written By Sean Fenske, Editor, January 19, 2016
Sounding Board: Designing Emotion into MedTech
In the consumer space, a device that triggers an emotional response among users through its design is a trait of many successful technologies. The user develops a type of bond with the device as it fulfills an emotional need of sorts. This could be considered the greatest success in the design of a device as it ensures the user will remain loyal and is much less likely to seek out a competitive offering.
A great example of this type of emotional bond between a device and user can be seen among consumers of Apple products. While similar—or in some cases, even superior—offerings may be available, Apple has achieved an emotional bond with their customer base and it would take a significant disappointment to diminish that connection.
Conversely, in the medical device space, design can often be viewed as driven by functional requirements first. This approach can result in a device that doesn’t generate that same type of response or address an emotional need for a patient managing their health. The technology provides the necessary clinical solution, but that “attachment” to it does not exist beyond the user knowing they need it for a health purpose.
With more medical technology moving into the hands of the patients themselves, thinking about the emotional response a device might create has never been more important. Whether a drug delivery device, glucose monitor, rehabilitation product, or another technology that’s used directly by patients (often outside of a doctor’s office or hospital), establishing a connection with the user can be almost as important to a product’s success as its clinical efficacy. Developing a device that generates this type of emotional response, however, is not a concept with which many medical device makers are familiar. Further, they have no idea as to how to address this during early project development.
With this in mind, MPO reached out to design and development firms that have experience in the medtech industry. They were asked about this topic and posed the following question, “How do you design emotion into a medical device?”
Sean Hägen, Principal, Director of Research & Synthesis, BlackHägen Design
In the medical device design and development world, clinical efficacy has understandably been priority one. This typically translates as a technology-driven design. The next priority is usability, which balances ease-of-use with use safety. So aesthetics, the realm of industrial design, has often been a low priority and even marginalized. However, as efficacy becomes the price of entry for competing in a market, commercial drivers focus more on usability and aesthetics. This is especially effective when industrial design is utilized early on for its user-experience capabilities.
It is not only important that the user feels an emotional connection with the product to be commercially competitive, but this connection can enhance usability and efficacy too. This is particularly evident when the user is the patient, a scenario that is becoming more common. For example, it is well understood that a patient will be more inclined to carry and use a device in public if the product does not draw attention to the user’s illness. In other words, the appropriate aesthetic is that of a consumer product, not a clinical device.
The “appropriate” aesthetic is not universal across all medical segments. Where a homecare device may be appropriately whimsical in style, a life-support device in the ICU should have different aesthetic characteristics like serious, high tech, and clean. This appropriate aesthetic delights the clinical user such that they feel their needs have been addressed elegantly while not intimidating the patient.