I put on a new Pod within 90 minutes of going to bed… well you know what happens. Usually I schedule Pod changes to avoid being woken up, but on that particular night the Pod I was wearing failed unexpectedly just as I was climbing into bed. I seriously thought about not putting on a new Pod until morning, so I could sleep in peace – but that would have meant a really high blood sugar by the time morning arrived. 

There are also several new confirmations that mean added button presses just to perform basic functions like testing my blood or giving myself insulin.

But neither of these is the change that irks me the most. The one that does was such as simple change…

There used to be two ways to turn on the PDM – press a button for the status screen or insert a test strip to activate the glucometer. Now, the first screen is always an ID screen allowing me to verify that my PDM is my PDM. So 12+ times a day, I have to confirm that I am me – every time I test my blood, every time I administer insulin, every time I want to check my records or change my settings or do anything  – yes, I am Carolynn…yes, I am Carolynn…YES, I AM CAROLYNN!!!!

As a designer of medical devices, I understand why they made this change. Obviously, a multi OmniPod household reported an adverse event to the FDA – maybe Mom grabbed the wrong PDM and instead of giving herself insulin, administered some to little Timmy causing a hypoglycemia event. Insulet obviously has an obligation to reduce that danger.

I get it. Really, I do. But in the three years I’ve been using OmniPod, how many times do you think I’ve picked up someone else’s PDM? I have yet to even knowingly encounter another OmniPod user.

Multi OmniPod households are a very small minority of the user base. Insulet’s solution for a few means extra work for most. Rather than create a smarter PDM, they put the burden of identification on the user. They solved an internal liability problem by compromising the user experience. And from reading comments on OmniPod forums, users aren’t happy about it.

You may be thinking that this isn’t any worse than a person who passcode-protects their smart phone and perpetually enters the code. But there is a difference: the smart phone user opted into that feature. I didn’t. And there is no way to opt out; just as there is no way to opt out of the 90-minute reminder, or the extra confirmation screens.

I’ve argued in the past that the path to creating a great product lies only in understanding your user. Without that understanding, you may create a good product – one that lets the user accomplish goals in a straightforward, easy manner – but you won’t create a great product that your users love and one that drives word-of-mouth.

Rather than create elegant solutions for their problems, Insulet’s second generation PDM put the onus of solving those problems on the user. Will these changes drive users to the competition? Right now, there is no competition in patch pumps. But that will change, and when it does, Insulet needs to make sure that they have the best option on the market – one that serves their users instead of covering their backside.