Product Development 101: How to Design a Medical Product People Will Connect With

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Companies that choose to bypass (or simply overlook) the iterative design, prototyping, and user testing part of the product development process are at great risk of not meeting key user needs. Not only that, but these companies will likely miss their window of opportunity for designing the right features and attributes that make a product meaningful and desirable for end users.

These are the exact kinds of questions a medical device company does NOT want to ask themselves after their new product has been launched and in the market:

Our product design met all of our requirements, so why is it that users don’t want to use it? And why have they switched to using our competitor’s product?

If you’ve ever found yourself in this painful or confusing position, your company may have assumed that they knew what the users needed and wanted. The marketing and engineering teams created robust requirements and the development team designed accordingly, verifying that all of the product and regulatory requirements have been met. The FDA has cleared the product for use, and the manufacturer produces what you expected to be a winner in the market. However, the end users prefer a competitor’s product over yours that basically does the same thing.

The difference is that there are likely things about your competitor’s product that resonate with users and just feel better to them. Users might say things along the lines of, “It feels like it was designed specifically for me,” or, “Wow – they considered the way I actually do my job and made it easy and useful for me, rather than a chore or frustration.”

How to Achieve Design Excellence For Your Users

The best way to get your users to say, “Wow! It feels like they designed this for me,” is to include a user-centered design approach in the development process. This all begins with observing and understanding the users, their environments, and their routines. Based on these initial observations, the design and research teams should work together to develop concepts that can be evaluated by the actual users in their actual environments to gain insights into what matters most to them. This often leads to discovering those things that make the difference to the users in the way they effectively use a product.

Ultimately, it always comes down to the fact that the devil is in the details:

A critical component in designing product usability, utility, and aesthetic personality is through iterative design, prototyping, and user evaluations. The important thing is to repeat this multiple times and refine after each user evaluation, then repeat the process until the development team is confident that they are designing a meaningful product for users, that will meet their needs.

Every time the cycle restarts, the fidelity of the design concepts and prototypes increases, therefore enabling more granular and detailed user feedback on the subtleties of concept user interaction, interface, and overall aesthetics details.

Your goal is in with the good, out with the bad. The findings and insights from these cycles provide guidance in identifying the most meaningful design and usability details, as well as the not so important things that may have once been considered necessary.

Best practices for developing products that people love to use:

1. Observe and interview actual users in their environment and routines (not in an office conference room) to discover what matters most to them.

2. Create multiple concepts and prototypes.

3. Evaluate and test with users; design research (contextual inquiries and formative usability studies) to inform the development team and provide key user insights and overall direction.

4. Repeat: Test multiple options again with users to gain more intel on the intangibles that elevate a specific design to a higher level of user acceptance (user delight).

5. Weave the most important insights and design details that have been discovered into the engineering solution to create a product design that meets requirements, performance criteria, and the user delight subtleties that are needed (and have become expected) in home health care products. The sophistication of medical devices today are much like the consumer product industry.

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