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:
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 nickchubbdesign.com
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