Want to Produce a Stellar Software-Driven Medical Device? Focus on the Hardware.
In your quest to design a user-friendly, software-driven medical device, you likely plan to spend the lion’s share of your time and attention on, well, the software. Make no mistake, the quality of your software and user interface (UI) are critically important. But they aren’t the only factors that determine the success of your finished medical product. There’s another piece of the puzzle that you must also tend to, and that is your hardware.
From touchscreens to chipsets, the hardware that supports your software directly affects the quality of your digital interface’s user experience (UX). Unfortunately, too many medical device company’s hardware choices fall short. They source components based on cost rather than range of capabilities and quality. The result? A suboptimal user experience and a product that feels cheap.
Hardware represents an opportunity to set your software-driven medical device apart. By investing in the right components to support your desired outcomes, you can deliver the high-caliber user experience today’s users expect.
The Risk of Choosing the Wrong Hardware Components
For your software-driven medical device to be successful, you must bring your software and hardware into alignment.
If you treat the hardware components as a secondary concern, you risk people perceiving your device as clunky and of a lower quality. This risk is real even if you pour a great deal of effort and resources into creating a first-rate software system and user interface. In fact, that’s really the worst-case scenario: You invest in building a truly user-friendly UI, but it is expressed as a frustrating, unsatisfactory user experience due to the hardware components.
For example, this could look like:
An insensitive touchscreen that doesn’t respond to common touch gestures (such as swipes and flicks) or fails to behave according to users’ expectations
A low-resolution screen that doesn’t clearly display your user interface (or that isn’t optimized for your intended orientation)
Buttons that don’t respond to the expected level of pressure or don’t have a responsive “action” that lets users know they accomplished something
Dials that aren’t tightly integrated with your software
A sluggish or “buggy” user interface stemming from an underpowered chipset
A voice-controlled system that doesn’t reliably “hear” or correctly interpret voice commands
Unappealing audio components
Of course, no medical device design team sets out to source subpar hardware components. But it happens — frequently — for three reasons. The first is that design teams aren’t clear about the user needs and interaction requirements that the components must support so the wrong hardware is chosen.
The second is that design teams don’t do enough research about the components they select for their devices. They simply expect that the components they source will support their intended interactions.
The third is that someone on the team sources a component based on competitive pricing without consulting the design team first to ensure that the hardware meshes with the device’s intended user experience.
Either way, these oversights translate to a frustrating user experience — one that can tank your medical device’s performance in spite of everything else it has to offer.
How to Select the Right Hardware For Your Software-Driven Medical Device
As you consider each of the following hardware components, remember to start with your end-goal for your medical device in mind. What sort of user experience do you hope to create? Clearly document those user needs, translate them into design inputs, and establish hardware requirements. Next, work backward to select components that will bring it to life without any unnecessary compromises.
Not all chipsets are created equal. The more powerful a chipset is, the better equipped it is to support your digital interface’s performance and rendering capabilities. If you want to avoid a slow, frustrating user experience, you must select a chipset (and software operating system) that supports your vision.
If, on the other hand, you start the design process with a designated chipset, your task is to design a user interface that doesn’t overshoot your chipset’s capabilities. To that end, you may want to spend time exploring your chipset to figure out how best to use it within your interface before making any design decisions.
Screens and touchscreens
Selecting the wrong screen can make a well-designed UI come off as clunky and unresponsive.
Remember, different screens are designed with different uses in mind. The resolution and sensitivity of a given screen can make an enormous impact on your user experience.
As you assess various screens, ask yourself: How sensitive is the screen to touch? Will it support the gesture interactions coded into your software? Is it sensitive enough to allow users to easily swipe and flick on-screen components as intended? Or do users need to physically push and drag elements across the screen to get a response? Finally, is your screen optimized for your intended orientation and viewing angle? If any of these factors aren’t properly dialed in, your UX will suffer.,
Sound design is another important — yet often underutilized — consideration in interface design. Poor quality audio can quickly degrade an otherwise seamless user experience.
If your device will deploy sound, take time to source a decent speaker. In addition, make sure your software can handle a range of file formats for audio inputs. This way you have multiple options for your device’s sound design moving forward.
Voice-controlled technologies hold a great deal of promise in the medical world. (Think of a doctor operating a medical device hands-free while simultaneously performing other tasks.) As voice-controlled devices become more and more common in the consumer world, this technology is sure to cross over more fully into the medical device market, too.
If your device includes voice command capabilities, or simply needs to receive audio inputs, then the quality of the microphone you select matters. You need a microphone that is sensitive enough to decipher voice commands. That’s in combination with software, of course.
Physical buttons and dials
The physical buttons and dials you select play a role in how your users interact with your device — and even in how they interface with your software. For example, if the dials are oriented in a way that is counterintuitive, your users may struggle to decipher your UI. Likewise, the design of the buttons and dials you select should be ergonomic and responsive.
Also, if a dial or button interacts with an element of your digital interface, you must work to ensure that they are closely aligned. For example, if your users turn a dial to adjust your device’s volume, the relative shift in the volume should be calibrated to match users’ mental models. (For example, what they are accustomed to experiencing on a radio or car stereo dashboard.)
By taking time to properly research and source all of your hardware components, you can physically manifest the best-in-class user experience you envision for your software-driven medical device.