8 simple rules for integrating usability into your medical device

1 Jun 2017

Image: Pedro Nogueira

As the medtech industry continues to flourish, how can companies ensure that their medical devices are up to scratch? Synecco has the solution. Or, rather, eight solutions.

Usability engineering has become a critical part of new product development in the medical industry.

Future Human

A robust and provable usability engineering process is now essential to gain US FDA clearance for any new device. For many companies, this can seem a daunting prospect, especially if the necessary expertise is not in-house.

On that note, Synecco has provided this concise list of eight guidelines to direct you on how to maximise the usability of your new device.

1. Make sure you are designing the right device

Asking some critical questions at the beginning of a project can save a huge amount of time and money. Is there a market for this new device? Will users accept it? Will people want to use it? Nail it down at the beginning.

2. Identify and understand your users early

Once you have defined what you want your device to be, you need to fully understand how it will be used. Conduct ethnographic research to fully appreciate the context and environment of device usage. Observation will always deliver more usability-related insights than market research. Speak to your users, but never guide their feedback. By observing and speaking to users, your device can deliver real benefits.

3. Consider the entire product life cycle

How is the device packaged, transported and stored? Will the person preparing your device be the same person using your device? Will your device need regular maintenance? Whoever encounters your device is a user and their needs should be catered for.

4. Identify usability-based risk early and monitor throughout development

The fundamental purpose of usability engineering is to mitigate risk during device usage and maximise device safety.

5. Don’t ignore ergonomics and anthropometrics

The design interface you specify should be intuitive, should align with user expectations and prevent user errors. Ensure it’s comfortable to hold and actuate. Consult relevant anthropometric and strength data, and identify the percentile range of your target user group.

6. Don’t neglect device appeal and aesthetics

Realising your device to the highest possible level of design aesthetics will maximise your device’s appeal and engage users. People like using well-considered, well-designed products.

7. Conduct usability testing and iteratively improve the design interface

No matter how good your team is, they won’t get it right first time! Prototype your design interface and test it in worst-case scenarios with real users. Identify the issues with your design interface, solve them, then repeat this process until your device is safe and easy to use.

8. Document your usability activities fully

To pass US FDA scrutiny, your usability engineering process will need to be documented fully in line with relevant standards and guidelines. Everything from early-stage evaluations with users to the final human factors validation report will need to be documented. These documents will then form your usability engineering file.

Usability engineering within new product development can be a laborious and time-consuming process. An option chosen by many organisations is to outsource this process to a firm that has the necessary expertise to deliver the desired outputs.

By Ronan Benson

Ronan Benson is a senior industrial designer at Synecco, a medical device manufacturer that provides a full usability and design engineering service, bringing devices from idea generation to final product supply.