artikel | 12 nov 2020

User-centred design for health tech products and systems

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Chronicle by Jonas Svennberg, design strategist at Zenit Design

Ask users what they want? No, we have to understand the needs of various stakeholders and users, and cater for those needs when developing new solutions. These needs are often unknown to the users and to the experts developing the systems, as well as to the designers involved.

Design of complex systems
Medical systems are often based on new technologies or new scientific results and are by their nature typically complex to develop. On top of this, they have to comply with extensive regulatory requirements to minimise risks to patients. It has often been our experience that development resources (time/budget) are exhausted by the time a feasible solution is reached that is also accepted by a notified body. However, the solution could fail or at least be very hard to sell if users and patients don’t understand how to use it or don’t appreciate the user experience.

This risk is hard to put a figure on when taking strategic decisions with owners and potential investors. And potential weaknesses identified during late-stage user testing are difficult, time-consuming and costly to rework.

That is why users and other critical stakeholders have to be invited onboard early on in the process, and designers, with their methodology, are well suited to running the process.

User research and user validation
User research is a platform for innovation. This is where you identify needs and explore the user context with all other systems or factors that interact or risk interfering with the product-service system or device you are developing.

The user insights you acquire will increase your level of innovation, as you strengthen the process with previously unknown facts. When talking to companies not used to this methodology we often hear “we know what our users need”. This is based on marketing statistics or on asking users, or more often on users’ managers or their manager’s manager. What design research reveals during field visits, contextual interviewing or reviewing filmed use cases are all the small ‘workarounds’ people have created to solve situations with existing tools and systems, that they themselves are unaware of. This applies to all of us. We learn reflexes and are helped by them, but we are rarely aware of them.

Keeping users involved in the process also allows you to validate concepts early on and successively adjust them until you have a solution you can develop to launch or production. You fail fast and early, and know that when you invest in development and production your product or service will be well received by users. The iterative process will create a solid design history file, well suited to the approval process for obtaining notified body approval. This is exactly what the medical device standard is aimed at.

Bring in designers to support your understanding of user needs, particularly when the technical or scientific challenges are complex. This will help leverage your expertise and reduce business risk. It will ultimately benefit both patients and your business.

Jonas Svennberg is a design strategist at Zenit Design, an agency with 26 years’ experience of developing a wide range of physical and digital products and services. Designing for the medical field has always been an important part of our portfolio, with a range of long-standing client relationships.



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