medical design

…anyone currently working in or have experience with the medical end of things?..i am considering an opportunity with a consultant/manufacturer in this realm and even though i have always been more form follows function than stylist, i am concerned that i may find this field a bit limiting…any insights would be appreciated.

Can’t imagine how’d be limiting - just like working on any business product. primary criteria for purchase will be function vs cost.
You get to do different kinds of problem solving.
FDA approval is a huge hurdle to overcome.

there might be one drawback, medical designers never get on the cover of magazines or on TV shows.

I had the opportunity to do an internship at Ethicon Endo-Surgery designing non invasive surgical tools. it was alot of human factors, and research by observation.

What was great was I had the opportunity to problem solve on a direct level with physicians. The FDA stuff can be a hurdle but that’s why most medical companies employ alot of lawyers.

This is kinda overly warm and fuzzy, but it was great to know that at the end of the day you were producing concepts that would directly effect someone’s life in a positive way.

And if the warm and fuzzy’s dont do it for you, these kinds of positions do tend to pay better than most ID jobs.

Best of luck

I have been doing medical for over ten years and I love it. I have worked it about every area of healthcare except for the surgical suite. Without a doubt the best part is the research. 95% of the time the end user is not the decision maker (for purchasing and ordering the use of the device, except possibly for surgical equipment). The end users tend to be nurses and techs and the decision maker tends to be a doc or the hospital admin for the pricey pieces of instrumentation. Influencers play an important role. They are the ones who did the initial clinical research to validate the outcomes of the device. A device manufacturer doesn’t come up with the procedure or test, which needs the validation, they develop the tool to make the procedure/test work. You get to talk to all of these people and it is very interesting. There are many different drivers which makes the problem solving more challenging.

Look and feel is driven by marketing, as always. There is styling but it is usually to support the product strategy. There is little to no style for style sake. Sometimes the instruments are made with off the shelf parts and styling is reduced to a paint job.

Human factors play a huge role. Nurses and especially techs are not the most educated people and need to use very complicated instruments. Error free is critical when the information provided by the devices is life or death (there are a lot of redundancies built in). Time/motion studies are also frequent – many of the procedures are very similar to assembly lines. You are also dealing with bio-hazardous and or radioactive materials, safety is always a concern.

Regulatory is a pain but if you know what to expect, it’s not that bad.

I also agree with the statement above, I feel better that the stuff I produce truly helps people and isn’t the latest electronic crap destined for a landfill after it becomes obsolete in 18 months.

…thanks for the feedback…what attracts me to the opportunity is that my work would definately go into products which would improve the human condition and i would be working directly with healthcare professionals rather than marketing/sales types…should be a refreshing change and a challenging step outside of my comfort zone…what i was thinking in terms of limits was indeed the FDA aspect…in that, time to market pressures might limit significant departures from existing designs to avoid the months of time required for FDA approval…i suppose it would just be a risk/benefit parameter to contend with in the design process.

You mention that federal restrictions slow the process of innovation - there is a program up at the Mayo Clinic called the SPARC Center (they made a big splash a couple years back when they hired IDEO to re-work the patient experience, resulting in a self check-in kiosk). Their mission is to develop new products/services to meet the needs of the health care industry.

I havent heard of many results since then, but they continue to take on lots of grad students from IIT (who publish their work as Thesis). If not producing tangible results yet, the idea of using the deep dive in a more scientific (vs. marketing) context is something all of us interested in medical products should encourage.

I wouldn’t let that be a huge worry. Everyone in the medical device indusrtry understands the 510k process and will fill you in with your project (I am assuming your employer is not new to the industry). Any change, signifigant or not, requires resubmission to the FDA. And I am talking about VERY minor changes, like changing the color (and therefor the pigment) in a bottle cap. It happened to me when the company changed its logo from blue to green and I recommended their product should reflect that change. Like I said before, if you know what is going to happen and are will to wait for the paperwork, it’s not so bad.

I’ve designed for many industries, but medical has always been the most rewarding. No wonder those that do it tend to stick with it for life. I knew telecom and healthcare were the hot fields. Now that I’m doing medical fulltime, I’m astonished at the extent of the opportunities–it is far from limiting.

Food for thought:

Consider: 770,000 people are harmed or killed annually in US hospitals from preventable error: This is a design problem.

Consider: The US population of elderly will double between 2010 and 2030, while we have a critically-shortening supply of nurses and pharmacists. Usable technology must fill the gap: This is a design problem.

…And how many designers are tackling these problems? I attended a patient safety conference and was the only designer in attendance. I saw numerous presentations from clinicians and hospitals, all struggling with designing out error. And yet none were utilizing designers or a design process! This is a design problem.

Join the crusade!

That’s all very true - but why don’t you see more opportunities for ID around?
My limited experience is, the medical field is very aware of Engineering and considers that the go-to feild, who in turn pull in ID…

In my experience, it’s because they don’t know about ID.

The Mayo clinic example is the exception, but I’m guessing that they still couldn’t tell you what Industrial Design is, despite partnering with IDEO (who use the term “innovation” to describe what they do.) Good for IDEO, bad for “Industrial Design.”

The other problem we face is that new technologies are absorbed by the Innovators and Early Adopters–two groups that could care less about a well designed product, they just want the technology. Design really starts to offer value as a differentiator once a market has “crossed the chasm” to the early majority of consumers, who demand good design. But even then, the lack of competitors in the field, plus the long lifecycles and sales deals means poorly designed medical devices continue to sell. But this is changing and the market is slow to adopt.

It is our job to spread the word, and start knocking on those doors, not as consultants, but as a strategic discipline with essential methods.