M O D E R N ME DI CI NE
THE RISING TIDE OF USER EXPERIENCE
ver my 20 years working in medical device design, I’ve seen a positive shift in the understanding and respect of industrial design in the industry. At times, it has seemed like an uphill battle to demonstrate the value we, as a profession, add. However, with a bit of patience, some very talented designers and a better understanding of ID—thanks to the success of design-led companies in the consumer tech world—it feels like the doors have opened. So what’s changed? When I moved into medical device design back in the early 2000s, the focus was on developing technically robust products that were rigorously tested to ensure they’d survive their intended life cycle. For example, an inhaler needs to withstand being shoved in the bottom of a teenager’s backpack day after day and still work 100% of the time. Roll forward five years and the demand for human factors engineering grew as the regulatory bodies (FDA, etc.) required companies to prove “safe and effective use” in the hands of people. Working closely with our human factors colleagues, our work shifted to developing highly intuitive products with easy-to-follow instructions. More recently, though, there has been a significant shift in focus to user experience—UX in the broadest sense. While there is no regulatory requirement (yet?) to optimize user experience, several key factors have contributed to it becoming a bigger deal in the work we do as medical designers. Consumers of healthcare have become better informed and more demanding. Modern generations are less content to accept a healthcare solution when they feel it doesn’t meet their needs. With readily available resources, forums and product reviews online, consumers of healthcare have become savvier. It’s no longer enough to consider how a product you are developing measures up against competitor products. You also need to assess what else it might be compared to: how the user experience compares to other services, medical devices or consumer tech that the user may be interacting with. This is
even more important when developing connected medical devices where a healthcare app has to measure up against tried-and-tested global platforms on the same home screen. The expansion of healthcare at home. As healthcare budgets become increasingly stretched due to the aging population, treatment of many chronic conditions has moved away from the clinical environment. With more and more treatments administered in the home by patients or caregivers, we cannot focus only on usability (what a patient can use) but must also optimize the user experience of a device (what a patient wants to use—acknowledging that no one really wants to use a medical device). Designers need to consider what will motivate end users (who may be very unwell) to inject, swallow or inhale their therapy multiple times a day—even when it doesn’t make them feel immediately better. When there isn’t a trained healthcare professional present to encourage and ensure correct use, how can we develop products and experiences that compensate for the lack of human interaction? The shift from treatment to prevention. Keeping people out of the hospital not only saves money—it can improve quality of life and speed up recovery for patients. Each year at CES we see an array of products spanning the health and wellness space: products designed to help us improve our sleep, monitor and encourage physical activity, improve our diet and reduce stress. Greater emphasis on prevention of illness requires us to develop products that encourage good habits and discourage bad ones. The realm of behavioral science—which has been used extensively in the consumer world to smooth the path to purchase, ease onboarding and, more controversially, hook us to digital services—is now being more widely adopted in healthcare to encourage compliance with medicines and treatments. Going forward, designers will play an important role in creating experiences that have a positive effect on human behavior.