Those of us who are in the design industry typically spend a lot of our time thinking about the person who is going to use our fabulous invention, and what the situation is like when they will be using it…

This is all part of our effort to ensure user-centered design principles are followed. When it comes to medical devices, these principles are more important than ever. If a user becomes confused about the function of a surgical tool during a surgery, the results could be disastrous.

This led us to think a bit about the factors that have contributed to the most successful user interfaces on medical devices that Kablooe has developed over its 30 years of medical device design. We identified a handful of principles that led to those success stories. Here are the most important practices we put in place when considering the design of medical device user interfaces.

1. Rethink What You’ve Been Taught About Creative Problem-Solving

Our “think like a designer and an engineer” mantra is a bit more philosophical than it is tactical, but extremely important nonetheless. This is not easy, however, especially in this day and age.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about how our brains work. Many of us were led to believe at some point that because of our personality, we had a stronger left or right neural network. Studies have shown that this is not true. According to the Institute for Brain Potential, the lobe of the brain that is responsible for art, beauty, and humor is also responsible for creative problem-solving — and that is the chief role of an engineer. Additionally, because of the neuroplasticity of the brain, we can use the left or right side equally as well, according to a University of Utah study. Because we know the brain is neuroplastic and that lobe can be exercised with these activities, it stands to reason that someone who is regularly exposed to art, music, and humor will be a better engineer.

However, these exercises are tragically absent from our academic lineup for engineers today. In most of academia today, we actually train people to not be creative. Most if this comes from our “linear” way of educating students. (See Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk here.) When a student enters the academic world on an engineering path, they become pigeonholed as a person who either can’t, or doesn’t need to, possess the ability to participate in artistic activities.

Furthermore, in engineering academia, much emphasis is put on finding the “right answer,” and very little effort is focused on exploring many possibilities. I love the little cartoon that shows how a linear thinker would answer the task “Draw me a square” compared to the divergent thinker. You can see how using a non-linear method of thinking when considering possible solutions to a problem, and exploring many options, can lead to a host of possibilities that you can draw features from to form a final concept. This is how brilliant innovation is fueled and unexpected results are unearthed.

2. Take Advantage Of Creative Processes.

Here are a few ways to nurture creative problem-solving in your team:

  • Have warm-up exercises before brainstorming and ideation. Exercising the part of the brain that is responsible for creative problem solving is extremely important when it comes to priming the brain for creative activity. Warm up exercises should include should include humor and problem solving, with some physical activity involved. The goal is to get the brain to release BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) to stimulate creativity, and laughter initiates this response.
  • Encourage a culture of fun, humor, and artistic appreciation. This keeps the BDNF flowing in the office all the time! Find ways to incorporate activities that promote these into your regular team calls and meetings. An example we like to use is to have a discussion topic at the start of a video call that requires everyone to respond and elicits humorous responses.
  • When beginning to design a user interface, require your team to provide many solutions. It will force them to go deeper into that lobe to draw out more creative concepts. In the end, a combination of several concept solutions inevitably ends up being the best solution. This also assures that creative solutions are being discovered early in the development, which is much easier than trying to add innovative solutions later to a layout that everyone fell in love with at the start because it was the only option.

3. Incorporate Best Practices Into Your Routine.

There are a few things that have proven to be best practices over the years that maintain their creative prowess regardless of current trends or the passage of time.

The first is making sure that you understand what your users need to be successful with the device or system. This goes a bit deeper than just understanding your users in general, or getting some “voice of customer” data. It really means digging deep into

their world that encompasses your device or system and uncovering all their “little needs” that surround the “big need” that your device or system is attempting to solve in the first place. As Einstein once said, “If I had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem, and only 5 minutes finding the solution.” In essence, he is saying that the most creative way to solve a design challenge is to intimately know your user. There are a host of methods in the design and human factors toolbox that can be used to do this.

Secondly, there are a number of design rules that should not be forgotten when developing a user interface, such as making sure there is a quick understanding of status, the ability to back out of a function, consistency across design elements, and, most importantly, affordance. Affordance is how well an interface or control makes it clear how it should be used. This seems simple, but it is often forgotten and sacrificed for the sake of space or detail.

Keep these things in mind while you are designing your next device user experience or interface, and you will be on your way to creating a “wow factor” that will have your user becoming your product evangelist.