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Insitome: The Story of You

Insitome is a consumer genetics startup focused on revealing the unique story written in your DNA. Customers can choose from a variety of products, like chapters in a book, that uncover their connection to the story of human evolution.


Product Background

Why Consumer Genetics?

Consumer genetics has come far — from $10,000 to sequence the human genome 10 years ago, to only $99 now. However, the innovation behind delivering consumer genetic testing has moved much slower. Insitome aims to change that by giving consumers a new and immersive experience that brings genetics up to the same standard as your everyday technology.

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Addressing The Market

Insitome has partnered with Helix, a consumer-focused arm of the genetic giant Illumina, to bring consumers the most advanced at-home genetic test available. Currently, consumers interested in genetic testing must purchase a single product and testing kit, wait up to 8-weeks for results and read through a report. The results are limited to markers selected by an individual company. Helix, unlike any other consumer genetics company, will offer a single test and access to a genetic App Store. Consumers test once and can access genetic information through products that interest them, when and how they want. Insitome goes even further by offering a suite of small and larger products. 

After reading more and more about Neanderthal, I wanted to give these ancient humans a face to guide my thinking.

After reading more and more about Neanderthal, I wanted to give these ancient humans a face to guide my thinking.

Involvement & Contribution

I got my feet wet in genetics through Embark and was ready to take on the unique challenge of human genetics. I had always been interested in genetics but the available products didn't interest me enough to take the plunge. Now I had the chance to actually be a part of that product. What would I do differently? What would I learn about consumers like me? If they are nothing like me, what do they want and can I help give them that?

The Insitome team consisted of 8 members. CEO/ Founder, COO/ cofounder, Bioinformatician, backend dev, front end web dev, iOS dev, Visual Designer and myself as Interaction Design lead. I took on the role of unofficial product owner and executed on the vision of the CEO/Founder. I wore a lot of hats at this startup, some of them I wore really well and some not so much (spoiler alert I had so much to do I couldn't be an effective project manager!). Below you will see examples ranging from early ideas to the realized product. 

First Product

Insitome's first products are related to deep human ancestry. There is a unique human story to be told that covers our oldest human ancestors from over 60,000 years ago to our more modern ones, that transitioned from hunter/gathers to farmers. The following examples show work towards the former — our newly uncovered genetic relationship to Neanderthal. 


Getting Started


Design Challenge

How do you create an immersive experience that moves away from the traditional genetic report and focuses on moments of curiosity while ensuring that consumers enjoy and understand their results?

Product Concept

Create a guided experience through genetic results that focuses on satisfying and sparking curiosity through storytelling.

Selfie with Neanderthal Skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Selfie with Neanderthal Skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

From Idea to Product

Once the Insitome team was assembled it was time to talk about the vision of the product and start creating. I led the effort in developing a product framework that addressed the challenge of creating an immersive storytelling experience. From the beginning I knew that creating an immersive storytelling experience would require careful thought and planning. I immediately began to deconstruct the idea of a "story" so that in piecing it back together the design team could identify opportunities for immersion.

Our focus was on telling the story of the genetic relationship between modern humans (what science calls "anatomically modern humans", a way to describe who we are today) and ancient humans, specifically Neanderthal.


Discovering Storytelling


Storytelling Vision

For our immersive storytelling experience we wanted a model of top-notch scientific storytelling to help us find our starting point. We immediately turned to the podcast Radiolab as our guide. Radiolab orchestrates story, sound, conversation, and personality to spark the curiosity of each listener and invite them on a journey. We had a similar vision — invite the customer into a personal journey through the story of their DNA.

This is one of the first attempts to translate the banter of Radiolab hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad into a storytelling concept.

This is one of the first attempts to translate the banter of Radiolab hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad into a storytelling concept.

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How Do You Tell a Story?

I experimented with different storytelling methods to gather insights for how we might tell our story. If we chose a more visual method of storytelling how would that impact our process?



In order for Insitome to tell a story, it needs a story. Not only did we need a story, but that story had to be based on science. This requires a unique type of writing. It's not writing a scientific paper and it's not writing an op-ed. It's writing a compelling story based on science. And I loved doing it.


Building The Solution


Storytelling Framework

Once the story was written it was time to format it for our product. Using Radiolab is a guide we decided to create a conversation within the experience that would guide consumers through the story behind their genetic results. This was a real undertaking and what you see here is a sample of how it that process started to come together. 

Storytelling Framework Documentation


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What I Learned


Content! Content! Content!

Initially the Insitome roadmap was based on scientific content that the founder was very familiar with. So for him, the content part would be easy. But for us, the non-scientists and consumer genetics-newbies, it was not. Scientific jargon was used in product discussions which led to confusion, unclear requirements and a lot of homework. Creating and organizing scientific content was time-consuming and difficult, but it had to be done. As a team we should have had a very clear content strategy and the next content-heavy product I come across will have this plan built in.


How to Write like a Writer

I can now proudly add writing to my list of skills. I have always written as a part of my process, but I never thought I would be responsible for it in a product release. Now that my writing would be guiding consumers through their genetic story I had to really sit down, concentrate and write nearly every day. I had to practice and be patient. I had to push myself to keep going. And it all paid off when I could finally feel the sentences like I could a line in my drawing. I still have so much more to learn, but I'm not afraid to keep doing it.  



From the beginning I intended to learn more than the average person needs to learn about genetics. After all, it was my job to translate the science for a consumer audience. And learn I did. And translate I did. It was quite a difficult balance to achieve, but when you watch someone in front of you totally get "it", you know you've done something right. Not only did I have to ensure that the science was correct by working with our scientists, I had to make sure the audience understood it. This was a challenge, but well worth it.