device design

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Face Mask Innovators

Face mask innovators need to step up their game. It looks like COVID-19 is going to be with us for a while. Rather than a temporary inconvenience, the wearing of face masks is becoming part of the new normal. An opportunity for better design has arisen because current masks fail in so many ways: Where [...]

Good Design is Good Business Strategy

Good design is good business strategy. Simply having stunning technology is not enough to achieve market success and sustained profitability. R&D might have developed a revolutionary innovation. But if you fail to package the innovation in a well-considered design that addresses both aesthetics and usability, you will leave a lot of money on the table. [...]

What Is Your Patent Worth?

You might have a patent for a medical device, but is it really worth anything? If you focused on the wrong things when you had the patent application drafted, it might not be worth much. At Forma, we are not patent attorneys. But we do work with clients to conceive and develop novel innovations. Sometimes [...]

Designing Medical Products for Home-Based Care

The transition from hospital-based care to home-based care has been going on for some time. The COVID-19 pandemic has sped that movement up considerably. As we continue to deal with the pandemic, medical products for home-based care will be increasingly needed. In addition to products and devices aimed specifically at COVID, solutions to enhance the [...]

Solving the Right Problem

Solving the right problem is dependent on being able to separate symptom from disease. A symptom is but a manifestation of the true problem that lies beneath. Addressing the symptom rather than the problem is the grand flaw most of us make when we’re confronted with a difficult challenge, whether in business or in our [...]

Proving Medical Device Feasibility

Proving medical device feasibility is the first important milestone in bringing a medical device to market. The bulk of device design and development can’t happen until feasibility has been proven. Read further to understand what feasibility means and what needs to happen before you can prove feasibility. The Process Medical device development starts with taking [...]

10 Guidelines for Defining Medical Products

This week’s blog post on medical products comes courtesy of our good friend Joe Kalinowski, founder of Trilogy Associates. So, maybe you’re the second coming of Steve Jobs. You profess to know what folks will need, even though they don’t yet know they will want it. That approach to new-product definition is rarely successful. (Actually, [...]

Medical Device Usability and Cognitive Biases

Medical device usability is a top concern in medical design. There have been numerous studies that point to poor usability as contributing to medical errors. To design usability into medical devices, designers need to be aware of the many ways users (and they themselves) are influenced by biases in their thinking. I came across this [...]

Medical Device Design and Usability

Usability is one of the most important aspects of medical device design. This paper from authors at the University of Cambridge cites a number of studies that have shown that a significant percentage of medical errors could be prevented if more attention had been paid in the design phase to the device’s usability. How easy a [...]

Medical Devices to Reduce Pain

Because of the opioid addiction epidemic in the US, there has been a push this year to encourage the development of non-addictive methods of reducing chronic and acute pain. SPR Therapeutics has an FDA-cleared device that does that. The SprintPNS (peripheral nerve stimulation) device consists of an electrical lead that is guided to its placement [...]

Design Helps the Bottom Line

Want to increase revenues by 32% and increase returns to shareholders by 56%? According to a study by McKinsey & Company, that is what you can achieve by investing in design. To come up with those measures, McKinsey analyzed 2 million pieces of financial data and 100,000 actions that companies took to deliberately make design [...]

Touchscreens and Medical Devices

Touchscreens are becoming the predominant means of controlling devices of all kinds, including medical devices. It seems that more and more products are abandoning traditional hardware controls – push buttons, switches, sliders, knobs, etc. – for touchscreens. But current touchscreens have a serious drawback that makes them problematic to use and often frustrates the user. [...]

User Centered Design

Ease of use is a critical aspect of medical device design. A device that can be operated intuitively is a safer device – chances of use error are significantly reduced. A device that is simple to operate reduces the cognitive load of the user, allowing them to concentrate on the task, not on the device. [...]

Design of Wearable Medical Devices

There has been some interesting news on the design of wearable medical devices recently. Rutgers University is developing a wristband that can access the blood stream and draw up samples via a micron-sized tube. Sensors on the band can count blood cells, bacteria, organic matter and particles in the air, providing the capability to monitor and [...]

Gamification of Rehab

I am not a big proponent of “gamification”, but The RAPAEL Smart Pegboard from Korean company, Neofect is one product for which it seems appropriate and would be effective. RAPAEL provides a versatile solution for physical therapists dealing with all kinds of rehabilitation patients. The board has three different templates that can be used – [...]

