Tor Alden, IDSA
Vol. 40 No. 1, p. 24

Whether you believe God or the devil lives in the details, there is no mistaking their influence.

The design of medical products is no exception. How and where a device will be used and the fact that it will often be used in conjunction with other medical products make attention to detail all the more important.

We are now entering a new decade in which previously futuristic designs are becoming a reality. This evolution is impacting the design of medical products, forcing designers in the medical field to move away from looking at the design of single objects toward the design of entire systems and the delivery of care.

Vital Signs

From cars to coffee pots, people rely on products in their daily lives and trust that they adhere to safety and usability standards. Designers and manufacturers focus on details like interface design, user interaction, and testing because users of all levels demand products that work easily and reliably. In medical device design, however, all these details can mean the difference between life or death. There is promise in the design of personalized medicine and a more efficient delivery of care where the boundaries between drugs, devices, software and patient data blur. This promise has the potential to improve the daily lives of patients and bring more advanced care along with lighter financial burdens. Patients and healthcare providers are accustomed to rapid innovation in all other aspects of their lives, so why not in healthcare too? That is our dream.

Technology excels at collecting data about our social media lives, but what about our health-related data? In the United States, we have access to a different specialist for each health anomaly. In doing so, we hope all the specialists who take care of us talk to one another to coordinate our care. But how would they communicate when one hospital system’s medical records are sealed from another’s? Our social media selves may possess a more cohesive data set on us than our medical record selves, yet we still wish to make better health decisions that will increase our vitality and health. This is our reality.

A Humanizing Influence

This issue of INNOVATION explores the design of advanced technology that pushes the boundaries of traditional industrial design (form-giving and ergonomics for a singular product) into the incorporation of advanced interaction design, often as part of a complex system that directly interacts with patients. Our contributors question processes and expectations in the development of a shared vision in this multidisciplinary space, discuss what changes need to occur in design education to better prepare young designers for this growing field, and consider the ever-changing global market, which includes sustainability and the notion that products may also include services.

Until recently, medical and healthcare design seemed to be limited to beige and blue boxes built for eternal obsolescence. Today, with the help of new technologies, along with progress in usability, the need for design has never been more acute. Technology is pushing the medical and healthcare industry in ways never imagined with augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics, to name a few. With this push comes a
pressing need for industrial and interface design to humanize the user experience. The good news is that design has stepped up to the plate. This is evident in the past few years of the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA). Not only did the medical category earn the greatest number of Golds last year, but a medical product also won the Best in Show. New materials, bold design directions, and simplicity were the main themes among the medical product winners, and yet the design of all these devices also demonstrated humility in their primary focus on improving patient care and helping to save lives.

I am honored to have the opportunity to be the Guest Editor of this issue of INNOVATION, and I thank all our contributors for their insightful perspectives and dreams for the future. Together, medical device designers and educators are embracing the challenges and opportunities in front of us. We are creating a vision for cross-disciplinary collaboration that integrates UX and ID and growing our success in design that is focused on healthcare.

I hope you all enjoy!

—Tor Alden, IDSA, Guest Editor
Tor Alden is principal of HS Design (HSD), an award-winning, certified ISO 13485 product development firm. His current focus is on human factors, design research, and strategy.