Improving user experience for a therapeutic mattress
Product life-cycle improvements
Our client, a leading manufacturer of patient care solutions came to us to help design a next-generation therapeutic mattress. In order to keep their market-leading position in an increasingly crowded marketplace, they needed to gain insights into what would really give them the competitive edge.
Before meeting Team, they’d undertaken an extensive market research study which had begun to define new features that would help them to market a next-generation product. But our client needed our help in really understanding what would make using one of their products a far better experience for all who interacted with it throughout the product’s life-cycle.
In designing high quality medical products, there are often a large number of stakeholders who need to be considered, as the person who makes the purchase decision is rarely the end user. For this brief we considered both those who service the product, and the different people who would interact with it on a daily basis.
These included: the team that install and decommission the mattress; those who clean it between rentals; those who manoeuvre it around the facility; the nurses that monitor its use and settings; the patients who would lie on it during a stay in hospital; and their family members who would sit beside it.
Research – user focus
To really understand the product journey and all its interactions along the way, a number of research activities were undertaken, including:
- Visits to facilities to observe existing products in situ and to interview the teams who install, commission and collect used mattresses to understand the challenges they face with portability and the time needed for set-up
- Meetings with the crews responsible for cleaning and servicing mattresses to understand the requirements for durability, ease of strip down and reassembly
- Visits to a busy ward to gain a better understanding of the environment of use, for example, how the operating noise of the mattress and warning signals fit in with other pieces of medical equipment nearby
- A usability assessment, and a full technical assessment of the current product and its comparison with competitor products in the landscape
- Our designers and engineers spending a night sleeping on the mattress to really understand the end user experience
Within the first month of this project, we had gained a good understanding of the key issues customers faced when interacting with current systems. By presenting this back to a broad group of internal stakeholders in a highly visual, impactful way, we gained a clear agreement of what was needed for the next-generation products. The challenge was: could we improve comfort, noise levels and ease of control?
Constraints – commercial focus
The user-focussed research gives us great food for thought, but it is important to be realistic and, at an early stage, consider the constraints that we might be working within. For example: ‘What is the commercial business model that surrounds the revenue stream generated by this product?’; ‘What are the manufacturing considerations we need to take into account if making changes to the current technology?’; and most importantly, ‘What are the timelines and programme milestones that we need to meet to get an improved product to market before a competitor beats us to it?’
The client was involved in the consideration of all of these factors. A strategic workshop with multidisciplinary stakeholders from the client’s team contributed to this, facilitating discussion of different views and objectives, agreement of the important factors, and setting the direction of the programme.
In parallel with this user- and commercial-focussed approach to innovation, it was also essential that our engineers understood the technology. By working closely with the client’s technical teams, we achieved a better understanding of the technical challenges and gained agreement as to what could practically be achieved.
In a very short period of time we built up initial prototype rigs, using whatever proprietary technology we could get our hands on, to provide reasons to believe that some of the technical challenges we were trying to overcome were possible.
We explored the technical feasibility of a dual therapy mattress and worked hard to ensure that the additional features and components could fit within the desired space envelope in the mattress. This included designing a bespoke valve to enable this.
Generation and refining of ideas
Through consideration of the all of the technical, commercial and user requirements of the system, we created a wide range of ideas for addressing the challenges for the new therapeutic mattress.
Creative workshops involving a mix of people from both Team and the client helped to ensure that we had people with different backgrounds, mind-sets and skill-sets working creatively together. This, in combination with the use of a range of tools from our innovation toolbox to challenge our assumptions and normal thinking patterns, meant that we came up with a broad range of ideas from which to start.
In an iterative process of create, design, review and technically assess, these ideas were developed into concepts and then filtered and further developed with input from the client. Ultimately, two main concepts were agreed on, each with different designs, functions and features. 3D CAD renders and 2D storyboards were created to clearly communicate the features and design elements; the attractiveness of these was assessed with a panel of nurses to obtain feedback.
In addition, each concept was backed up by a thorough technical assessment to ensure that we were obtaining feedback on designs that were not only attractive, but also technically feasible.
By the end of this three month project we had identified and prioritised key features that would improve the user experience of future products and developed proof-of-principle rigs and detailed mechanical drawings. This gave reasons to believe that they were technically achievable.
We worked closely with our client’s commercial team to explore various business models and agree a product road map that would allow them to update their portfolio more quickly. Strategically this involved:
- Discussing the next-generation model and how to integrate the technical developments into the product development programme, to allow the client to get an initial product to market within 12 months; thus creating the time needed to work on the next-generation flagship product
- Making plans for delivering a further two generations of product, with updated features that allowed them to show the market they were thinking progressively