Medical Design May Be Dead

The idea of designing for medical products seems to be ever evolving. At one time there was a simple formula for designing both medical devices and pieces of diagnostic equipment: The designer took the concept, gave it a simple, clean and precise yet approachable form and then colored it light grey with accents of a surgical scrub blue-green and called it a design-masterpiece. Since then things have changed drastically. I wonder if with our population’s ever increasing health related issues and the need for health related products becoming such a part of people’s everyday, the approach to finding the most compelling design language has evolved to be more like designing any other consumer product. I suppose this has been a natural evolution and somewhat obvious since the use of things like blood pressure cuffs and aural thermometers have moved from strictly doctors offices to person’s living rooms and nightstands in the past decade or so.  Yes, the more I think about it, it does seem clear that, with more and more healthcare technology moving into the hands of the consumer so should the change  in the design language.  But there are other shifts that are less obvious and more difficult to explain. Not long ago I helped design a disposable surgical instrument and several of the surgeons expressed interest in having the handle look like a Mont Blanc pen. And, on another project several physicians thought it would be great to have their names scribed on the side of a similar disposable instrument—think childhood pencil with your name on it, except we are talking about a device that is intended to save a life. On a third project, the descriptors mentioned when discussing the ideal grip still included words like simple and precise with talk of making it look cool and distinctive. Even though they only hold the instrument briefly and in private they wanted to feel proud in doing so.  Of course, yes, there is confidence that comes from this pride and maybe we had just stumbled onto an especially egotistical group of physicians. I don’t know. However, on a sort of similar diagnostic equipment design project the physicians and the assistants felt the final form should be similar to that of an iphone. Some people just think everything should look like an iphone I suppose.


Color Forecasting

Hey kids! Do you know what time it is? It’s color-forecasting time!

Depending on the industry and retailer we are forecasting either Spring 2016 or Summer 2016. Not sure how you feel, but the fall predictions were a joke in my eyes and well, so were the previous seasons. At least all of the forecasting groups are in agreement. Wait. That’s a strange coincidence. I suppose this year’s forecast calls for another Fall of low saturation and minimal value contrast across all hues, with a chance of lame burnt oranges. So far, at least it seems to usual go that way. Yes, I imagine that these forecasting palettes are helpful for some industries. Industries like paint companies, certain segments of the fashion industry and maybe those designing for tabletop. Maybe this color forecast is helpful for the team at Crate and Barrel or those designers of consumer products like office supplies, toys, housewares and electronics when they don’t really factor in enough of the other facets that need to be considered when selecting a color. You know, like those little things like brand mission, points of difference and target demographic—I’d love to see Mattel launch a new Barbie Doll in a package colored in Oak Buff or Dried Herb. I am doubtful that any of this year’s color forecasting palette will appear at the store Hot Topic any time soon, but then again their palette is seriously limited, I guess black is implied?

The names are fun, although this seasons Cashmere Rose seems a bit close to Strawberry Ice; much closer than the names would indicate. It would make it all more complex but it might have more value if the palette factored in finishes too. A satin anodized variation of Marsala might be pretty sweet but I am not sure it would be appealing in high gloss. When we select colors with our clients we try to include finishes as well because they are so critical to how the product is perceived.  A perfect example of this can be seen in a category such as hair driers--loaded with everything from matte rubberized surfaces to fluorescent metallic. Of course, all the major brands are readily aware of the forecasted trends but their color selections tend to be driven more by brand story and aspiration than the soothsayers. The interesting part of color selection to me are the brands that are linked to a color but evolve subtly over time in finish, texture and hue. We were a small part of this exact kind of project with Kawasaki several years ago and the process of massaging the color and then maintaining it globally in production across a huge range of materials was amazing. That reminds me, looking at the pantone chart it appears that green is out entirely this fall.