The Future is Now: Conceptual Product Design and the Next Generation of Medical Devices

 In Design Strategy

The medical device industry is more competitive than it’s ever been, and rapidly evolving new technologies are adding fuel to the fire. Now more than ever, innovation is a must. Your market share is what’s at stake. That means you need to develop a clear vision for the next generation of medical devices. The best way to do that? Conceptual product design.

Conceptual product design doesn’t have a single, universally agreed-upon definition. However, you can think of it as an open-ended, exploratory design process that allows companies to envision new ways of harnessing cutting-edge technologies.

Like concept cars in the automotive industry, conceptual product design is an exciting exercise in forecasting the future. The goal is often both simple and broad: to improve upon existing products — or create something entirely new.

Done well, conceptual product design can help your company innovate, create new value, generate excitement, and tap into unknown opportunities.

What is Conceptual Product Design?

Standard product design begins with a specific end-product in mind. Over the course of a series of set stages, product design seeks to methodically flesh out and validate a pre-existing concept, all while staying in budget and on deadline. This process, while potentially iterative and even agile, starts broad and narrows in on a final result, like a funnel.

Conceptual product design, in contrast, is free to be much less linear and more exploratory in its thinking.

Rather than a specific product, conceptual product designers may take as their starting point a new technology, like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, or voice-recognition software. The goal might then be to think as creatively as possible about how something like artificial intelligence, for example, can be overlaid on a company’s existing products and/or technologies. This information can be used to create new or updated products that yield better results (or an improved experience) for users.

The conceptual design process is often less constrained by specific budgetary needs and production timelines, which helps fuel creativity and open-ended thinking.

The end result of conceptual product design frequently takes the form of what we at MindFlow call a “vision prototype.” The vision prototype may be formatted as a mockup (in a series of slides or drawings, for example). Its purpose is to convey possible product design pathways for future development.

These rough prototypes can be shared internally (or with the broader industry) with the goal of drumming up excitement and identifying new opportunities. A successful round of conceptual product design will forecast and initiate the next generation of a company’s products and push the overall industry forward.

Conceptual Product Design for Medical Device Companies

Medical device companies haven’t always been the fastest to adopt the latest technologies. Partly, this is because so many medical devices have historically been used in a hospital or clinical setting. This means that the end users are all professionals who receive specific training on the devices before using them. As a result, these health professionals haven’t always had the same expectations for the medical devices they use at work as for the smartphones and video game consoles they use in their personal lives.

Another factor is the time spent developing medical devices. The higher-risk nature of medical products — and the regulations and legal requirements surrounding them — mean that medical device companies can’t move as quickly as, say, consumer electronics in taking new products from concept to market.

But that’s all starting to change.

The biggest driver, as you might expect, is the shift toward home health and wellness products. As medical products quickly begin to merge with consumer electronics and “wired homes,” people are integrating more and more medical technology  in their everyday lives. From Fitbits and Apple watches to wireless blood pressure monitors, consumers are now beginning to expect the same level of sophistication from medical devices as the smartphones they already carry in their pockets.

Advances in consumer electronics and home medical devices have a trickle-down effect on medical devices in hospital and clinical settings. Simply put, healthcare professionals have been “trained” by consumer electronics to expect more and more sophistication from the devices they use at work.

Medical device companies may balk at the idea of spending valuable time and money on open-ended conceptual design exercises without a specific outcome in mind. But the potential rewards for doing so are well worth the effort. Conceptual product design can give medical device companies the edge they need to stay ahead of competitors and produce innovative devices that meet the high expectations for sophistication and ease of use set by consumer electronics.

Not only that, but new technologies identified by conceptual product design bring with them the potential for creating products that promote better health outcomes for the people who need them most. For medical device companies, it doesn’t get much better than that.

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