Maintaining blood sugar values in a safe range is the way to avoid the dangers and long-term complications of diabetes. The best way to know how well your insulin or medication is controlling your blood sugar is to check it often, and log your numbers often. Diabetes is a disease that requires completely individualized care and without a log, it’s difficult for your doctor to treat you.
We all know this, right? But how many of us actually log on a steady basis? Not many, because it’s tedious. But what if it weren’t?
Thanks to software designer Elon Danziger and his fiancée Yelena Rubinshteyn, who has type 1 diabetes, logging can now be fun, almost like a game.
Elon and Yelena created LogFrog DB, a diabetes tracking application for the iPhone and iPod Touch with powerful, innovative features and a fun look-and-feel. It allows users to log the four most important factors for daily diabetes management – blood glucose values, medicine, carbs, and exercise – as well as keeping notes and storing A1c values. Data can be easily exported via email in a variety of formats depending on patient and doctor preferences. A graphing tool is included to allow visualization of blood sugar trends over time, and graphs can be filtered to help reveal patterns around particular times of day, specific meals, exercise, etc. Other LogFrog features include averages, daily medication reminders, and glucose-check reminders.
I had the pleasure of talking to Elon and Yelena about LogFrog and its development.
Why did you create LogFrog?
Elon: Yelena had had trouble managing her diabetes for many years and her A1c was well into the danger zone. Despite all my efforts to encourage her to start tracking her diabetes with other apps, she didn’t stick with any of them. So I said, “What if we build one together just for you, will you use it then?”
Yelena: I got excited and a new project was born.
What makes LogFrog better than the other logging apps out there? Better than pen-and-paper?
At the moment the two main factors that make LogFrog better than other logging apps are (1) speed (entries take less than 5 seconds), and (2) a warm, non-clinical look-and-feel that makes logging feel less like a chore. Logging on a phone or other device that you carry around with you is easier than remembering to bring a pen and paper everywhere, and you are less conspicuous tapping a phone in a social setting than you are pulling out a notebook. You can also analyze and share data much more easily with a mobile device.
What about other logging apps makes them feel clinical? What does LogFrog do to change this feeling?
Yelena: Of course this is subjective and hard to put in words, but I didn’t want to log my blood sugar numbers, and I needed to be convinced to do it. The standard gray, boring interfaces of other apps made me say, “I don’t feel like it.” When you want to motivate people to do something they don’t really want to do, you can encourage them with visual triggers. Just having the functionality isn’t enough. In LogFrog, the frog, for example, makes me smile, so logging has become almost a game I don’t want to quit. I’ve stuck with it long enough to form a habit.
What was the development process like– how long did it take? What did the back-and-forth between the two of you look like– was it Elon designing and Yelena overseeing? Were other people involved?
We designed and developed the app beginning in May 2010 and by November 2010, we had an Apple-approved app in the App Store. We’ve continued to develop the app, releasing one or two updates a month since then — in large part guided by user feedback and requests.
Elon: Once Yelena had explained what she needed to log and the type of analysis she wanted to do, I would put together design ideas, then show her mockups in Photoshop or on the iPhone Simulator on my computer. She would suggest additional features or improvements to my design. Most of this was before we had the nice backgrounds, textures, and frog illustrations, which my cousin Monia Nilsen and her boyfriend Rui Martins helped us with. They were great to help us on this project, which was originally and remains, a labor of love.
Yelena: As our design developed, Elon was coding it and bringing it to life. I began testing it and using it to track my own diabetes well before it was complete. All this work was done nights and weekends. We rarely got to sleep before 2:00 a.m., and we still often work very late as we continue to improve it.
Whose idea was the wheel of numbers and options? It is a relatively unique visual paradigm– how did you think of it? How do people respond to it?
Elon: The wheel of numbers and options was my idea, which came after a couple weeks of exploration of half-circles and more standard interfaces. At first, my idea was just that the circle would let you choose an entry mode, but then I started wondering if the circle interface could lend itself to the entire entry process. The biggest challenge was going to be getting all the numbers to fit around a circle and be big enough to touch (since fingers are a lot bigger than mouse pointers). Once I mocked up the circle, divided it into twelve wedges and found that the physical area of each number was going to be within Apple’s guidelines for usable touch interfaces, I got excited. I felt I had found a winning design solution.
