Enhancing usability and patient experience in an inhaler platform
Leading generic pharmaceutical manufacturer
Our client had chosen to base the new product around an existing platform inhaler technology. Because this was an existing device in the market, we needed to uncover opportunities for improving the usability and enhancing the user experience of the inhaler system for a new target user population.
To do this we needed to gain a deep understanding of the challenges that these particular users faced through managing their condition, to ensure the new product met their emotional, practical and lifestyle needs.
Team approached the brief from multiple angles. Following an initial exploratory and strategic workshop with the client, we undertook an analytical assessment of the current system; critiquing the design and identifying what users find difficult. We looked for opportunities to simplify the user interaction, and improve the handling and intuitiveness of the device.
Real-world evidence for product development
At the same time, we undertook design research in the UK and US with patients in their homes. It was important to meet people in their homes to understand more about the context in which they would use their device.
We observed them using other similar products to see, in real-time, the coping strategies that they’d developed; to see how they stored their medication; and explored how managing their condition affected their daily routines, and how taking other drugs for co-morbidities might affect integrating another therapy.
Research into how people used similar products
We also spoke with a number of healthcare professionals to understand how they supported patients; the tricks they’d learned over the years to help patients stay compliant; their attitudes to current devices on the market; and the things that often caused challenges for them and the patients that they supported.
This research uncovered users’ attitudes and experiences with current platforms, as well as gathering a deeper understanding of what it was like to live with a chronic respiratory condition. It also outlined how the product would need to fit in with other therapies the patient may be taking, and how all of this fitted into their lives in general.
Uncovering user experiences
To further extend our understanding of their condition, the home-visited participants were given activity packs with tasks assigned. Tasks included videoing themselves taking their medication, taking photos of things that are important to managing their condition, and making a Sugru (clay) model of what it feels like to live with respiratory disease.
This not only provided us with an initial insight into the lives of this patient group, but also provided rich visual information to help bring the research alive for our client and the rest of the programme team – providing a clear reminder throughout the project of the challenges we needed to address and why.
One of the activity packs
The data gathered in the design research was analysed and examined alongside the analytical findings from the earlier phase of the project. From the insights gained, both practical and emotional design challenges were extracted in the form of ‘How might we…’ questions e.g. ‘How might we address the issue of portability?’, ‘How might we help people on-board a new therapy?’.
Using these design challenges as stimulus, we facilitated creative workshops using a mixture of tools and techniques from our innovation toolbox. The result was a wide number of ideas being generated that confirmed our initial thoughts – many of the challenges that people faced couldn’t be addressed by just focusing on the design of the inhaler.
It became clear we needed to look broader than the device design and consider all aspects of the system that the user interacted with, including improving the design of patient information and drug and device packaging. By ensuring we considered all touch points with the system, we were able to show the users that we understood the challenges they faced, and that we could design a system that would help to overcome them.
Our initial ideas were filtered against pre-agreed criteria, prototyped and tested in an iterative manner, and in collaboration with our client and their manufacturing partners, a smaller number were selected for further work-up and development.
Designing a system that understood all of the challenges involved
Working in close collaboration with our client’s contract manufacturing organisation, we developed and tested designs for a novel packaging system that improved handling, priming and setup of the device. The solutions focused on improving the whole user interaction with the system from first time to repeat use.
We developed ways to better tie elements of the system together – along with clearer instructional information to help the users remember the differences between this therapy and others they may be taking.
Undertaking a programme of design research early on in the development programme helped our client consider improvements to elements of the system that were originally outside the scope of the brief, but where important usability enhancements could be achieved.
This led to prioritising development of drug packaging before stability studies were initiated, and engaging in conversations with manufacturing partners before tooling had been commissioned. The output of the research also helped our client engage a broad set of stakeholders within their programme team, from regulatory to supply chain, with the detail of what needed to be achieved to improve the user experience of their future inhaler platform.
Our client could now identify what the team should focus on outside of the core device development programme, and even what they might consider for future pipeline formulation programmes, all of which was supported by strong evidence and reasons to believe in the potential success of the solutions.