Simplicity is Key to Successful User Interface Design

The Business Problem

How do you design a single touch-screen interface that allows multiple technicians to simultaneously conduct different medical diagnostic tests on as many as 12 instruments without introducing confusion?

The Client’s Challenge

This was the challenge facing Biofire Diagnostics LLC of Salt Lake City, a molecular diagnostics leader known for its pioneering advances in syndromic infectious disease testing.

Adding to the complexity of the task was a wish to transition to touch-screen from a previous PC mouse-and-keyboard-driven design. This meant re-thinking all design elements and user interactions. And if that wasn’t enough, the screen itself had to be miniaturized in keeping with a desire to integrate the user interface, 12 instruments, and a barcode scanner into a single, stacked package that took up just one-third of the previous bench space.

Once Biofire Diagnostics selected MindFlow Design to re-design the Biofire FilmArray Torch system, it quickly became obvious to all that creating a simple, intuitive user interface would be its make-or-break element. Since the client had never worked with a user interface design firm before, the first thing we did was familiarize them with our design approach, one based upon user research, presentation of a stream of iterative design concepts and continual user testing. The Biofire team made this challenge easier by being open and receptive to learning and working with our process.

Begin with the Right Game Plan

To address the user interface question, Mind-Flow Design developed a plan to produce various software deliverables on tight deadlines. The plan called for us to partner with Biofire Diagnostics engineers, who were great at coding software. Our role was to determine the connections between people and software toward the goal of producing that simple, intuitive user interface.

Our rigorous, user-centered design process involved carefully studying laboratory technician workflows through in-person observations, taking particular note of user expectations. Similarly, we studied users of competitive equipment. Then we tested user reactions to a series of early prototypes to make sure our efforts aligned with real-world needs.

Our partnership with the software engineers was defined by flexibility and a high degree of cooperation. As soon as content could be determined, we started feeding the engineers key screens that would become the basis of the software architecture. This allowed the engineers to make progress continuously, benefitting the project schedule.

At the end of the design process, we conducted FDA-required summative usability tests with 17 laboratory technicians to validate that we designed the right product. And we did, as evidenced by the fact that all the participants were able to easily navigate the user interface with very little training at all.

Most companies view summative usability tests as a necessary evil. To us, such tests are more than that. We used the process to discover subtle improvement opportunities that were not serious enough to block FDA approval. In this instance, Biofire was able to easily incorporate several software tweaks before going to market, making the product even better.

 

Summing up, our main deliverable for the user interface portion of the Biofire Diagnostics project was a comprehensive 90-page specification enabling software developers to contribute to the project in the most effective ways.

The Payoff

When the next-generation Biofire Film Array was launched, we observed that it drew a big crowd in the company’s booth at an important San Diego trade show. The simple touch-screen interface provided the exquisite orchestration necessary for several users to perform different tests simultaneously. Obviously, this was easier said than done. Subsequently, the Biofire FilmArray Torch won the “Prix du jury” award at the Journee Internationales de Biologie laboratory medicine trade show in Paris.

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