The Current Design Trend

This post was initially going to be about the increasing prevalence of home diagnostic devices. One recent device is from Athelas. The device can analyze blood from a finger-prick droplet. It is meant to be used at home to allow patients to monitor changes in disease progression or to catch at the earliest stage whether [...]

Tips for Intuitive Design

Keep it simple. The small details are extremely important. Using distinct contrast - in color, or value (light/dark) - is the best way to call attention to what’s most important. Understand that one size does not fit all. What seems intuitive to one might not seem intuitive to another, for various reasons. Understand that, no [...]

The Environment of Use

The product design process focuses heavily on the interaction between the user and the product: how the product is perceived aesthetically, what cues it provides that tell the user how to operate it, how it needs to be manipulated, what safety features it needs, how it might be used inappropriately. Another factor that should be [...]

Home Diagnostic Devices

All kinds of medical devices are making their way from the hospital into the home. Diagnostic and monitoring devices are following that trend. A story from MedGadget reports on a portable tonometer, recently FDA approved, that patients can use in their homes or when they are traveling to monitor their intraocular pressure. I’m not sure [...]

Medical Device Design for Usability

Medical devices that are designed for good usability will minimize user errors. Negative outcomes are more likely to occur as a result of user error than of other device failure modes. In their paper, Evaluating and Predicting Patient Safety for Medical Devices with Integral Information Technology JaiJie Zhang and colleagues discuss using heuristic analysis as [...]

Build Your Own Medical Wearable

You can now build your very own, customized medical wearable device. A company out of Scotland, Glasgow Neuro Ltd., is offering all of the individual components you need, along with a bio-amplifier that communicates to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. Dr. Bernd Porr, has been instrumental in educating the public, via a series of [...]

Sanitizing Robotic Surgical Instruments

A recent study performed by researchers in Japan has revealed that instruments used in robotic surgery are very difficult to decontaminate. The complexity of the instruments prevents cleaning and sterilization mechanisms from reaching all areas of the instrument. The instruments are not designed to allow disassembly to clean the interior of lumens. As a result, protein [...]

FDA Guidelines for Medical Device Calibration

Guest post by Edward Simpson, RS Calibration, Inc. In biotech, biopharma and medical device industries, regular calibration is an important part of the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approval process. Comparing measurements from a test device against a known reference or standard helps reduce measurement uncertainty and errors, bringing instruments within an accepted accuracy [...]

Making Better Team Decisions

Medical device design is a collaborative process. That necessitates meetings with development team members to report on progress, discuss alternatives and solve problems. Group interactions can often spark great ideas via the interplay of the different perspectives and thinking that individual members bring to the group. Meetings can also be highly dysfunctional and a gigantic [...]

Innovative Suturing Device

Mellon Medical has developed a device that cuts suturing time in half. Their device is a great example of how re-thinking a problem can lead to revolutionary innovation. From the Mellon website: “Classical suturing is a complex process and takes a long time to learn. Focus is on getting control over the needle. Surgeons using [...]

Medical Device Reimbursement

The initial stages of developing a new medical device involves a lot of work around the technical aspects of the device and how it should be designed. Equally important is the question of whether it makes economic sense to pursue the idea. To answer that question, you need to know how public and private insurers [...]

Cut the Cords

Hospitals are filled with machines, instruments, and devices, all with cords that get tangled and cause frustration and pose safety hazards if not managed properly. The mass of cords, both in operating suites and in patient rooms, also creates an ugly mess. Designers do the best they can to address cord storage and management when [...]

More on 3D Printing Medical Devices

3D printing has been a hot topic for the past several years, with the cost of printers coming down dramatically, to the point where they are becoming a consumer item. Aside from its use for prototyping parts, 3D printing medical devices remains a novelty. Lately, however, there have been some developments with the technology that [...]

The Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto is a story about software development, but its philosophy holds lessons that can apply to medical device design. The Agile Manifesto grew out of frustration with the “waterfall” model of development: 1) Establish requirements 2) Design 3) Implement 4) Verify 5) Maintain Reliance on this model resulted in a lot of attention [...]

Therapeutic Touch

Our sense of touch is a powerful emotional communicator. A gentle stroke, a punch, a pinch, a slap, a pat, a hand held on another’s shoulder – all of these register deeply within us. When we’re anxious or upset, simply being held is universally calming and reassuring. In medicine, the healing power of touch offers [...]

3D Printing Medical Devices

There are beginning to be some meaningful advances in 3D printing that could make it the preferred manufacturing method for many medical devices. This report from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany announces an additive manufacturing technique that allows multiple materials to be printed to form a single part. Fraunhofer has developed a way to create [...]


