By: Nic Dhanam
A few weeks ago I was packing for a trip. It was going to be my first time out of the state since being diagnosed with IBS which meant packing for the first time with a lot of new travel habits. I was sitting on my bed struggling to fit all of my pill bottles into my toiletry bag and I thought about going to the drug store and getting one of those weekly organizers. A lot of my pill bottles have “as needed” written on the side and besides, I was going to be gone for more than a week, that wasn’t going to help. I actually had a moment where I thought “there has to be a better way”, then I realized there was a smart pillbox in my backpack. Because I had designed it.
“In some combination of luck and planning, I ended up building exactly the product I’d need…”
When I first started working on EllieGrid, I didn’t think I would need one for a long time. As a matter of fact, it was something that frequently worried me. Sure we did our research, we interviewed people, I had people with the problems we were solving that I could ask questions, but I didn’t need the product myself. Frequently entrepreneurs are told to “stick to what you know” and I believe that’s good advice most of the time. I didn’t really have that luxury when I started building this product. In some combination of luck and planning, I ended up building exactly the product I’d need a couple months later and that was honestly kind of incredible for me.
There is one point on our design checklist in particular that I didn’t understand the full value of until recently. The bullet point says “An empowering design that doesn’t feel stigmatizing”. I’m an engineer, and to me that honestly sounded a little like fluff when we first wrote it down. For most products I buy for myself I’m very function driven. However, I don’t think your health is a topic that can be approached without emotion. It’s not easy to talk to people about the reasons we take medications. Anything that you can do to disguise or “dress up” the uncomfortable topic is valuable. I’m 23. I have IBS and take anti-anxiety medication (something unduly stigmatized in the South Asian community). I’m not ashamed of these facts, but they don’t exactly make good first date conversation.
So despite the fact that EllieGrid checks my functional checkboxes, I think the ability to delay or reframe that conversation might be even more valuable. Having the first thing someone asks me when I pull out my pills be “that’s cool, what’s that thing” might let me delay the conversation of what’s in it to the third date. A small victory, but to people who have many aspects of their lives governed by chronic conditions, it’s incredibly significant.