What does good medical design look like?
1. Good design is innovative
DR: The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in itself.
PG: Innovation in an industry as risk averse as medical device design can be challenging. Innovations from other analogous industries have huge potential for improving the usefulness of medical devices, but we shouldn’t add technology for the sake of it. Innovation should focus on addressing real needs and harnessing the benefits of new technology, not forcing it into products where it’s not needed.
2. Good design is useful
DR: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
PG: Medical products are designed to do a very important job. They are neither ornamental nor objects of desire. Good medical design focuses on identifying and addressing the key ‘jobs to be done’ in a way that is compatible with the lives of the people who use the product.
3. Good design is aesthetic
DR: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
PG: The way medical product design looks and feels can influence the emotional connection with the user. Fundamentally, aesthetics should be driven by the function of the product but, where appropriate, can be used to engage a user and evoke a specific emotion.
4. Good design is understandable
DR: It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
PG: Medical products must be intuitive – for both first and repeat use. Using the product should be easy to learn and easy to remember. It should achieve a high level of safe usability throughout its lifecycle. It should be respectful of the varying cognitive abilities of the user.
5. Good design is unobtrusive
DR: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
PG: A medical product should integrate seamlessly into the user’s lifestyle. Whilst there is a requirement to provide safety critical information and guard against incorrect use, consideration must be given to how the device will be perceived in the context of the ‘other’ products surrounding the user.
6. Good design is honest
DR: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
PG: A medical product must not promise more than it can deliver. Persistence and adherence are of utmost importance in the context of compliant use. Medical device design is not about hiding away any negative aspects of the therapy or service the product provides, or user trust may be affected.
7. Good design is long-lasting
DR: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years — even in today’s throwaway society.
PG: Medical products cannot adhere to latest fashions and trends because the time to market is too long and the cost to update is often prohibitive. Colours, features and details which are likely to ‘age’ should be carefully justified and limited to parts of the device which are easiest to update, such as labelling, graphics, packaging and GUI.
8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
DR: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
PG: Medical product design starts and ends with the user. Users need to feel confident before, during and after use, and quality and attention to detail will help encourage this confidence. A rigorous design process should be adopted to ensure only real needs are addressed – time should be spent perfecting the minimum number of features and interactions.
9. Good design is environmentally friendly
DR: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
PG: As recyclability is often not possible in medical design due to the nature of the sector, consideration should be given to the overall impact of a product, and the material and manufacturing processes used to produce it. Can the architecture support partial reuse, for example, or can the simplicity of a design reduce the amount of material used?
10. Good design is as little design as possible
DR: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
PG: We should strive for simplicity and elegance in all aspects of medical product design where every feature and function must be justified. If they are not essential to improving usability, appeal or robustness, they should be removed. We should not attempt to dress products by adding superficial aesthetic details. The products we create should not feel ‘over designed’.