CARD: Asthma Inhaler
CARD is a credit card sized emergency asthma inhaler designed to be discreetly stored in a wallet, purse, or bag so that asthma patients always have an inhaler on them wherever they go.
Asthma patients often find themselves in situations where they do not use their emergency inhaler when they need to. Through my research I found that one of the main reasons this happens is because people often don’t have their inhaler on them when they need it the most. Because of this finding, I aimed to find a solution to this issue.
My inspiration for this project was my younger brother, who’s been living with asthma his whole life. Because of this, I already had an intimate understanding of what it’s like to live with asthma, and some ideas of why people don’t use their emergency inhalers when necessary. My assumption was that people don’t want to deal with the social stigma of using an inhaler in public in front of friends and colleagues and that they didn’t always have their inhaler with them.
Guiding Research Questions
- Do most people not use their inhalers because of the social stigma around inhalers, because they don’t carry their inhalers, or another reason?
- Why and in what settings do people not use their inhalers?
My first round of research was designing a brief survey to test my assumptions, collect experiences, and connect with a broader set of individuals to interview later. I sent the survey out to friends and family, and posted it on asthma related forums and subreddits. I was able to get a broad range of responses quickly, however, the majority of participants were between the ages of 18 and 34. Through this initial survey I found that while social stigma was a driving motive behind not using an inhaler when necessary, the main issue was people forgetting or purposefully not carrying their inhaler with them.
Based on the survey results, I decided to narrow my focus on the issue of people forgetting to or purposefully not carrying their inhaler with them. Through interviews with asthma patients, I found that there was a large subgroup of asthma patients who had mild cases of asthma who did not carry inhalers with them because they were an inconvenience or didn’t own an inhaler because they couldn’t afford one. These are people who rarely get asthma attacks, anywhere from once a month to a couple of times a year. I saw this as an opportunity space to design a low cost, portable, limited use inhaler.
While doing this research to understand asthma patients, I dissected existing inhalers. I read, watched videos, and gathered inhalers from friends and family to take apart. All in an effort to understand how the different types of inhalers functioned and figure out the pros and cons of each type.
There are a handful of items that most people carry with them at all times: their phone, wallet/purse, and keys. I knew whatever I designed had to fit into people’s existing behavior and somehow integrate with one or more of these items. This led to my first three concepts, a credit card sized inhaler that lives in a wallet, a keychain inhaler that lives on a keychain, and an inhaler built into a Fitbit-like wrist band.
I created two personas in an effort to decide on a direction. One was a 25 year old single man who relies on public transportation and works in retail. The second was a 48 year old married mother of two kinds who has a successful career, busy family life, and spends large amounts of time driving. I created these two personas because they embodied two very different types of people who I needed to design for.
Through using testing rough prototypes and ongoing conversations with asthma patients I decided to focus on refining the design of the credit card sized asthma inhaler.
Key Chain Inhaler
- Could contain significantly more uses in one device.
- Could be refillable and more environmentally friendly.
- Could use an aerosol propelled medication to more easily deliver the medication.
- More complex mechanisms introduces more potential points of failure.
- People could lose track of how many uses were left (something already a problem with existing inhalers).
- Some people said the bulk of existing inhalers is why they didn’t carry them around. This would be less bulky, but still bulkier than a credit card sized inhaler.
Credit Card Inhaler
- Small enough to be stored anywhere without adding noticeable bulk.
- Single use leads to lower cost per device, allowing people to keep multiple scattered across multiple locations such as their home, office, wallet, and bags. This way they’ll always have an inhaler on them even if they forget.
- Single use means users will know when they need another.
- Single use may lead to a higher cost per use.
- Single use would lead to more waste.
- May be susceptible to damage because of the nature of the shape and thickness.
I went through multiple iterations of size, folding patterns, and shape based on testing. Because these would be used in potentially stressful emergency situations, I found that ease of use was extremely important. In studying existing DISKUS inhalers, I found that getting air to flow through the expanded device was important to get right if the device is to work reliably.
Design & Fabrication
The final design relied on shape and color to suggest how the device should be used without having to read anything, aiding in stressful emergency situations. I choose to fit two inhalers on one credit card sized footprint so that users have two doses in case they need both before they’re able to refill with more doses. The way the device is folded and joined together allows the dry-powder capsule to be split open by squeezing the device open. When inhaling, an opening in the back allows air to flow across the dry-powder capsule, picking up the medicine and delivering it to the user.
When deciding how to brand the device I chose to use an existing asthma inhaler brand as the basis and act like my device was a new addition to their product range. I chose ProAir mainly because their products were already more design conscious than others on the market and their branding most closely aligned with my initial concepts.