Business processes

Business processes

Enhancing user experience in medical products


Lead Industrial Designer at IDC Nick Chubb shares his experience on how the usability of medical devices can be enhanced to ensure product success.

Improving products beyond safety

Anticipating the safety needs of a medical device is crucial. However, safety is only one half of what product designers refer to as ‘usability’ – the aspect of design that focuses on the quality of interaction between people and products. The other half is not so much about regulation, but building in pleasing user interactions from the very beginning and making a product more satisfying to use. Positive word-of-mouth between healthcare professionals is essential if a product is to have long-lasting success in the medical sector, and that is rarely achieved without a commitment to sweating the details on user experience.

The design of pleasing user interactions is just as significant as safety with regard to developing successful products that perform in the market. Meeting safety regulations alone might allow you to meet the requirements to launch a product, but making product interactions intuitively safe and being the first choice by medical professionals in a given category requires a deeper level of consideration.

The impact of user experience

When usability is applied poorly during the design process, this creates what we call ‘use errors’. A use error is any situation where the outcome is different from the intention. Wherever we can, we’re looking to eradicate potential use errors.

For example, if a flexible tube was improperly connected in the operating room, it could result in an embolism. Selecting the wrong option on an interface could lead to entering data incorrectly which could lead to an improper dosage. With these examples, the potential harm is critical. However, there are interactions within products that don’t have the potential to cause such serious harm, but are still very important as they may lead to annoyance or frustration by the user. These types of interactions lead to a dislike of a product when compounded and are a key part of why healthcare professionals may choose and recommend one product over another.

It’s also these types of interactions where we can take inspiration from modern consumer devices to make them more intuitive and pleasing. When you have a team designing products in both consumer and medical sectors, you can benefit from what we call cross-fertilisation of ideas. Exposure to product details in one category that can inspire an idea that’s more specifically applied to an unrelated product type. At the very least, having good knowledge of the user interactions built into premium consumer products and automotive interiors can be a useful tool for designing good product experiences in the medical field. Of course, this is on top of the refined skill and craft to design great interactions through independent thinking in the first place.


A few factors to consider to enhance user experience:

  • Don’t be committed to the current format. This is more of a mindset change, but definitelyan important one to embrace. In order to design a product that has the best user experiencepossible, the overall format and architecture of the product must be driven by the insightsand thoughts that are generated from the analysis of the user, the use environment, themarket and overall context of the product’s use. This ensures that the user experience isprioritised and can be enhanced with the freedom for the concept to go in any direction,rather than being restricted and chained down by existing beliefs or the current state of yourproducts or competitor products.
  • Consider EVERY stakeholder. To enhance the user experience as much as possible, it’simportant to consider every type of user. We call them ‘stakeholders’, which isn’t just thepeople who are invested in a financial sense but includes anyone who is affected by theproduct. For instance, who uses it? Who cleans it? Who assembles it? Who delivers it? Whomaintains it? Who sells it? The list goes on. The products with the best user experienceconsider all interactions from all stakeholders, not just those that occur only with theprimary user. Word-of-mouth comes from all angles. The dissatisfaction of a serviceengineer can circle back to a purchasing manager. It’s a good mindset to think that way,which increases the likelihood that the product will stand up in a holistic sense and meet theneeds of all those who interact with it.
  • Map out the experience journey. When every type of user has been considered, mappingout the experience journey for each user and listing all interactions in as many different useenvironments as possible is a good exercise to go through. Having this visibility of allinteractions helps to see the bigger picture and also helps identify opportunities to simplifyuser steps in the experience journey. This is difficult to do when you don’t have all theinformation analysed and mapped out. This approach is proactive and can bring significantvalue. The reason it’s so valuable is that poor user experiences usually find their way intoproducts because the task of doing a detailed analysis either doesn’t get done or getspushed back in the development process until usability issues start to present themselves. By this time, it’s too late and you end up fire-fighting and making decisions quickly inisolation without the proper time for thorough analysis and robust thinking where youconsider how one decision impacts other aspects.
  • Think about human senses. Another key element in usability is to consider all human sensesand their limitations. Missing the sound of an alarm on a product could be linked to the ageof the user group, the potential of hearing loss or the volume of background noise in theenvironment where the product is used. Another example could be memory. If there are toomany steps to remember in a user task or too much information needed to be recalled whenmoving from one screen to the next in a digital app, then this can cause use errors.

Refine quality in the real world

Usability should be considered at all stages during the design, so that use errors can be reduced and interactions can be improved. Some of the ways we do this is through affordances that give cues to the user such as shape-coding, resistance forces, size differentiation, universal symbols and orientation cues, etc. Refining the quality of interactions through expert review of prototypes, user trials, interviews, observations and a full commitment to understanding the areas for improvement through a rigorous process of development is paramount. After all, these physical products are responding to real problems experienced by real people and real businesses. They should be tested in the real world. On the whole, attention to detail when it comes to the total customer experience will inevitably lead to an enhanced product and increased likelihood of long-lasting success in the market.

About the Author

Nick Chubb is the Lead Industrial Designer at IDC, designing medical devices, surgical instruments and consumer products for some of the world’s leading brands. He has a 1st Class Masters Degree in Product Design and acts as Lead ID advisor at Arts Thread. He is often invited to give talks at leading Universities on the subject of design. Learn more through Nick’s blog at

About the author

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