Here is an interesting read about creativity from Medical Design & Outsourcing. The most important thing I got from the article is the idea of “Plusing” – a great concept, new to me. Plusing is an aspect of the creative collaboration method that Disney employs. It serves as a way to take individual egos out [...]

Flexible Electronics in Medical Devices

Flexible electronics are about to bring a revolution to medical device design. MC10 has been the pioneer in flexible electronics, and seems close to having a device on the market that utilizes their advantages in interfacing with the human body. Other institutions, such as EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) are also making strides in advancing the [...]

A Disturbing Color Trend

I’ve noticed that a number of new medical products that have recently come out are employing a significant amount of black as the color for trim components and accents, and in some cases for the majority of the housing itself. From a patient’s perspective, this is not a good thing. Black is a good color [...]

Medical Device Design Inputs and Outputs

Medical device design inputs and outputs are your friend. After defining user needs, understanding how to develop and document design inputs and outputs is the critical quality task in medical device design and development. Properly identifying what the design inputs should be, and specifying them in such a way that they can be objectively verified [...]

Engineering Drawings, R.I.P.

I encourage you to check out this link to a blog post by Jennifer Heron at on using 3D models as manufacturing control instead of drawings. For at least the past two decades, product components have been designed in virtual 3-dimensional space, using various computer aided design tools. Where orthographic drawings were once needed to [...]

Wearable Medical Devices and the AARP

In recent posts, we have been exploring the relationship between new medical technologies and an aging population. Instrumental in this exploration has been the findings of the AARP’s Project Catalyst. Project Catalyst seeks to support innovation in medical device development by generating insight into the consumer behavior of older adults as it relates to health, [...]

Is energy-harvesting technology for wearables hard-boiled or hype?

As I wrote in May, the biggest constraint in any kind of medical device design today is battery technology, which has not kept pace with the progressive aspects of medical devices. But energy-harvesting technologies for use in wearable designs show promise, in spite of four key engineering challenges: 1) the power they generate; 2) how [...]

New Medical Devices Must Prove Their Value

Medical Marketing and Media (MM&M) has an interesting article regarding MannKind Corp’s Afrezza inhaled insulin. Initial roll-out of the therapy has been below expectations. One of the reasons for that, the article contends, is that the Afrezza therapy has not yet proven that it will provide increased value over other current therapies, pen injectors, for example. [...]

The Biggest Constraint on Medical Device Design

There are many new technologies in the development pipeline – and coming on-line – that will be incorporated into new medical devices in amazing ways. Unfortunately, advances in battery technology have not kept pace with advances in functional capabilities, miniaturization, and other areas. Often, the element that constrains design the most is the size of [...]

More Smartphone Devices

EyeNetra is introducing a series of products and a service that will allow you to determine your eyeglass prescription using a Smartphone. MIT Technology Review reports on the service, “Blink”, that will utilize add-on devices to smartphones – operated by a technician –  to determine your eyeglass prescription in your home or office (the actual prescription [...]

What Would Be A Good Day For You?

In this video, (hat tip to Dr. Lachlan Forrow, MD, shows how the simplest gestures can have the biggest impact in medical care. He brings to focus the most important factor in a patient’s wellbeing – showing genuine interest in them as a person. In caring for one of his patients – a 92 year-old [...]

Building a Better Inhaler

Metered dose inhalers (MDI’s) are one of the most commonly used drug delivery devices, with millions relying on them for relief of asthma symptoms and for treatment of other respiratory diseases. But the technology remains fraught with problems that medical device designers have been struggling to overcome. This excellent article from Today’s Medical Developments ( [...]

2-Dimensional Medical Devices, continued

This is definitely a trend. Several of my recent posts have been about how medical devices are moving from 3-dimensional objects to 2-dimensional ones. Stickers, electronic tattoos, etc. Yet another similar type of device is being developed at UC Berkeley to sense tissue damage due to pressure (pressure ulcers such as bed sores) before evidence [...]

Medical Devices in 2-Dimensions.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about how medical devices will be transitioning from 3-dimensional objects to 2-dimensional ones. The latest news in this area comes from UC San Diego, where researchers have developed enzyme-based inks that can be used to create low-cost, wearable sensors. The inks can be applied using a ball point pen. Also in [...]

A Lump of Technology

Medical device designers are very passionate about what they do. We tend to get caught up in the object we are designing. How to make it beautiful, effortlessly usable, the greatest thing ever. As well we should. To most everyone else though, the thing we’ve so thoughtfully designed is just a lump of technology. It [...]

