A creative outlet to customize inhaler for kids with asthma

/Service Design   /Reframing


In the United States, 1 in 10 children suffers from asthma. Having asthma is hard, not only in terms of difficulty breathing or trips to the emergency room, but also as regards the feeling of isolation and embarrassment. However, the usual solutions in the market are mostly about medicine management. Social and emotional support are surprisingly insufficient.

How can we provide social and emotional support to empower children with asthma?

Date Mar - May 2017, 8 weeks

Client Philips Healthcare

Team Adella Guo, Caroline Hermans, Adena Lin, Jesse Wilson

Course CMU 51-785 Designing for Service

Instructor Prof. Molly Steenson

Design Outcome

FunHaler: an outlet for children with asthma to customize their inhalers

To solve the challenge, we designed FunHaler, a creative service for kids to customize their inhalers for treatment. 

How it work

1. Log on to the FunHaler website

2. Choose your favourite colors and stickers

3. Enter your prescription and payment

3. An asthma care package arrives in the mail

Watch Mia's story of using FunHaler

Design Process

/ Secondary research and stakeholder interview

Getting to know asthma

Without any knowledge about asthma in the beginning, we first conducted secondary research to familiarize ourselves with the topic. We looked into multiple asthma-related topics including medicine and medical issues, symptoms, triggers, restriction on kids’ daily life, dealing with asthma as a caregiver, etc. From secondary research, we were able to map out all stakeholders to kids with asthma. We then reached out to 5 different kinds of stakeholders and interviewed 14 people in total. The research laid out foundation for us to gain insights.

clustering secondary research findings

stakeholder map

Stakeholder interviews






asthma patients





/ Customer journey map & findings synthesis

Lack of social and emotional support to kids with asthma

As we clustered our research findings, we created a journey map from the kids’ perspective and identified the breakdowns and possible opportunities along the journey.

Key insights

Children with illness can feel isolated. The lack of emotional support makes them feel even more lonely.

"I'm always so embarrassed by my inhaler. I feel left out of certain events because I have asthma."
--- Alyss, patient

Awareness and education is important for children.

"Children were avoiding sitting next to a child that has bad case of eczema. They just didn't know enough about it and thought she looked dirty. Children, if it looks different, and you don't explain it, they get shunned."
--- Lisa, teacher

Kids with asthma are still just kids. The like something that looks "cool".

"I put google eyes and I stuck some feathers on an inhaler, and I made it into a finger puppet." --- Emma, teacher

As we synthesized all our findings, we found that kids with asthma at school were suffering from emotional isolation and misunderstanding, but there were almost no relevant service in the market to support them in such way. Therefore, our team decided to focus on providing emotional support to normalize asthma and give the kids chances to "shine" in the classroom.

/ Brainstorming & Ideation

How might we empower children with asthma?

Through brainstorming and visioning, our group came up with a lot of ideas, among which we finally narrowed down to two concepts.

Concept 1 - Asthma Academy
make school more asthma-friendly

Asthm Academy: a non-profit consultancy that goes into schools and works with students and teachers to increase awareness of asthma with the aim of demystifying and normalizing it.

Concept 2 - Custom Inhaler
make asthma and the kids "cool"

A website service which allows children and their parents to custom design their own inhalers. The service would include the creation of a cartoon or comic that features the child with their customized inhaler, this comic would emphasize the “superpowers” that the child and inhaler have. Then the customized FunHaler and comic book would ship to the child’s home in the same manner that inhalers currently arrive.

For the fist concept, we realize that the numbers of students in any given school with asthma may be low and thus reduce the need for this service, however this concept need not be limited to asthma. Based on feedbacks from our professor and peers, we decided to pursue the FunHaler idea further!

How we deal with health insurance

As we started mapping out the service blueprint, we realized that there was a big hole in our knowledge of how to complete this project: insurance. People with asthma go to the pharmacy to pick up their prescription, and traditionally this entire process is handled by a pharmacy. In order to support an online service that fills prescriptions, we explored both traditional models such as an in-person pharmacy and less traditional models, particularly Warby Parker for online prescription filling and Amazon for general online purchases.
We discovered that Warby Parker’s model is very in line with what we could do for our service, however, it lacks the ability to communicate with your insurance before purchasing. This means you have to pay full price, and be reimbursed by insurance later. Due to time limitation, we were not able to speak to pharmacists and people who know more about the insurance business. However, through Warby Parker, our basic insurance flow is supported.

Based on what we learnt, we created our final service blueprint as a bird view of the whole service.

/ Physical & digital prototyping

How do we know if it's fun?

To test out the ideas, we created blank, 3D printed inhalers. With them, we ran an inhaler decorating workshop. We brought a ton of craft supplies and prompted students to create their own designs, and then we sat back and watched what everyone came up with and how they reacted to the ideas.

Insights from the workshop

The workshop turned to be a success and helped validated our concepts.

1. People love customization. Our participants had a lot of fun designing and creating their own artwork. Some people worked on their design for over 30 minutes.

2. Customizing inhalers made people think about inhalers in a new way. Of our 12 participants, 2 of them had asthma. One of them brought her own inhaler and decorated that. She said over and over how she was so excited for her inhaler to be pretty. The other person with asthma said that especially in elementary and middle school, a custom inhaler would have really helped her accept her asthma. Through the workshop, people started looking at inhalers as “fun”.

3. People like characters, color choices, and creative freedom. They also like stickers. This helped us figure out what types of customization options we would give to people on the website. 

Clearly, people enjoy the physical construction aspect, but since our service is online, we need to strike a balance between physical construction and manufacturing. Our solution is that we’ll have people design the colors and plastic that they’d like, and then let them add sticker packs to really own their design.

Website design

Due to time limitation and the service nature of this project, we didn't spend too much time on website design but instead delivered a framework and flow to make sure the process is understandable.

Since the website is facing children and their parents, we made the layout and process as simple as possible. We also created a style guide with bright colors and proxima soft typefaces to create warm and playful feeling.

Home Page
Custom Page
Prescription Submit Page

/ More projects