Designing a digital lifeline: explore the world’s first ECG device by D-Heart

Interview with D-Heart’s founder, Nicolò Briante, and Edgardo Angelini, partner of Design Group Italia

Brilliantly specializing in the conceptualization, development and production of innovative medical devices and services – D-Heart is an Italian biomedical start-up founded in 2015 by Nicolò Briante and Niccolò Maurizi.

Today, even with wearable devices such as the Fitbit and Apple Watch – the main challenge in healthcare is obtaining concrete medical conclusions from the data collected. 

“With the mission of promoting the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and shaping the ultimate expression of personalized medicine – D-Heart is the first smartphone ECG device clinically reliable, simple to use, portable and affordable” says Briante.

Even with no medical background, it allows one to perform a hospital-level ECG in total autonomy and send the results to a 24/7 telecardiology service or trusted doctor.

Beautifully reflecting the D-Heart brand where simplicity meets reliability – every element from the physical device to the digital app and packaging is designed by Design Group Italia.

© D-Heart

Turning ideas into a reality with a 360-degree approach – Design Group Italia is an international multidisciplinary design studio headquartered in Milan. 

Mastering the intersection between physical and digital, they innovatively envision the future through data and research and fabricate tangible solutions to spark meaningful change.

With cardiovascular diseases representing the leading cause of death and being at heart of the health agenda globally – DesignWanted decided to interview Nicolò Briante (co-founder of D-Heart) and Edgardo Angelini (Partner of Design Group Italia). 

Scroll to step inside the future of medicine and know more about this game-changing, smartphone ECG device:

Could you please tell us more about the founders of D-Heart – Nicolò Briante e Niccolò Maurizi and how you met?

Nicolò Briante: I met Niccolò Maurizi at the university. At the time, we were two young students in the interdisciplinary environment of the Almo Collegio Borromeo of Pavia. 

Maurizi was a young doctor researcher in cardiology at the University of Florence. When he was sixteen, he was hit by a myocardial infarction and decided to become a doctor and transform his problem into an opportunity. 

Putting our will and dream together, we created D-Heart – the first smartphone ECG device that skillfully combines the usability required by the patient and reliability of the ECG wanted by the doctor.

How did the idea of ​​D-Heart and a portable electrocardiograph come about? 

Nicolò Briante: The idea of ​​D-Heart and a portable electrocardiograph stemmed from a magazine – Internazionale – to which we were both subscribed. 

This magazine condensed reflections of great value collected by journalists. However, amongst all the articles – two of them caught our attention.

The first one challenged the myth that cancer – the greatest concern of the 21st century – was the leading cause of death.

Although in reality, analyzing the data at a geographical and demographic level – its numbers are low compared to other types of fatal diseases.

Amongst all, cardiovascular diseases from a stroke to a heart attack are the most life threatening today.

Cardiovascular diseases affect both developed and less developed countries.

This led us to come up with a way of making the prevention and monitoring of cardiovascular diseases easier and outside of hospitals.

The second article revolved around mobile phones that today have a great processing capacity – much higher than the computers of the 2000’s – but haven’t been exploited to the fullest capacity yet. 

Out of the endless number of potential uses, the article went on to highlight how a mobile phone could be utilized to carry out diagnostic tests at home or in the pharmacy. 

This is how the opportunity and​​ the idea of D-Heart – a portable electrocardiograph – was born. 

D-Heart by Nicolò Briante & Design Group Italia
© D-Heart

How was the first prototype of ​​D-Heart made?

Nicolò Briante: The first prototype of D-Heart was 3D-printed. However, this electrocardiogram could only make limited diagnosis. 

We then went on to explore further and found a company that had the necessary skills to perfect the model. 

How was the first funding collected to get this idea started?

Nicolò Briante: We started this inspiring journey with no money at the age of 23.

From this, we then went on to being funded by several companies and foundations with our best promotion being word of mouth.

With the Vodafone Foundation – we received their first funding of 30k which was utilized for the prototype and tests of the product on healthcare professionals and patients. 