The Patient Experience

I recently experienced today’s health care system first-hand from the patient’s perspective. One of the things that struck me was the amount of improvisation that took place in order to devise solutions for which a dedicated product wasn’t available. For example, showering with an IV line in place. In order to keep the IV dry, [...]

MedTech: Differentiate With Design

“Global Medtech industry needs to better differentiate products or face commoditization.” That is the conclusion of MedDevice Online in reference to Ernst & Young’s 2014 report on the industry. The ramifications are significant for medical device design. Indeed, in a commoditized market, design is one of the few things that can be used to differentiate a [...]

The Essence of Design

Industrial design is not about products. It’s about visual information. The job of the designer is to provide the user with information that they understand, organized in a way that makes interacting with the product intuitive, executed in a manner that makes an emotional connection with the user. At its heart, design is about organizing [...]

Designing “Cool”

An interesting article in talks about social science research into what makes one thing seem “cool” and a similar thing not. Cool is a perception, not an inherent quality. It’s established in a very social process wherein a society’s trend setters adopt it (who determines who the trend setters are?), then it’s taken up by [...]

High Design vs Good Design

A recent article in the New York Times was about how Apple uses some Picasso lithographs to illustrate to their employees how simple design is created. Simple – meaning no frills – design is the basis of the Apple design aesthetic. The simplicity aesthetic originated with Dieter Rams’ work with Braun.  It’s an aesthetic and [...]

Another Advantage of 3D Printing

3D printing’s greatest advantage is in the flexibility it allows in part design – parts with undercuts and zero draft can be manufactured. A newly developed technique might give 3D printing another advantage: integrally combining multiple metal materials in the same part . The technique involves using a laser to melt metal powder in an additive [...]

Open Source Hardware for Digital Health

Samsung recently (May 28, 2014) introduced their Simband platform: “A new health open reference design platform tailored to take advantage of the latest sensors, behavioral algorithms, battery technologies and displays. Devices based on the Simband platform will be able to gather vital diagnostic information - from your heart rate to your skin’s electrical conductivity, 24 [...]

Smartphone Medical Devices

Medical devices that couple to smartphones are becoming more and more commonplace. One of the latest is a design from MobileOCT that allows a smartphone to be used as a colposcope for detecting cervical cancer. The device is basically a case for a phone onto which a lens tube is clipped to provide the correct [...]

Medical Device Design: Find the Friction

In developing a successful medical device design, the most important step is identifying the true problem that needs to be solved. This is not nearly as obvious as it seems. Many devices and products have been designed, only to fail in the market not because they were designed poorly, but because they failed to address [...]

Medical Device Design: Context

One of the reasons products fail is because they’re designed as objects in isolation, without considering the context in which the object will be used. Design should be done in consideration of the whole system in which the object exists. The designer should also focus not on the object as much as what the object [...]

MannKind Receives FDA Panel Recommendation

MannKind Corporation has received recommendation from  the Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that their inhaled insulin product, AFREZZA, be granted marketing approval.  This is a huge step forward for MannKind and for the treatment of diabetes. Forma designed a range of inhalers for MannKind based on the AFREZZA technology, enabling [...]

Design of Wearable Health Tracking Devices

Many companies are introducing wrist-worn bands that track your activity levels, calculate calories burned, monitor your heart rate, etc. One drawback to the wrist-worn form factor is that it limits the skin surface area that can be used for sensing. Flexible electronics are being developed that can conform to body contours. As this type of [...]

Medical Product Design and Patterns of Use

Here is an interesting example of use patterns impacting results: The Pecan Research Institute ran a study in which they analyzed electricity generation by solar panels that a) faced south and b) faced west. Most solar panels are mounted to face south because that orientation maximizes the number of hours of sunlight the panels can receive. [...]

Creativity for Medical Product Design

This past week we conducted our workshop, “Break on Through to Creativity”, at MDM Chicago 2013. Workshop participants learned that, in medical product design, problem finding was as important as problem solving. They learned about the three barriers to creativity: perception, rules and logic. And they learned a number of techniques they can use to [...]

Creativity in Medical Device Design

Ever wish you could be more creative in developing solutions for your medical device design problems? I and Forma’s CEO, David Chapin, will be conducting a workshop on creativity at this year’s MD&M conference in Chicago on September 10th and 11th. Here’s a synopsis: Break on Through to Creativity The goal of our Creativity Workshop is [...]

No More Gel for Electrodes?

There are a number of cardiac monitors on the market that can be used to monitor heart activity over a period of time. One of the drawbacks to current technology is the need for gel to keep electrodes in place and maintain electrical contact. Orbital Research, Inc.  has developed an electrode that doesn’t require gel. [...]

