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Under the hood

Sleep and respiratory

Under the hood

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“Observation becomes empathy when we use our design research to confront our own biases and assumptions about who we are, not just our biases and assumptions about who our users are.” 

-Dieter Rams

This issue features the second installment of our new series Under the hood: where we uncover insights and stories from Design professionals and others who imagine and realize the solutions that help us sleep better, breathe better, and live healthier lives.

Tom Bonnell

Under the hood

An interview with Tom Bonnell - Head of Design, Sleep & Respiratory Care at Philips

Hello Tom. Thank you for joining us. Let’s start here: as a design professional, how do you think design helps play a role to improve healthcare?


Great, inspiring design brings our propositions – that is the value and experience we provide to our customers and users – to life. It makes them engaging, compelling and ultimately desirable.


Positive sleep or respiratory patient outcomes often require treatments that are not necessarily “passive” in nature. By nature, they require an active engagement. For example, some therapies require that people wear a device – at home, at work, while travelling. And some conditions must be managed and treated over long periods of time, over the course of an individual’s life. Great design can make those points of engagement – those everyday interactions that contribute to improving health – easier to navigate, easier to manage. Easier to understand in terms of what the treatment is doing physiologically to the patient, what impact is it having. Helping answer: is anything changing or improving?

And great design fits into, and works within context of, people’s lives. A recent Philips example is our InnoSpire Go, which is a portable nebulizer specifically designed to enable active, on the go lifestyles, giving moms and dads confidence to send their asthmatic child to school.

InnoSpireGo image

How has design as a function impacted how innovators approach healthcare?

In the past, we tended to focus on creating this one very specific therapy for this one very specific thing. Within Philips, the growth and commitment to design and design thinking has in some ways changed the way we view the world. Project teams are starting to recognize that there is more to the experience than just delivering the therapy itself. There is potential for greater gains by taking a holistic view and looking at the broader experience – which can translate to meaningful things such as therapy compliance over time.

Great design can create greater impact, greater gains, beyond just at the product level. In other words, we are moving beyond a single proposition, to more of a holistic solution or ecosystem point of view. We create not just products, but also services that go with the product (whether physical or digital). We see it in the industry. Even though there were service designers 10-15 years ago, there wasn’t that recognition of the huge value of the service or digital/interaction design that there is today.

How do you approach a design challenge?

Think of the patient as what they are first and foremost, a person. View the challenge through the lens of this person, and their journey. First, one becomes aware of having a problem. There is the experience of trying to understand what that problem is and what it means, and there can be a lot of anxiety involved. Then there is often some point in time where one decides, “well ok I have this problem, now what do I do?” Of course, things are not always so linear.


By engaging with actual people and involving them in the development process, we can understand what that whole journey currently looks like. This helps us answer: how do we make a new journey that is better, easier to travel through. We seek to identify the opportunities along that journey where we – meaning Philips – can help make improvements. We see that maybe we need to create multiple, new propositions at various points along that journey to enhance the experience start to finish.


We also need to look well beyond the therapy device. To a supporting app that monitors performance in order to keep people engaged and compliant over time. Maybe we see that we need to create a portable travel device – because part of the patient journey includes vacation or frequent business trips. 

“So I have my sleep therapy device at home, but I am a business person and don’t want to haul this big thing around.”


“Am I getting better?”


“Am I staying the same?”

The point is: involving  people and really digging deep into their experience, we may uncover a host of unspoken needs. How do I clean the device? How do I clean it on the road? Am I improving? We can uncover many areas of opportunity for Philips to provide additional value, and solve unmet needs.

What processes do you use to uncover insights, and why?

Cocreate image

Philips uses the co-create process. Essentially, this is our branded approach and mindset to promote collaboration across functions, departments, and (very important) end users.


Why do we follow this approach? For one: to make sure our personal biases are not clouding the creative process. We want to bring our expertise – our design expertise, marketing, technical – but not our preconceived notions about what we think is right for the end user – whether a physician, DME, or patient. And two, and this is: it encourages radical empathy for our customers, so this drives design. Involving them, spending time with them to gather insights and feedback, helps create designs that resonate with them, are meaningful for them. In short, it helps us to create more effective, impactful solutions.  Plus you may learn that the proposition you set out with is not really what is needed. You learn the difference from what you think they want, vs. what is really needed to achieve whatever the end objective is.

Consumerization icon

What is unique about designing for the sleep and respiratory category?

Sleep and respiratory propositions have always fallen in the sweet spot between serious medical and consumer. People need clinical solutions to help improve their lives. Most of our sleep and respiratory propositions are used at home or in public, the context makes them as much “consumer” while also conveying confidence and trust in these serious health propositions. We've always had that approach and mindset.


In this digital age, consumer expectations are though the roof. Now I as a consumer can buy something on my phone or by simply talking to a piece of hardware or click in an app and have it delivered to my door the next day. That is my expectation. Even though we may have a serious highly sophisticated medical grade app, it still has deliver the same kind of interactions that I have come to expect if I were using a consumer solution. And we have to think bigger about the entire experience of treatment and maintaining health, beyond just a single interaction.

What does Design success look like?

With great and inspiring design, there is a clear and compelling value proposition communicated, experienced. By truly understanding what someone wants and needs, we design something that not only meets those expectations, but has delivers something a little bit more than that. Something that is a delighter – it delights the end user. And it is true to the Philips brand. If you are using a Philips product, should get the sense, “you get me.” The solution is easy to use; it fits my life, in an elegant kind of way.

What does the future hold?

Of course we cannot talk about specific pipeline innovations, but suffice it to say that we continue to look at some of the most pressing challenges, and greatest areas of opportunity within the sleep and respiratory segment. Our role is to help envision the future of the Sleep & Respiratory Care business, while delivering on our current pipeline of innovations. How can we connect great sleep and breathing solutions into the bigger ecosystem of health and wellness? How can things like nutrition, exercise, air quality and even dental hygiene, connect to better sleep, better breathing and a better life.

Thank you Tom for your time.

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