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The Branding Mind Behind The Obama Campaign Is Now Tackling Health Care At Tech Startup Scanadu

Scott Thomas wants to empower patients with information about their well-being.

Scott Thomas earned his stripes in visual design—you probably recognize his work from the 2008 Obama campaign and the design of Fast Company‘s website—but he’s now heading into new territory: leading product design at the health-focused product startup Scanadu. While abruptly transitioning from one field to another might seem like a head scratcher, Thomas views it as two sides of the same coin. “The fundamental principles are the same,” he says. “Whether it’s a product or a software, you’re thinking about it in the fourth dimension, which is space and time.”

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Scanadu is responsible for Scout, the Yves Behar–designed medical device that measures temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and hemoglobin just by holding it next to your temple. The company is in the process of obtaining FDA approval and has raised nearly $50 million in funding to date.

Thomas spearheaded some early marketing initiatives for Scout and has been working with the company on and off for the past three years. Now he’s tasked with building out a design team at Scanadu that will be focused on three key elements of the company: industrial design, branding, and software.

For Thomas, the move from visual to physical isn’t as dramatic as suddenly taking on health care. He admits it’s a little uncomfortable for him, but believes that discomfort breeds creativity. “I think that there are also a lot of designers that are out there that are maybe stuck in the same space, designing products for designers, for design’s sake and not thinking about design for change and going into areas that are uncomfortable,” he says. “Health care is a place that’s more uncomfortable for me, but then again I didn’t participate politically before Obama’s campaign. The impact that design can have on these ‘archaic’ industries is huge . . . In the past, I’ve done work around change. I like to be a disruptor in spaces. The health care industry is really ripe for innovation.”

But considering that the UI will be a critical element of the product and messaging, Thomas’s background in visual design makes sense. Especially since Scanadu is also building and designing the accompanying smartphone app.

“It will require us to un-jargon the jargon that is medical language. One of the reasons [the transition] is an exciting move for me is that it’s new terrain and it’s also similar. At its core, the principles are the same. The interactions you experience on your phone or computer need to be simple, clear, and understandable. When you think about the physical, it needs to be simple, clear, and understandable.”

Thomas views information collecting and information presentation as two important drivers behind Scout. It’s not just saying your blood pressure is 120/80, but interpreting what that means and giving you the knowledge to take the right actions.

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“People have been so disenfranchised form their health. It’s been in the control of doctors, insurance companies—everyone other than themselves. The next step is making the landscape of health more accessible.”

Seeing as the industrial design of the Scout is pretty well defined—the first 8,000 backers on Indiegogo have already received units—the most arduous tasks now are figuring out how users will interact with the technology via its software and bringing it to market. If Thomas can apply his experience developing visual systems that communicate complex information to Scanadu’s next chapters, the Scout has potential to be a breakout product.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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