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.
I was in the kitchen of a friend’s restaurant the other day and noticed that they have a small defibrillator by the first aid kit and the fire extinguisher. I feel like I know what a defibrillator should look like and I know that being quick, safe, intuitive and easy to use are imperative but how the design and engineering challenge changes when the device lives in a restaurant for use by the sous chef instead of in and ER for use by a physician is what makes being a product designer so rewarding.