Patchwork Medical Devices

Flexible electronics and batteries point to a future in which many medical devices and body-worn monitors will come in the form of disposable adhesive patches. How will medical device design change in response? For medical device designers, the control and feedback components of such devices will be the important area to focus on. Wireless communication [...]

A Lab in Your Home

We have written on a number of occasions how it is becoming more common for medical devices to be used at home, instead of in the hospital or clinic. That trend appears to be occurring in the lab test area as well. Here is a story about a company developing a device that will allow [...]

Forma’s CEO Being Honored

David Chapin, CEO of Forma Medical Device Design, will be honored as Life Science Consultant of the Year by the Triangle Business Journal. David has been active in medical device product development for 25 years. In fact, 2013 marks Forma's 25th anniversary. As named inventor in over 40 patents, David has contributed great value to [...]

Get Motivated

You’re starting a medical device design project. Do you know what your goal is? It’s not what’s spelled out in the design spec. It’s not what the marketing group thinks your customers want. It’s not what’s been summarized from focus group research. Your goal is to satisfy motivations. Do you know what motivates the people [...]

Medical Device Design and Aesthetics

Jawbone has acquired Body Media. Both companies utilize industrial design to a significant extent to brand, differentiate and make their products compelling. With the combination of these two companies, we are sure to see even more high design in the wearable health device space. Predictions are for the wearable health device market to grow. Health care [...]

Medical Product Development and the Aging Population

It’s no secret that older individuals consume the bulk of health care resources. It’s also no secret that the US population is aging, as the baby boom enters its senior years. Medical product development is not addressing this phenomenon adequately. This article from Medcity News highlights that many companies are focusing on digital solutions. I fear [...]

Medical Devices as Jewelry

The shrinking size of sensors and electronics, combined with new power technologies, will enable fitness tracking devices and other monitoring medical devices to be designed more along the lines of jewelry . Modularity and customizability will be the key to success here. One aesthetic will not appeal to everyone. Offering a system that allows base [...]

Design for Invisibility

Those of us involved in medical product design and development spend a lot of time thinking about product appearance and about how the user will interact with the product. As it relates to medical industrial design, these activities are at the heart of what we do. There are many methods, processes and techniques we employ [...]

Stress, and Medical Product Design

Medical products are often used in stressful situations. Stress reduces cognitive function. In that environment, the importance of good design that helps products be intuitive to use should be apparent. Medical product design that achieves this can only be done if the designer understands human perception and cogniton As more medical products move from the [...]

Will Medical Device Design and Development be Led by Hospitals?

A number of hospital systems are establishing centers to help launch med-tech startups. The Cleveland Clinic is a pioneer in this area, with their Innovations Center. St Joseph Health has just launched the Innovation Institute, the heart of which is the Innovation Lab, which will incubate inventions that have come from the health system’s staff. [...]

Too Much Information

When you are designing displays and interfaces on medical products, simplicity goes a long way in making the device easy to use. Every piece of visual information competes for our attention. It taks a lot of cognitive energy to decide what are the important things we need to pay attention to at the moment, when [...]

Medical Device Design and the Smart Phone

Pertinent to a very recent post , UCLA has announced an allergen testing device that attaches to an iphone. Medical devices that attach to smart phones are becoming more commonplace. What most of these devices provide in terms of power and convenience, they lack in elegance. For devices that couple with something as personal as [...]

Technology Divorced From Form

Misfit Wearables  will be coming out with a fitness tracking device in 2013 that is more or less a piece of jewelry with technology inside. The device tracks your movement (running, cycling, swimming, etc.) but the only feedback it provides is via a series of small led’s that tell you how far you’ve progressed in [...]

The Changing User Interface of Medical Devices

A transition is definitely taking place in the way we interact with electronics. We are moving form using keyboards, mice and graphical user interfaces to using voice, touch and gestural movement. How will this impact medical device design, and what do we as designers need to be aware of moving forward? Remarkably, touch capacitance works [...]

Medical Device Design for Specialist Groups

Medical device design for surgeons, nurses and others in the medical professions requires that the designer understand how these specialist populations use the devices that are unique to their specialties. The techniques that doctors and dentists use with specialized injection devices, for instance, is often not obvious to the lay person. It’s essential that direct [...]

Energy Parasites

Oregon State University reports that they have developed a technology that allows them to integrate multiple sensors onto a single microchip. The sensors replace what are currently large components in devices such as body-worn pedometers and fitness trackers. Rather than large, expensive, power-hungry devices, the OSU technology could accomplish the same sensing function in a postage [...]

