Medical Device Projects for a Design Student

This semester I wanted to jump on a different category of design and after some initial research I have decided that I want to tackle a device for sleep apnea.

My questions is this:

Am I setting myself up to fail doing a medical device project as a design student?

My reasoning for this thought is due to all the regulations and testing necessary for medical equipment. I’m sure that I could come with an innovative concept (based on my research) however, I’m a bit nervous going forward as I think the biggest gap in my portfolio is in doing products that could get made tomorrow.

I’d love any advice!

Thanks for your time,

I definitely don’t think so, and think it could be a great addition.

However, it can be tough to know when to step back from research and commit to a direction. I took on a medical device project in school and didn’t firmly decide upon an exact direction until too late in the game (so the form development, details, and story didn’t form into something good).

Part of the trouble was also that it was in a gray zone between {working and believable} on one end and {conceptual, ideal use case} on the other … and didn’t really hit either of those goals. I sought the advice of some teachers who had experience in that field, but again, a little too late.

Aaron, I think having a medical device project will add a lot of diversity to your portfolio. Remember, you didn’t crash test your car either. It is a student project, people understand that. The important thing is to go through the process. Research, develop insights, define a problem, develop opportunities, explore solutions, refine a design.

I did many medical devices while in school.

Almost no reason not to. Almost because my schooling predated HIPAA, I had it easy. In the post HIPAA world it will be harder to interview/test with patients, but certainly not impossible.

Here will be your next biggest hurdle, if you make a claim, you need to prove it. Because of that, you will need to move to prototype as soon as possible. Drawings and secondary research can point you towards the claim, but they do absolutely nothing in terms of proving the claim. I can’t look at a drawing and say, “That will work.” I have no idea if it will work until it actually works.

What part of sleep apnea will you be doing? The diagnosis portion or the treatment portion? I ask because the treatment portion has been done, a lot. The diagnosis end has been largely ignored. Many more opportunities there, imo.

Thanks guys,

That takes a little weight off my shoulders, so far my portfolio reviews have gone well but I feel my skillsets still aren’t up to par with some of the top students out of school, more work to come.

As far as the direction on this project I’m not entirely sure. This project is required to be “Inside-Out Design”

Here is an example from Kevin Reyes, he took this class about a year ago: Behance

The only requirement for this project is that the inside components are embraced and become the exterior aesthetics. I can’t say I’m too thrilled about that, but I’m going to do my best to treat this like any other project where I identify the problems and then justify a reason that my design is “Inside Out”.

I agree that the diagnosis process for sleep apnea is a huge problem, being that the majority of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed. However, I’m really not sure how I can apply the diagnosis segment to this project. If this were any other semester I would try and tackle the entire system of sleep apnea, however I’m being given some really rushed project deadlines in order to make a full-scale final appearance model. One thing that really caught my attention is that 80% of people with sleep apnea are overweight, and the first thing mentioned by sleep doctors is a recommendation to lose weight. CPAP machines shouldn’t be used as a device people use for the rest of their lives. It should be used to give people an opportunity to live healthier lives.

I’m going to rename this thread and begin updating on my project briefs within the next week, any advice moving forward would be greatly appreciated!


The first step tends to be a portable monitor and done at home. These tend to be way too complicated for the user.

The second step is a PSG. Horribly invasive and expensive. And can this second step be eliminated?

You tell me.


I just want to echo what everyone else said and defiantly go through with the medical project. I just finished up a self directed medical project for my folio and it was a great experience and it has gotten good feedback as well. I would advise though to be weary of specific medication focused issues. I ran into a ton of trouble finding research and even getting in touch with experts when my focus was so focused on a specific medication treatment. In my case, my initial research was too closely tied to IP protected drugs and drug research that it was difficult for to find experts willing to talk. I ended up using all this though to direct me to new opportunities. Also you could use this as an opportunity to reach out to consultancies with experience in the field, designers at a few of these places served as a great resource for my project.