Worldwide 175 million people now have diabetes and 300 million are expected to have it by 2025. In August, 2002 the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that diabetes jumped 33 per cent nationally, to six per cent, between 1990 and 1998. The rise crossed races and age groups but was sharpest – at about 70 per cent – among people aged 30 to 39. 

Several widely publicised clinical trials have shown that by keeping glucose levels near normal through close blood glucose monitoring, diabetics can avoid complications such as liver, heart, kidney and eye damage and live healthy lives.

A cheap, user friendly, fast blood glucose monitor enables those diagnosed to keep their blood sugar levels near normal. 

Betachek G5 is the fastest monitor available (results in less than five seconds) and is a simple one step test. The meter is also inexpensive, retailing for around $80 Australian. 

National Diagnostic Products are the developers and manufacturers of Betachek G5. Brandon Bransgrove, a Director of the Sydney based company says Betachek has been several years in the making with earlier versions constantly modified and improved.

“NDP has been in the diagnostics business since 1988 when the company began work on developing its rapid dry reagent chemistry. These are glucose test strips now sold worldwide for use by diabetics in testing blood sugar levels,” he explained.

“Some of our products can be read by matching a test result to a colour chart, and some require instruments or ‘meters’ for greater accuracy.

“Prior to Betachek G5 our meters were developed in conjunction with other companies that manufacture instruments on behalf of diagnostic companies.

“The G5 model is our fifth meter and the first one to be manufactured in-house. As it is manufactured here in Australia it was important to design it in a way that kept the labour component in the production process to a minimum.

“The styling and form was heavily influenced by mobile telephones, but we wanted a ‘sexier’ shape, with lots of curves and rounded edges wherever possible.

“This new shape also had a practical benefit in that it allows the meter to be kept cleaner than one where there are grooves and recesses. Blood often fouls glucose meters.”

The technology applied to Betachek G5 is a world first, attracting praise from the panel of judges who voted it a winner.

“The chemistry for the Betachek G5 system was developed over several years,” Bransgrove explained.

“It represents the evolution of proprietary membrane technology used in other test strips sold by NDP. The electronics and optical pathways were developed by NDP with electronics engineers, Bull Consulting Services.

“The biggest hurdle by far was the membrane technology which separates red blood cells from plasma and then accurately measures the glucose present in under five seconds using a tiny two microlitre sample of blood.

"Oxygen problems, different haematocrits (thickness of blood), interfering substances in the blood, temperature dependence of enzymes, sample volume dependence and many other technical problems were significant obstacles to achieving the required sensitivity, accuracy and precision in record time. 

“For the meter the biggest hurdle was waiting for the technology to become available at the right price. This took several years.” 

Bransgrove said management and staff at NDP were honoured with the Australian Design of the Year Award, which they would use to promote through marketing including stickers on the boxed product and brochures as well as promotion at conventions.

“Betachek G5 will now be mass produced and sold all over the world. All feedback will be monitored and the product will be modified if necessary to improve its acceptance. Many improvements are planned for implementation after the first 10,000 meters are sold. 

Bransgrove says the product has applications in accident and emergency use as well as in the home, both nationally and overseas.

“Although the product will find its way into accident and emergency use, the biggest segment of the market is home monitoring. The incidence of diabetes continues to rise rapidly in all countries.

"The Betachek G5 will be sold through our existing distribution network and will address a real need for a reliable and cost effective means of monitoring blood sugar levels.”

Curve asked Nielsen Design Associates, to share the experience. Director, Sandy McNeil takes us behind the scenes.

The project had a very modest beginning and was intended to be a very straightforward job. When Brandon introduced the project to me, I thought that it was a fantastic product .

The product had fabulous design potential, there were plenty of existing meters but they were all a bit straight or serious or not quite there, even boring. I felt there was absolutely no reason why a blood glucose meter shouldn’t be hip, a funky desirable product that was not in the rather awful prosthetic limb beige colour. 

To meet the deadline and the budget, the team would be required to score a hole-in-one in every stage of the project. Confident about the team’s skills though I was, I was also aware that outstanding results are rarely achieved on the first attempt, so perhaps the very foundations of the project would lead to an adequate but ordinary result.

As you might well imagine, adequate but ordinary results are not the sort of things that motivate designers to leap out of bed in the morning and race into the studio.

To my very great relief our client was, well perhaps not a perfectionist, but certainly hell-bent on developing a great product.

Whilst at the outset the client may have believed that the standard of design required just had to be good, this seemed to change along the way, perhaps it was the chemistry that developed within and between the various teams working on the product that progressively drove up the quality of the outcome – a sort of contagious excellence that resulted in a truly outstanding design. 

The construction, function, form and finish needed to project a professional image for a company that vends a quality brand. From this point of view, it was going to be a very subtle combination of form, feel and function to balance desirability with pragmatism. 

Following the fabulous success of the product launch at an international trade fair, (success in this instance came in the form of a ‘scrum’ around their tiny stand for the entire four days of the world’s most highly regarded medical product expo), Brandon shared with me his reflections about the product’s reception by the international community.

He reasoned that the product was well received because of the congruency of the whole package, every aspect was beautifully resolved, the function, the feature list, the looks, the feel, the sound, the packaging and promotional material. 

The biggest issue seemed to be a credibility gap! How could it be that this small, practically unheard of company from the antipodes has produced such an outstanding product? Perhaps we overshot the mark! 

Initially there were three teams working in parallel on the product’s development: National Diagnostic Products had developed the chemistry, construction and manufacturing technology for the test strips.

The strip insertion mechanics were still under development.  Bull Consulting Services was briefed to develop the electronics and software and Nielsen Design Associates were briefed to provide the industrial design input. Later in the project Red Razoo Design were engaged to develop the product branding, packaging and literature.

The core industrial design team consisted of four designers and I was the design director on the project, I liaised with the client, briefed and managed the designers, directed the development and contributed to various detail issues.

I am sure that designers always complain about the inadequacy of the development budget, that there is not enough money for this or for that. So, when I say that the budget was tight perhaps you think “Oh! Not this old whinge again.” But it is important to set the scene for the beginning of the project.

We confronted this challenge before the project began. The available budget would not support our traditional development approach. I discussed with NDP how the development path might be streamlined to yield a solution that met its needs, within its budget.

A few parts of the normal development process just had to go. Other parts of the process became optional and could be implemented should the need arise.

This alternative approach required additional involvement by the client and came with additional risk that the client was prepared to accept.

It was agreed that the client would work very closely with us, so that knowledge about competing  products and user preferences would be readily accessible to our designers.

Wherever possible the client was to evaluate design proposals in our studio, during development, so that time spent on preparing presentation material could be minimised or eliminated.

It was anticipated that only a single form would be developed and that form validation models and prototypes would only be produced where considered absolutely necessary.

A priority was to make the product very compact, NDP had a particular size in mind, which it believed would give its product a significant advantage in the international marketplace, we moved heaven and earth to try to achieve this.

Whilst we started at the pragmatic end of the project, with one eye on rationalising the component arrangement and minimising overall size and the component numbers, we could not help but anticipate the impact that decisions at this level would have on the overall form.

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