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Yves Béhar Gives Genome Testing A Makeover

This cell-scanning lab equipment doesn’t look like lab equipment at all.

It looks sort of like a Jawbone speaker mated with a 1985 Macintosh. But it’s not a consumer tech product. It’s the genome-testing device Juno, developed by the biotech company Fluidigm, designed by Yves Béhar’s Fuseproject.

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With a button press, Juno ejects a tray, accepts an organic sample, and over the course of a few hours, uses a mix of chemicals and heat to perform a DNA fingerprinting test on the sample. Designed for professional laboratories, it can identify if a patient is positive for a certain genetic disease, or if a seed could handle rainfall in a dry climate. The process used to require a lab technician to manipulate several machines, each step wrought with potential human error. Instead, you might call Juno the Keurig of genetic testing, scanning samples with a button press.

Fluidigm’s DNA testing equipment prior to Juno.

“I think the world of science and innovation deserves the same kind of design, attention, branding and experience as consumer products,” Béhar tells Co.Design, “with an easier, faster, more friendly, and even fun experience.”

Juno arrives at a time of unprecedented growth in the genetics industry. In 2009, market research analysts put the size of the global market for genetics testing at $730 million and predicted an annual growth rate of 20%. Meanwhile, the cost of genetic testing has plummeted. Half a decade ago, having your personal DNA mapped cost $100,000. Last year, it was a $10,000 luxury. This year, it will drop closer to $1,000. And your corner drug store has multiple home test kits for getting a peek inside smaller snippets of your DNA. Genetics is a maturing, competitive market. Hiring Fuseproject, which has done sleek design work for Jawbone, Sodastream, and more, is a way for Fluidigm to establish a competitive edge.

Juno builds several machines into one.

Even if you don’t understand the complex steps in sequencing DNA, it’s easy to see what Juno is doing right. Its predecessors required esoteric keyboard commands to operate. Instead, Juno has a touchscreen user interface that’s, very unscientifically, branded with humorous language at times. It’s an experience built for regular humans rather than lab technicians (as if technicians are less human than the rest of us!).

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An equally important consideration was the case itself. It’s a few pieces of milled aluminum that have been jigsawed together. Inside, they’re carved with cavernous geometry to accommodate moving parts. On the outside, a rock garden-esque pattern excites the eye, while smoothing over seams. The lines aren’t there to bring a moment of Zen to the lab, nor are they just because Béhar likes to pattern stuff (see: Jawbone speakers and headsets). The etchings serve a functional purpose in that they reduce build time on each case.

“When you have a block of metal and you machine it, you start with a very large bit. You cut the rough material out, hacking at the chuck until you get close the final surface, and then you go to a second [finer] bit and another [finer] bit,” Béhar says. “Eventually, you go in with a very slow movement with a very small bit to clear out the last amount of material very slowly. It takes hours.”

Juno’s flowing surface patterns don’t require the same slow, finesse-laden process with an ultrafine bit, which allows Fluidigm to save, quite literally, hours of production time on each case the company produces.

Learn more here.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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