Yelena: I didn’t like a lot of Elon’s early ideas, but once he showed me that last set of circles I thought we definitely had something interesting.
What sort of analysis and review does LogFrog make possible?
Yelena: The app lets you see trends in your blood sugar, especially around particular meals or at specific times of day. This can be very helpful for finding patterns and adjusting your behavior to attain better control, whether with your doctor or on your own day to day. For example, after logging for several months, I was able to see that my blood sugars were consistently high in late evenings and before bedtime. After pointing that out to my doctor, we agreed that I needed more insulin per gram of carbohydrate at dinnertime than I do during the rest of the day.
How many people are on the LogFrog team? Are they all after-hours, or do you have full-timers now?
It’s just the two of us! No other staff, no contractors. It continues to be our nights and weekends project.
What sort of feedback have you received about the app? How has that changed the feature list and the development schedule?
We’ve received almost all positive feedback on our app, with frequent ideas for large and small features we could add. Some of our updates (like the recent 1.2.6) have been completely devoted to improvements users have asked for.
What are your plans for LogFrog long-term– a standalone logging app with more features? A suite of apps? The launchpad for a different project altogether?
We have a roadmap for additional features posted on our wall, some of which are already under development. We’ve recently formed a User Advisory Council which we are currently surveying for feature priority preferences and feedback on design ideas.
Elon: We want to make the best, most powerful, most motivating app that we can for Yelena and other people with diabetes.
Yelena: As far as immediate plans, we are about to release a free 30-day trial version of LogFrog so people can experience the interface and see if it works for them. We would love to build LogFrog DB into a business one day. For now it remains a project of passion that is not profitable but brings a great deal of personal reward.
Are there any plans for integrating LogFrog with existing medical devices (like pumps and CGMs) or medical software (like electronic medical records or care management programs)?
We would love to integrate with medical devices and medical software, but as far as we know all the device-and -software makers run closed systems that we can’t access. We would be very open to any opportunity to make tracking and sharing data simpler, and we would welcome more open systems.
How has developing and marketing the app changed your relationship with each other? Does working together work?
For us it works well. We love having a project together that we’re both passionate about. Occasionally we need a break from LogFrog and don’t work on it for a week or two so we can go back to being just a couple. And sometimes we don’t see eye-to-eye on the way a feature should be designed, but we’re both good at expressing and understanding points of view.
Elon: Usually Yelena’s right :).
How has developing and marketing the app changed the way you think about diabetes? Elon, did it change your view of what life as a diabetic might be like? Yelena, did it change the way you manage your own diabetes?
Through contact with our users, we’ve gained a broader understanding of diabetes – we’ve learned a lot more about type 2 diabetes, and we’ve learned about pump users and their needs for recording and coordinating data. (Yelena is not a pump user at this time.)
Elon: I’ve definitely learned a huge amount from this project, the most important thing being how deeply involved a person with diabetes needs to be in understanding and managing their condition, and how much work it takes every day.
Yelena: The project has definitely made me more conscious and more in control of my diabetes. It has forced me to continue learning about it and become more proactive. My A1c is much lower now. I also feel more responsible now not just to take care of my diabetes for my own sake, but also because this project is for more than just me. So part of my motivation is that I can’t give up on my diabetes, or I will end up giving up on further developing LogFrog as well, and then I’d be letting other people down.
What has been the best part about starting and running LogFrog? Has it lived up to your original expectations?
Elon: The best part for me has been Yelena’s improvement and that she’s found the motivation to keep her diabetes under control.
Yelena: The best part for me has definitely been connecting with users and solving all the design and feature challenges to make the app better for them. We didn’t really have any expectations going in – we weren’t sure if the app would work as well for other people as it did for me.
Since it seems to be helping, we would love to spread the word and see it in the top 5 diabetes apps on the iPhone instead of the top 15. With all the ideas we’ve had and the ones our users have sent in to us, we think LogFrog is only in the early stages of what it has the potential to do for people with diabetes.
Click here to download LogFrog.
Karmel Allison is science editor of ASweetLife. She writes the blog Where is My Robot Pancreas?.