All medical product and service providers must consider seamless design DNA in order to bring high-fidelity solutions to the market that drive revenue, market share, and bottom-line profitability for shareholders.
What Is UX?
User experience (UX) design encompasses the emotional, functional, and perceived requirements that satisfy a meaningful experience for all users. UX design is the scaffolding on which all other aspects of a service or product design is shaped and informed. It is the most difficult design challenge in getting the finished product perfect.
Regardless of product, Graphic User Interface (GUI), or service, UX design begins with a deep understanding of who the user is, what they are trying to accomplish, what makes them happy and engaged, and what drives relevant value and meaning to convert a user to purchase to ultimately increase sales and revenues.
End User vs. User Types
While users come in different sizes and shapes, UX design goes beyond these fundamental physical attributes to consider the need states for all user types while touching and interacting with a product or service. This requires a UX designer to first identify then study each type of user within the product ecosystem. In most cases, this includes the end user or patient, their caregivers, the wide variety of clinicians they interact with, and the individuals on the factory floor who assemble, pack, and ship the final product. World-class design embraces all of these different types of user needs and balances them according to the relative importance to outline a full-spectrum UX design solution.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also realizes the importance of recognizing and studying the need states of all users. The FDA requires all formative and summative testing to include all unique user types. While this can have a dramatic impact on the cost of up-front UX research, it diffuses any misconceptions about how the design should function and, ultimately, what features and benefits need to be included in the go-to market solution.
Workflow vs. UXflow
Compared to product design, UX design is significantly more complex and emotionally driven. In hardware design, industrial designers routinely have well-defined guidelines regarding component size and shape and how to effectively map these functional requirements into a hardware configuration that optimizes usability, comfort, and efficacy. In contrast, UX design is all about the user’s psychological interaction. What users are experiencing, their emotions, and how this impacts their perceptions and behavioral outcomes can either kill the most advanced technology or tame technology in a way that makes it explicitly obvious, easy to use, and inviting.
Hardware and software empirical test protocols allow design teams to not only identify workflow bottlenecks, factors that obscure usability, and limit user performance, but they provide metrics that easily allow teams to compare and contrast design efficacy. For example, formative usability tests on a surgical system can provide empirical measures of time spent on a task, motion paths for all clinical participants and identification, and classification of disruptions that directly impact the surgical outcome. UX design testing embraces the same empirical principles, but also includes subjective measures that capture and express the spirit of the interaction, what it means, how it impacts users, their willingness to engage and perform, and ultimately accept or reject a new product, GUI, or service.
UX design extends beyond the product or service design to include everything in the ecosystem that surrounds and influences every aspect of the user experience. This consists of instructions for use, how users connect to wireless networks, how digital dashboards present information to the packaging that surrounds the delivered product, both digital packaging that users experience through e-commerce and hard packaging that requires physical effort to open.
Challenges in UX Design
Acknowledging that hardware and software design is not easy, UX design creates a higher bar of complexity that traditional design teams have not considered to date. Medical product manufacturers must now go beyond physical attributes that directly impact user performance to consider the complex intersection of how user performance, emotion, and perception interact with the IoT and big data. They must also examine how new user interfaces such as virtual and augmented reality change behavior, influence market acceptance, and ultimately impact clinical efficacy.
As a result, today’s UX design teams must be equally cross-functional and multidisciplinary to understand and consider how all aspects of the UX impacts user performance. UX teams must be comprised of technical experts who are cross-trained to not only look at each aspect of a design from a vertical standpoint, but also look laterally to identify where collisions and symbioses live.
It’s so easy to bring additional features and functionality to a product with a few extra lines of code, but it must be asked on the front end whether these things are even needed and to what extent they deliver value to users in a meaningful way. Our society is enamored with voice entry and apps that control everything, including other apps. But once again, voice entry is not a panacea of input design, and providing an app for every product developed is not a solution that contributes to simplicity, intuitiveness, and usability. Instead, without thoughtful consideration of what each and every technology, feature, and benefit brings to all user types, the result will be a design cacophony that inhibits usability, introduces user error, and frustrates users, which will turn a great idea with breathtaking technological advances into a product or service that fails miserably in the market.
Not unlike usability testing of hardware and software, UX concepts can be tested and evaluated in ways that allow design teams to zero in on specific ergonomic and design elements that contribute to design excellence, while also identifying those that add noise and confusion to the user experience. Usability testing of UX concepts provides fundamental direction for what the product or service needs to provide users, how to do it most effectively, and in the end, how to create a UX that establishes a unique brand equity.
One cannot talk about UX experience research and design without addressing the attendant costs. New product development programs have traditionally not had line items in their budgets for UX design. Many claim UX design falls under the veil of consumer insight research or market research, but these are different efforts that do not drill into the emotional core of what makes a product meaningful and valuable.
High-functioning brands have embraced the potency of UX design by replacing traditional market, sensory, and user insight research teams with UX experts who have backgrounds in human factors engineering/ergonomics, industrial design, sociology, anthropology, and ethnography. These UX experts bring a unique set of tools and techniques for studying human behavior, perception, and emotion by also translating these observations and insights into actionable steps for design and engineering teams. UX research also provides a framework for creating scorecards early on in R&D programs that deliver unassailable user needs and human and emotional performance requirements. Ideas, early-on concepts, and a finished design can be assessed to ensure a brilliant idea is not “dumbed down” and diluted on its journey to market.
Creating Value and Meaning
UX design is all-inclusive. It speaks to the needs of all user types, what they need to perform effectively, and how the design needs to be articulated to create a seamless extension of how people think, feel, and behave. Good UX design mitigates use error and ensures obvious and non-obvious need states are captured and expressed in the final design, eliminating surprises of all types when going to market.
Good UX design considers each touch point, all materials and textures, acoustical and haptic signatures, and ultimately how users interact in order to most effectively and enjoyably interact with the design. The key axiom for world-class UX design is that every detail matters.
Dr. Bryce Rutter, founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group Inc., is a leading expert in the research, ergonomics, and design of medical products and worldwide specialist in hand-intensive products and packaging. His work includes collaborations with numerous global prestigious brands and high-profile startups on products ranging from robotic surgical systems, powered and manual instrument design, and drug delivery systems to disposables, mobile and wearable devices to personal care products, IFUs, and usability and contextual inquiry research programs. Metaphase delivers innovative designs that redefine industry standards, invigorate sleepy brands and create new product categories. Under Dr. Rutter’s leadership, Metaphase has received more than 120 international design excellence awards and 117 patents. Dr. Rutter holds degrees in industrial design and Ph.D. in kinesiology, specializing in hand function. Contact him at email@example.com.