Discursive Design for Future Medical Applications

Merck is a science and technology company researching and engaging in areas such as healthcare, life science and performance materials. ma ma has collaborated with Merck since 2015.


Merck’s Performance Material division asked us to investigate future applications and uses of one of its key technologies: liquid crystals. Informed by trend research and design thinking, we visualized different future application scenarios for flexible liquid crystal displays. The purpose of our future sketches was to facilitate an informed discussion about flexible display use and forge new strategic partnerships throughout the value chain between R&D, technology manufacturers and customers. The outcome showed Merck that reflecting on the future to create application scenarios and artifacts is an effective decision-making strategy that can initiate discussion about future business opportunities.



  • ebert zobel industrial design
  • Stephan Grafikdesign
  • Steffen Görg
  • Tangible Futures
  • Trend Research
  • Discussion Space
  • Health Care
  • Value Chains

In the first project we created a lot of quick visualization for possible applications of flexible displays.

Taking the ideas of tangible futures one step further, Merck entrusted us with another forward-looking project. To explore and envision future uses of flexible display technologies, we focused on two complementary market segments – Digital Signage and Digital Fashion. Digital Signage offers the opportunity to deploy large scale displays in public spaces, while Digital Fashion allows experimental momentum thinking about displays beyond technology. In a series of discussions and workshops with Merck and strategic business partners all over the world, we used our application scenarios to reflect on transforming and challenging future value chains in upstream and downstream markets.

We selected two topics from the first phase and explored them more in-depth in the following project. The printed booklets were used to get into conversations with business partners about the potential of the technology.

Next was a strategic discursive design project to anticipate future medical products and services. By looking at today’s societal, medical and technological trends, we proposed a project of tangible futures for medical applications. The series of seven feasible future health application scenarios used socio-cultural trends, leading-edge technologies and current insights in medicine and bio-science.

Possible scenarios for the use of new medical technologies for personal and professional applications.

Our intent was to probe alternative futures and create immersive discursive situations for engaged thinking about digital medicine and health systems going forward. Our future application scenarios tell stories about contexts of use—how and for what purpose. Not only do they anticipate future service and business models and mediate the development of underlying base technologies, they also inform our discussion about how we want to live in the future and how we might get there.

Digital Poster Session

In 2017, Merck commissioned ma ma to create a digital poster session and to devise a discussion space about the future of digital health.

Portable MicroLab

The MicroLab is a pocketbook-sized portable laboratory for on-site diagnostics. It utilizes lab- on-a-chip technologies. Test results are displayed on the device and simultaneously uploaded into a medical data cloud. Care teams and physicians quickly receive results, empowering them to instantaneously decide on required treatments.

Supplement and Medicine Printer

The supplement and medicine printer utilizes inkjet-like printing technologies to manufacture food supplements and personalized medication. The active ingredients are stored as a liquid or gel in cartridges and are released according to the consumer’s or patient’s unique physiology, metabolism and required treatments.

In January 2018, Merck hosted “Digital Health – Improving Prevention, Prediction and Care” in Berlin. During the conference ma ma presented five of its seven future application scenarios. The ‘Health Futures Gallery’ invited all stakeholders from international politics, science and society to immerse themselves in discussion and reflect on the future of digital health and our healthcare system.

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“We think in generalities, but we live in detail.” —Alfred North Whitehead