Course with Industry Partner Leads to Design Award for Westphal Student

Henry McGettigan Sought to Design a Device That was "Strong, Modern and Foolproof"

By Natalie Kostelni

Henry McGettigan, a rising Drexel senior, decided last fall to take a new course taught by Associate Professor Mike Glaser that was being sponsored by an external partner.

McGettigan admits he was uncertain what he was getting into with Interdisciplinary Product Studio (PROD 340) at the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Convatec Group, a British medical device maker, collaborated with Glaser to create the course, and that’s about all McGettigan knew.

“I know Mike and trust him. He has been a mentor for me,” McGettigan said. “Every time I see a class he is teaching, I want to register for it.”

Convatec challenged students to design a more attractive ostomy pouching system, commonly referred to as an ostomy bag, without compromising its medical function.

It also tasked students to find ways to lessen the stigma associated with wearing the medical device and improve the perception of it. While the prosthetic is mostly associated with aging seniors, their use is skewing younger.

The product McGettigan designed, BioTec Bag for Colostomates, was recognized in June as a winner at Core77 Design Awards, an annual program considered one of the most important design competitions in the world, Glaser said. Winners of Core77 are recognized as among the leading innovators in design.

“It is truly an honor to see his hard work and talent being recognized on both national and international design platforms,” Glaser said.

A native of Portland, Ore., McGettigan was drawn to Drexel for its product design program and is on track to graduate in 2024. In an interview not long after receiving the award, McGettigan spoke about what led him to major in product design, the BioTech Bag, and what might lay ahead after Drexel.

What sparked your interest in design?

I can track it to when I was really young and obsessed with Legos and making forts. Then I got really into clothing design and making things. I would go to Goodwill, get clothes that didn’t fit me and Frankenstein them into fitting me. When I was applying to college, I knew I wanted to try product design. I knew I could always go back to clothing or fashion, but product design is a thought process that takes on different challenges in the world. If I make one thing that makes one person happier then that is good. You don’t have to change the world.

What do you mean design as a thought process?

You need to do a lot of thinking as you design something. You plant the seeds and ideas grow over time and then you get that light-bulb idea. That initial work can be grueling but it’s always worth it.

What did you think of the course with Convatec?

It felt really important in that I had much greater responsibility and more pressure since we were working with what is essentially a client and with an important product. That pressure and sense of responsibility were factors that kept me excited about the course. Presenting and having our projects reviewed by executives from Convatec made it feel very real and was a lot of pressure. Now I do this every day at my co-op with West Pharmaceuticals where my work is reviewed and critiqued. It definitely helped me to build more confidence.

You took a very empathetic approach to the BioTech Bag. Tell me about that process.

Empathy is an important skill as a designer. I think everyone can practice it. Design relies on emotions as much as any functional, technical side. I initially approached designing the BioTech Bag as a stigma-defeating project. I wanted to make it strong, modern and foolproof. I wanted to make sure whoever wore it felt confident using it.

How did you gain insights that informed your approach?

Through interviews with patients, a nurse, designers and those in marketing at Convatec and reading many stories. I learned a lot about the scary process of colostomy surgery, and the insecure mental space that this procedure leaves many stuck in. The truth is that it is not the patient's problem, but rather a societal acceptance issue. In other words, this is a design to battle bad stigma around a necessary medical procedure.

Were you surprised you won at Core77 Design?

Yes! I didn’t expect it but in the back of my head I thought that this could be a great chance to have a breakthrough and prove that to myself. Even now, after winning, I want to go back and improve the product. 

With the Core77 win and co-op with West Pharmaceutical, will you consider medical device design as a potential career?

Yes. It’s definitely at the top of my list and I will definitely apply to medical device companies. I am really happy to have had this experience. In the meantime, I am going to use my senior year to curve my trajectory to something more artistic and see where that takes me.

Do you have any advice for someone considering Drexel for product design or just starting with the program?

The Drexel program allows you to take your interests very far. There are so many resources available that you may not even know about but all you have to do is ask a professor. They are more than happy to help and guide you.