The compartmentalised medical device development methods of the past are history. Once, engineers would engineer, then the designers would take over design, before marketers would market. In the last decade however, customers have become more sophisticated, and products multi-faceted. Devices now include interfaces, interfaces include apps, and apps connect to systems. Products no longer have the demarcation they once did, and the roles and responsibilities of the development team do not either. Due to the very human nature of medical device design, this shift for Industrial Design can add significant value to the company looking to capitalise on a Designer’s skill set throughout their device design.
The scope of Industrial Design can no longer be described as ‘product’ design but rather has expanded to encompass ‘experience’ design. Where the look and feel of a product used to define Industrial Design, it is now just one tool amongst many in the Designer’s toolkit for crafting the broader user experience. Experience design requires the Designer to empathise with the needs of the user and apply design thinking to develop solutions for those needs. I don’t just mean UX, but the holistic experience of the user: branding, iconography, ergonomics, workflow, packaging, market position, and disposal. The whole system must work seamlessly to ensure the product meets the needs of the user and ultimately delivers the desired experience. That experience must be crafted.
While the traditional need for Industrial Design to shape a product’s look and feel remains important and necessary, the definition of ‘product’ for the most part, has changed. Service Design, for example, stretches the definition of ‘product’ yet is still very much subjected to design. It’s no longer safe to assume that a switch is something you flick, or a dial is something you turn.
Regardless of the device or the medium, a Designer’s tools help them to understand the challenges of the users, their limitations – both physical and cognitive – and the environment. These are critical areas from which Industrial Designers can gain feedback from users, create user profiles and scenarios, and develop design inputs. What’s more, these same empathy skills can be leveraged not just for design inputs, but for testing design outputs. To observe and gain knowledge from usability studies, and other validation activities once design is done. However – inputs or outputs – what also mustn’t be overlooked is the importance of a skilled designer’s ability to translate these learnings into clear requirements and data that make sense to the development team. Without this, empathy is simply lost in translation.
An Industrial Designer’s ability to champion the user experience also makes them equally well placed to perform other tasks throughout medical device design. Be it producing user-centric development strategies, assisting with product planning, or building a vision for the product. Further, guardianship of that product vision can also place them in an excellent position to manage project specialists and ensure the project objectives remain cohesive through the development lifecycle. And the sooner they’re engaged, the more value they can add.
So, to really get the most out of Industrial Design, in addition to developing the aesthetics of the product it might just be worth asking what else that Industrial Designer has in their toolbox for you.