Cost Pressures

Medical product design is going to have to respond to increasing pressure on product cost. A medical product’s effectiveness/cost ratio is going to be a crucial benchmark as the healthcare delivery market is pressured to move from a fee-for-service model to one that rewards positive outcomes. Rather than working toward innovative advancements in treatment, companies [...]

Is it Time to Stop Listening to the Customer?

A revolt is fomenting within the design community. Researching and knowing the user has been a foundational priniciple of best-practice product design for some time. Now, however, I’m hearing with greater frequency the opinion that soliciting feedback from users doesn’t give you the answers you need. That users don’t really know what they want. That [...]

Human-Powered Medical Devices

In medical product development, one of the most significant challenges involves satisfying the power requirements of devices. This is particularly so with implantable devices, where replacing batteries requires a medical procedure. There are several intriguing technologies that are being researched to see if power can be provided by the human body’s own systems to drive [...]

The Picture on My Wall

Medical products are not used in isolation. I keep a picture of a crowded operating room on the wall of my office to remind me of the mess that is the environment in which most medical products are used:                         To maximize the usability [...]

Medical Devices as Consumer Products

Many companies are realizing that industrial design offers them a competitive advantage. This is just as true with medical products. Companies will realize competitive advantage if they employ design as part of their strategy. There is a clear trend toward limiting hospital stays. As a result, medical products of all kinds are being used more [...]

Cognitive Load in Medical Product Design

In medical product design, Cognitive Load is an important concept to be aware of. Visual complexity is an enemy because it overloads our ability to mentally process all the information we are taking in. Not only is it difficult to process a lot of information at once, having too much information to choose from inhibits [...]

Motivation, Part 2

The last post looked at how medical product design can be done in such a way as to motivate the user to prefer one product over another. Motivation also comes into play during the use of the product in that we are motivated by progress, mastery and control. Small signs of progress can have a [...]

Motivation and Desire

Another facet of cognition that medical product designers should understand has to do with motivations and desires. Though we learn to hide it well, at the most basic level we all harbor doubt, fear, insecurity and a sense of incompleteness. To counteract those feelings, we are drawn to objects that reflect our view of our [...]

Tell A Story

We process information best when it’s presented in story form. “Let me tell you a story…” is a powerful way to grab people’s attention. Because stories normally progress in a linear fashion, they imply that one event leads to another, that there is causation. Just as our visual system seeks to detect patterns that allow [...]

Don’t Assume

It is important that medical product designers not make assumptions about users. What might be obvious to you as the designer might not be obvious to those using what you’ve designed. People will always make mistakes. It’s impossible to design a perfectly fail-safe system. The approach to take is to anticipate as much as possible [...]

Mental Models in Medical Product Design

In medical product design, function is paramount. The device must work as intended, no questions asked. Proper function is often related to operation of the device in the proper manner. Designing a medical device in a way that clearly shows the user how to operate it must employ a knowledge of cognition as a basic [...]

Swiss Army Medical Devices

A number of medical products have come out in the past year that provide their functionality by coupling to smart phones. One device enables remote dermatology diagnosis. Another provides an add-on that can diagnose an ear infection. Still another turns an iphone into a microscope. We will undoubtedly see more such devices. For medical device [...]

Beyond Vision

In recent posts, we have been considering how medical product design can use knowledge gained from the field of cognitive psychology to suggest ways in which medical products and devices can be designed so they are more effective for users. We have written a lot about how the way in which we see influences our [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 7

(Another in a series about how medical product design is informed by the science of cognition.) We want to see patterns and we like to create categories. If the designer doesn't provide informational categories, we will make our own. We want to create order. Patterns imply order, so that is what we look for. Medical [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 6

It’s important in medical product design to understand that users will not always pay attention to visual cues the designer provides. Critical cues must be exagerated or given a treatment that draws attention in an obvious manner. Our eyes are drawn to contrast – both in color and in value (dark vs. light) – and [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 5

The last several posts in this series have considered various aspects of the way we collect and interpret visual information and how that impacts medical product design. Another characteristic of our visual sense that is not often considered is the importance of peripheral vision. Whereas we use central vision to recognize specific objects, we use peripheral [...]

