Carla answers five questions on Nima device design, posed by Digitas prior to SXSW2015:

1. How does “Nima” work?

Nima is in the business of helping people live more fully because they can trust their food. We are bringing products to market that help people test their food for things that concern them. It’s transparency around what you are eating.

Nima is a portable, connected allergen testing device. We’re launching with gluten as the first allergen, developing other allergen tests to follow gluten. The device is a powerful combination of chemistry, electrical, and mechanical engineering. It tests food using a proprietary antibody to test for the presence of gluten proteins. Each time you want to test something, you’d take a small sample of food, put it in a disposable capsule, which contains the chemistry, and then insert that into the device, which can read the results. The device then connects with an iPhone app to track and share results with the community of people who are watching what they eat — for whatever reason.

2. How do you foresee this product changing the experience of dining out for those with severe allergies and sensitivities?

From the ongoing research the team has been doing for over two years, we know people with food allergies and sensitivities don’t go out a lot. They have a small set of trusted places and even smaller set of dishes they trust. When they do go out, they ask lots of questions but there’s always a sense of doubt. Our research shows that one out of every three times gluten-free consumers eat out, they are getting sick from unintended gluten exposure. Using Nima would help people feel more confident and informed about the choices they make. People keep telling us that this would give them more social freedom to explore the world around them. Just this week, I interviewed a family who said they eat out only twice a year and when they go to a friend’s house, they bring their own food. One person in the family travels 30 weeks out of the year and the rest of the family would like to go along — this would make them much more likely to do so.

3. A portable food sensor seems like it could have many more applications, including giving you information about fat, protein, sugar, vitamins, minerals, and more. Can you comment on some of the other health applications that this type of technology might be used for?

You’ve predicted what we want to do with this whole idea of food transparency. We have long term plans to add a host of allergens — everything from peanut to dairy, soy, eggs, shellfish, and more. People have requested things ranging from mustard to nightshades to MSG, pesticides, and GMOs. Some of these are “easier” than others – you can hear the chemistry team giving a difficulty rating in the background. People really are focused on what they put in their bodies because they are making that direct connection of how they feel based on what they eat. There are so many things we can bring to people to help them feel good.

4. How much thought has been put into the user’s experience with this kind of device? What feedback have you gotten so far?

The team is really dedicated to thinking about the user experience. So many devices you can think of in this space are super medical. We want to be something way better than that. The reality is that no matter how much people need this, we have to make it easy to use, discreet, affordable, and portable. However, it also needs to feel modern, trustworthy, and high quality. Those are our design challenges.

We’re committed to testing at every stage, as evidenced by the fact that we’ve been testing things like non-working prototypes. As you can imagine, this is an extremely committed group of people. We’ve got a small and robust group of alpha testers — including everyone from elementary school kids to people a little later in life. We’ve got families, college students, and people just starting their careers. We’ve specifically recruited across the US for this. Long term, we’ll have to do some more research abroad, given the large amount of international demand we’ve seen. We know that sometimes certain design conventions don’t translate, so we’ll have to focus on those audiences too. Finally, the team is attending thirteen gluten free trade shows across the US this year. We have prototypes of the device so we can show people, answer questions, and understand their perspective as we build.

Across the board what we hear is a combination of several powerful emotions. One is a sense of awe – no one believed this could be done. Two is relief. People feel more in control because they can make informed decisions. Finally, a wonderful sense of exploration and social freedom.

One of my favorite things from our user research earlier this year was when I called someone to let them know how to dispose of the early non-functional models and she said “it’s still in my purse, even if it doesn’t work, it makes me feel secure to think it’s coming out.”