It’s 3 a.m., and your baby is crying. You go into the room and realize he’s burning up. The options from here are bleak–probe your thrashing child with a steel-tipped rectal thermometer, or swipe across his head with an unreliable skin thermometer. And even if he’s in the safe range and falls back asleep, chances are good you’ll be up for the rest of the night worrying.
The Fever Scout ($59) is an enticing new entrant to the $800 million digital thermometer industry. It’s a reusable sticker that you apply to your baby’s torso to constantly monitor his temperature. Via Bluetooth and an accompanying app, it will send a trend graph of temperature updates to your phone, and even wake you in the middle of the night if a fever gets too high.
The stick-on circuit technology is from Vivalnk, which enlisted NewDealDesign–the San Francisco firm formerly behind devices like the Fitbit, and more recently, the Sproutling baby monitor–to transform the sci-fi tech into a consumer product. The problem was, of course, that the device can’t look like it belongs in a hospital or it’s scary. Because the worst case scenario for The Fever Scout would be that, instead of being a device that can worry for a parent, it became a conduit to amplify their concerns with more data points.
“We wanted to make this into a fun thing. So it’s actually kind of a symbol of activity,” says Gadi Amit, founder of NewDealDesign. “We didn’t want it to be too medical.”
In terms of the core industrial design, the team had few formal limitations. The designers’ first idea, a simple dot, was hard to implement because the device’s battery had to be physically separated from the antenna to avoid interference. But beyond that, there weren’t really any rules. A stick-on circuit with virtually no hard or large components could look like anything. As our electronics continue to shrink in size and grow more flexible, design studios will face a new challenge: What should a device look like when it can basically look like anything?
“Dematerialization is a big issue. You suddenly have no constraints, but at the same time, you’re looking for something iconic,” Amit says. “What is the form of something that’s so amorphous? It was actually a big debate.”
New Deal created a strip, but realized that it just looked like a Band-Aid. A “V” was proposed instead, but a “V” lacks any direction (there’s no Nike swoosh appeal to a V at all). Then the designers came up with another idea: the zigzag. The zigzag was an immediate favorite for a few reasons: It was unique-looking, it tied back to the temperature graphs in the app, it was more positive than a flat line, and its geometry actually wrapped and stuck to a child’s rib area well. “There’s a little [form follows function], but it’s mostly about the icon,” Amit says. “I call it a missing metaphor. We need to fill in a gap that the physical and digital don’t give us.”
The Fever Scout is on pre-order now to ship in early 2016.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the price at $99 when it is $59.