Medical Device Development and Nanotechnology

Medical device development using nanotechnology systems and techniques is just getting started. North Carolina State University will lead a National Science Foundation Nanosystems Engineering Research Center that will investigate and do basic research on self-powered health monitoring. The program is called ASSIST, for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies. Funded by an NSF grant [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 4

Last time, we talked about visual simplicity and how that relates to medical product design. In some respects, our desire for simplicity conflicts with our desire for control. We equate having choice with having control. Our need to control the environment is built into us, the hypothesis being that as we evolved as a species, [...]

Non-invasive Sensing Using Microelectronics

Medical product design is going to be impacted greatly by new technologies that are being developed to allow non-invasive testing and monitoring of things that now require finger sticks, blood draws, and other unpleasantries. We’ve written in the past about various technologies that use light,  and microneedle sensors, to accomplish this. Now, microelectronics are also [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 3

(This is the fourth in a series about cognition and how it relates to medical product design). Effective medical product design is that which reduces complexity. Experiments have shown that we can hold only 3 or 4 pieces of information in working memory at one time. By designing to this limitation, you won’t overload the [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 2

(This is the third in a series about cognition and how it relates to medical product design). The last post talked about how our minds can fill-in visual information that’s missing. Just as we can add missing information, we can also filter out information that we don’t need. Perception is selective. We naturally filter information [...]

The Eye’s Mind, part 1

(This is the second in a series about cognition and how it relates to medical product design.) When we interact with a surgical tool, medical device, lab instrument or any object, our first impression will most likely be visual. We’ll see the object and then begin to make sense of it and understand how to [...]

Instant Diagnostics

A promising area of medical technology is emerging in which medical device design will be able to make a major contribution. We’re seeing a number of companies that are working on technologies that enable nearly instant diagnostic test results. Epocal is one, Abbott is another. Most of the focus seems to be on bedside administration, where treatment [...]

Algorithm Method

Medical device product development is advancing with the help of sophisticated computational algorithms that translate signals detected by non-invasive electrical and optical sensors into meaningful health data and images. We’ve written before about how computing power is being used to augment  and magnify the relatively crude information that current sensing technology can gather. Reflectance Medical [...]

Trends in Elder Care

Medical product design will be faced with many challenges as the U.S. population ages. There are trends that suggest that remote monitoring via sensor systems, care at home, and virtual coaching will all be areas in which there will be significant opportunity for innovative medical product design to have an impact. The trend toward care [...]

A Problem’s Soul

Medical device design, to be successful, must start with a crystal clear understanding of the true problem the device will be designed to solve. This quote, from Sonny Vu, in an article at MIT Technology Review,  superbly illustrates the point: “If you have diabetes, what’s your main problem? It’s that you don’t want to have [...]

Hierarchy of Needs

Most of us are familiar with  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that progresses from the most basic physiological needs up to the needs of self-actualization. A similar thing is going on with respect to products. That is, users have different needs relating to the products they use. The lowest level is function: the user just wants [...]


“Good design is as little design as possible” – Dieter Rams Dieter Rams is an icon of design. His work is based on simplicity and economy. Many of the designs he did for Braun in the 1960’s are as fresh today as they were then. Medical device designers can learn a lot from the way [...]


A question was posted in one of the on-line groups I participate in: what purpose does beauty serve in the design of a product, and what value does it have? Behind the question seems to be the presumption that, in many peoples’ eyes, aesthetics is a secondary consideration to function. In medical product design that [...]

The Mind-Device Interface

There have been a number of recent stories in the medical press regarding developmental systems that enable direct control of both software and hardware devices using brain activity alone. I wrote about some of those systems here. The technology seems to be advancing quickly and has the promise of making real what was just recently [...]

Product Branding is About Trust

When people have confidence in your products, you will have loyal, repeat customers. That’s an easy sale. If you are not using design to brand your entire product line, you are missing the opportunity to leverage your customers’ trust. Because technical function is so important in medical device design, it’s understandable that the majority of [...]

Incredible Shrinking Device

Scientists at the University of Illinois have developed an ultrathin membrane inside of which they can embed electronic sensors. The membrane can conform and move along with the skin. Though the technology is not yet commercially viable, it points to where sensor and medical device design is headed: ever smaller. If electronics can be embedded [...]

The Value of Industrial Design in Medical Devices

One of the most important things that doctors, nurses, clinicians and consumers look for in medical devices is ease-of-use. In fact, in a study just released by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, 96% of respondents said that ease-of-use was the top factor in selecting one device over another. Ease-of-use will become even more important as [...]

Sustainability and Medical Device Design

As the demand for sustainability grows louder, medical device design will need to find ways to significantly reduce environmental impact. This is especially so for single-use devices. Of the factors that affect sustainability, the type of material used and the amount of energy required at various stages of manufacturing, transporting and disposal are certainly major. [...]

