HINT - Our own eHealth startup

When you have a team of 60+ creatives, brilliant ideas are bound to happen.
By summer 2015 when we held our first ‘Startupathon’, it was already clear to us that the lean startup approach is the fastest way to bring new product ideas to life. We already had the success of Fritzing under our belt (a software and community that makes electronics easy), and we achieved some impressive results with startup clients like Mimi and Cardio Secur. Creating a platform within IXDS to promote entrepreneurship and innovation was a no-brainer.

First, we invited employees and friends of IXDS to come forward with their startup ideas on the topic of ‘Technology for Elderly’. Over one weekend, they developed their concepts using startup methodology and pitched to a panel of startup-expert judges. The winner was a young design intern with a vision: to create a simple solution that would help her grandma overcome forgetfulness.

And behold, HINT was born. A smart reminder system for the home, designed to support those with age-related memory loss and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). A team of three founders within IXDS were granted three months of funding, co-working space and expert support to turn this idea into a viable, investable business.

“As my first foray into hardware, I was a little daunted about defining a meaningful MVP for HINT, but it’s so much easier to build on a solid foundation. With the environment and infrastructure that IXDS already has, we were able to build a prototype quickly and shorten our development cycle.”

Bryony Cooper
Designing the product

The first step to designing our service was going to visit prospective users to gain some insight into the lives of people in this age group. We wanted to know what a normal day looks like for them, what values are important to them, what methods they currently use to remember everyday tasks, and what difficulties they encounter.

What we found through conducting interviews (both with elderly people and those working closely with them) is that the users want to feel independent and in control of their lives. They don’t want to feel monitored or have their privacy invaded, so it was important to find a product design that doesn’t instantly remind them of hospitals or medical devices. They don’t want to be reminded of their impairment every time they see it.

For this reason, HINT should be as much a lifestyle product as it is a healthcare one; something that anyone could use as a helper in their daily life - not just elderly people suffering from MCI. In fact, HINTs can be useful for everyone: for kids doing chores in the household or young women with their daily contraceptive pill. It’s the only smart reminder system that’s not dependent on a smartphone, so it’s ideal for younger children or elderly people who might not use one.

Retired people spend a lot of time at home. We wanted an unobtrusive design that integrates into their familiar surroundings, something aesthetically pleasing, and noticeable only when it’s needed. The idea is to place several HINT devices around the home, at the points where you need to take action. So if you water the plants every Tuesday afternoon, attach a HINT to your plant pot and it will notify you when the time is right.

HINT uses ambient notifications in three steps, like a traffic light, to gently remind the user when it’s time to do a task. The yellow stage is your window of opportunity, when you could (and should) still remember yourself. It only turns red and then starts a sound alert if you’ve missed this time window and really need reminding. One click on the device confirms you’ve completed your task and resets the color to green.

Each HINT is programmed online, and this may be done by a relative or carer if necessary, though we kept the setup very simple. A lot of companies have claimed their product is so simple that even your granny could do it - in our case, we took that quite literally!

The user can share updates of their progress in real time to reassure family members or keep care workers in the loop. This saves you having to call and check up all the time, giving you peace of mind even when you’re far away from loved ones.

There are some important learnings from the users that helped shape the design of this service and guide the development of our product.

Simplicity. We know from our interviews that technology can be daunting for older people, so complexity is a no go. These smart buttons have one use only, and no multiple options that might confuse the user.

Familiarity. The reminder most predominantly used by elderly people is the humble post-it; they write everything down. So we incorporated this into the design, allowing the user to attach a post-it to each HINT device. This introduces a familiar feeling, adding a tangible, analogue approach to support the digital technology. It’s also handy if you have multiple HINTs in one room, to clarify which one is for what!

Necessity. The HINT system should go unnoticed until it is necessary. So the colored lights and sound notifications only activate when it’s time to do a task, or if you’ve already forgotten; otherwise, it blends into the background and doesn’t disturb you.

What we learned along the way

Building a startup in-house at IXDS labs taught us a lot about identifying viable, scalable business models, and how business design and strategy ties in with the development of great products and services. We also learned some lessons the hard way, speeding through iterations of the product in such a short time!

HINT was the first startup to be created within IXDS labs, and it certainly won’t be the last; we already have some great wins, like being invited to the finals of Startup Bootcamp, appearing at Web Summit 2015 and being selected as one of the top 21 interesting startups by Tech Crunch. As they say, watch this space...