This was followed by our second funding of 200k with which we added new features as there were micro-themes of product usability that had to be addressed with priority. 

After a lot of brainstorming of what changes needed to be made and how to implement them – the development took place in collaboration with Design Group Italia as well as an engineering and production team who took care of the product and its integration with a smartphone.

Why was Design Group Italia chosen to design this product?

Nicolò Briante: With no background in design whatsoever – we were looking for a studio to collaborate with, a company that had a prestigious history and was qualified for this type of a project. 

We came across Design Group Italia and after taking a look at their product portfolio we realized how it was exactly in line with what we wanted. 

Our purpose was to facilitate the provision of a service and not just make a new product – a mix of eclectic elements that only a reality like Design Group Italia could seamlessly develop.

Edgardo Angelini: “The interdisciplinary identity of Design Group Italia was the basis of this collaboration. D-Heart’s founders discovered our design studio thanks to the connection with another start-up (Trillìo, formerly La Comanda) for which we developed a product.

Startuppers have common needs: to tackle multiple problems at the same time; to ground a ‘more or less’ defined technical idea; last, to move from the research phase to the real product.

Very often – and specifically in the case of D-Heart – these needs are exacerbated by the transversal nature of the project which involves the use of digital, the design of services and the creation of a physical device.

A holistic approach is of great importance in these cases.”

D-Heart by Nicolò Briante & Design Group Italia
© D-Heart

What is the role of design and its importance in this project?

Nicolò Briante: Today, medical devices don’t put people at complete ease and we wanted D-Heart to be appreciated by everyone for which its design needed the utmost attention. 

A solution was needed so that a chronic patient would feel comfortable and only good design was the answer. 

With great attention to intricate detail, usability, practicality and aesthetics – D-Heart went on to harmoniously fuse clinical reliability with ease of use, standing out in the medical market. 

Such as – thanks to its image-processing and artificial intelligence it can effortlessly guide one to the correct electrode’s placement by showing one their own chest picture with virtual marks placed where one should stick the electrodes.

Edgardo Angelini: “When working on a medical or technical product, the design must offer concreteness and reliability. For D-Heart, it was essential to build an aesthetic of trust.

As designers, we reflected on the dual market where the product would be positioned: on the one hand, the medical environment, in which the device must have a credible, authoritative appearance, despite being proposed by a startup, and being completely different from the hospital machinery which the medical staff are used to.

On the other hand, the end user who must be able to immediately grasp the simplicity of use of the object, avoiding any kind of overly technical and mechanical aesthetics.

We are talking about getting an electrocardiogram yourself: you have to plan so that the user has everything he will need to live his experience peacefully. Taking off a burden, knowing you have the right solution in your hands.”

D-Heart by Nicolò Briante & Design Group Italia
© D-Heart

What have been the difficulties faced during this project?

Nicolò Briante: D-Heart’s aim is to reduce costs compared to public health services today by providing monitoring and prevention at home.

However, the difficulties faced was the market regulation which is super expensive and limits innovation in Europe!

Taking a social stance across the globe – D-Heart is utilized in cardiovascular screening campaigns today by NGOs and private foundations, as well as benefit corporations in Senegal, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Bangladesh and more.

Edgardo Angelini: “Nicolò came to us with a working prototype, but had yet to translate it into a final product. The starting point was the tangle of 6 cables that were in it.

Thanks to the active collaboration with D-Heart, the final design turned into a complete ecosystem where each element contributes to the physical and digital effectiveness of the product.

Another complexity, which is common among startups compared to established companies, was the need to find the necessary funds to move to the production phase. The more they progress in developing their project, the more credible they must be.

D-Heart’s prototype was a credible proof of concept to earn the initial funding. Now, they needed to face the most critical moment for every startup: reaching the market and positioning their product, relying on an articulated supply chain that was not there yet.

It is a very delicate path: it is necessary to identify the right suppliers for different areas of expertise (electrical, digital, manufacturing, sales & marketing, and so on). Orchestrating these processes is a challenge in itself.


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