Human-Centered Design: Where Form Meets Function

At the heart of every great product is a carefully choreographed effort to ensure the best possible customer experience. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the medical-device and drug-delivery sectors, where product performance can be measured by improved patient compliance and medical outcomes.

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global drug-delivery systems market is expected to reach $45B by 2027, driven in part by COVID-19 accelerating drug-delivery research and innovation. Among the areas garnering much attention is the rise in self-managed healthcare, which plays a major role in the personalized medicine megatrend. People are becoming more involved in their own health and increasingly outspoken about which products work or don’t work, based on their lifestyles, abilities and preferences.

Traditionally, human-centered design processes signaled the start of a product lifecycle. Human factors experts and industrial designers applied extensive research of the market and end-user needs to develop initial design concepts. As a mindset, this way of thinking has been extremely successful in elevating the role of the user while making usability a front-and-center consideration.

As a methodology, however, this approach can fall short unless it extends beyond front-end innovation to encompass the entire product lifecycle. Having an integrated product development process that anchors human-centered design within an overarching design for manufacturing philosophy is the key to increasing user acceptance and overall market success.

Four Success Factors

In an effort to improve product usability and safety, the Human Factors Medical Device Consortium (hfMEDIC) is partnering with industry and universities to reduce patient errors through human-centered design. At Phillips-Medisize, human-centered design is an intrinsic part of our culture, guiding the development of every medical device and drug-delivery system we undertake on behalf of our global customers. While we realize its importance as part of the overall regulatory process, we see a big difference between verifying usability and validating that a product design will deliver the greatest patient impact. For us, it is about embracing the concept that we are not only building the product right, but that we are also building the right product.

That’s why we put the user at the center of our product development, fortified by a flexible four-pronged process. Each quadrant simultaneously addresses the following attributes required for a successful product introduction:

  • Usefulness—Meeting a specific need
  • Usability—Easy to understand and manipulate
  • Desirability—Appealing to the intended user
  • Manufacturability—Efficient to produce at commercial volumes

Each success factor bears equal weight, regardless of where the customer is in its product development cycle. To be effective, human-centered design and product development must be flexible and extensible, enabling teams to adapt to changes with agility and without sacrificing one area for another. To do so effectively can require a full cadre of product development and manufacturing experts across a variety of disciplines, including industrial design, mechanical and electrical engineering, material science, supply chain management, software development, manufacturing, testing and quality, the list goes on. Collaboration across these cross-functional teams often leads to major breakthroughs as ideas for product development improvements proliferate when all major stakeholders have a seat at the table.

Go with the Process Workflow

Equally important is the ability to follow the product lifecycle flow with the long game in mind. While midstream changes in the medical and drug-delivery device space are common, they can pose major challenges to budgets and go-to-market timelines. That’s why it’s crucial to identify the ideal state from a form-and-function standpoint without losing sight of other go-to-market factors, such as cost, risk and timelines.

I’m reminded of a major pharmaceutical company that approached us about adding connectivity to an existing inhaler to improve patient outcomes. Initially, the conversation focused on whether this additional functionality would be integrated internally or added externally to the device. As part of an integrated approach, all major engineering stakeholders reviewed the technical challenges before determining a fairly straightforward solution.

But addressing the technology issue was only part of the bigger consideration, which required a team of human factors specialists and industrial designers to explore how this newly connected device would impact usability. Did adding connectivity alter how the product would be used? Did it affect convenience? To ensure a successful outcome, you need to find the intersection where form meets function. This is essential to framing the problem—and solution—from the user’s point of view. In this case, determining how connectivity best aligned with the user’s workflow led to three comprehensive design solutions that addressed both technical and usability considerations.

Virtuous Cycle of Mutual Benefits

Infusing human-centered design throughout the entire product development process sparks a virtuous cycle of mutual benefit. Typically, this starts with the human-factors team explaining things in a way that engineers, developers and manufacturers understand. But it goes well beyond that to foster a cultural familiarity and collaboration among all involved. When each functional group has an opportunity to chime in, nothing is lost in translation or left out in transition from one team to another.

Bringing all those inputs together from the beginning leads to increased customer advocacy. Our medical-device and drug-delivery device customers know that each compelling product design is backed by “under the hood” functionality. No hand waving here, but lots of hard work and exploration powered by a mindset, methodology and mantra that always has the end-user at the center of our universe.

Looking ahead, we’ll continually seek ways to broaden our efforts in human-centered design while following industry leaders in other sectors, such as Apple and Google, to internalize their unwavering focus on user experience. We’ll also leverage our learnings from Koch Industries’ Market-Based Management (MBM®) principles, which stress the importance of integrity, humility, stewardship, self-actualization and respect to create long-lasting value for our customers—and their customers—as well as our society as a whole.

Vice President, Global Innovation & Design at Phillips-Medisize