Cultural Differences

A few years ago, we conducted an extensive user research study in the U.S. and Europe surrounding a medical device design that addressed a less painful way of administering daily injections. In the States, Britain, Italy and France, every respondent was thrilled with the idea of less discomfort. The Germans, on the other hand, had [...]

Interpreting User Research

People are wary of things they aren’t familiar with. You need to keep this at top of mind when interpreting what users tell you. Most can’t articulate what they want in a design. They only know that this thing is new and it’s not like what they’ve used before. In medical device design, you won’t [...]

Designing for Patients

To provide quality health care, one of a physician’s greatest concerns is that their patients comply with the physician’s prescribed treatment regimen. An accurate diagnosis and proper treatment course will have limited benefits if the patient fails to comply with the regimen. In treatment regimens where a device is needed to deliver the prescribed drug, [...]

Devices in Their Natural Environment

Hospital rooms, medical clinics and operating suites present unique medical device design challenges. For example, the operating suite is often filled with numerous monitors and electronic instruments. Each could be vying for attention at the same time. Designing medical devices to provide effective alarm feedback in such an environment is problematic due to the visual and auditory [...]

Manufacturing Constraints – The Good and the Bad

Injection molders in the medical device industry are experienced in achieving thin walls, tight tolerances and very small part features. In those respects, medical device design has fewer constraints than do other industries where walls are typically thicker and features larger for structural integrity. Generally, we do everything possible to eliminate undercuts and other problematic [...]

Smart Market

In the medical device industry, designers often deal with decision makers who are medical doctors or scientists trained in specialized fields. In order to communicate effectively with them, medical device designers need to quickly get up to speed with the scientific terms and jargon that medical and scientific people use in their daily interactions with [...]

Design as Differentiator

Many young medical device companies believe that their product will succeed in the market simply because their technology is stunning. When undertaking a medical device design project, why should such a company invest in industrial design? Because to not do so is bad strategy. Sure, revolutionary technology might be enough to get you established. But [...]

Testing Prototypes

In most industries, you can get away with testing early prototypes using parts fabricated from various rapid prototyping technologies. In medical device design, performance issues are often so critical and part features so small that early testing must be done using parts fabricated from the actual resin that will be used in the finished device. [...]

Patent Envy

In all markets, products that have patentable features enjoy advantage over competitors. So why is intellectual property more important in the medical device design field? Mostly because product development costs are often so substantial that medical devices require a longer time period over which their development costs can be recovered. Patent protection provides this longer [...]

When To Think About Manufacturing and Assembly

In other markets, part features that aid efficient manufacturing/assembly normally don’t need to be considered until the detailed engineering phase of the design process. In medical device design, however, part holding and assembly features can have a big impact on device design. For example, the ability of a particular design to accommodate sterile assembly and [...]

The Issue of Sterility

The requirement for sterility is unique to the medical market. Some medical devices require that sterility be maintained throughout the assembly and packaging cycles. Other medical products need only be sterilized in batches after they are packaged. Reusable hospital and surgical instruments must be able to be sterilized repeatedly. Designing with sterility requirements in mind [...]

Comply or Die

The Food and Drug Administration regulates most products that are used in the medical market in the U.S. Other industries are subject to strict rules as well, but I’m not aware of any that require as much control over the design process itself, as does the FDA. Thankfully the government doesn’t tell us how to [...]

Molecular-level Interactions – Small Can Be Big

In medical device design, what happens at the tiny scale of molecules can have a direct impact on what device designers do. In addition to biocompatibility issues, medical device designers need to be concerned with chemical reactions that could occur between say, drug molecules and device materials or between drug molecules and the outside environment. [...]


Some things just don’t get along with each other. That materials used in implantable medical devices must be compatible with the body is obvious. But there are unique material considerations in other areas of medical device design as well. The materials used in drug delivery devices, for example, must be compatible with the chemicals and [...]

Playing For All The Chips

If your laptop fails, little harm is done aside from some down time and the aggravation of having to have it replaced (ok, maybe more than a little aggravation!). If the interface on your digital camera is confusing, it’s annoying but you’ll figure out a way to get by. On the other hand, if your [...]

The Specialized Nature of Medical Device Design

Industrial designers are trained in methods that allow them to design for many different industries. However, in the same way that medical specialists require additional training above their basic knowledge, medical device designers also need a specialized knowledge set. Some of the ways in which medical device design differs from design for other markets: The [...]