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/ 21/2/2018 Simple User Experience in Medical Product Design

As consumer products continue raise the bar with simple UI, the need to employ the ‘KISS’ (keep it simple, stupid) principle in health and medical product design has never been greater.

Effective product design is about making devices usable and human-centred. Unfortunately, healthcare is behind the curve when it comes to simple usability.

Budgets play their part. Many designers in the risk-averse medical industry simply don’t have the funds or resource to allow their products to “fail fast” – a trial and error approach, common in consumer markets.

Another challenge is that unlike the consumer world, hospitals are often hierarchical. This can make it difficult to access and test products with end-users. For example, when nursing technology is being developed, a hospital might look for a surgeon’s input rather than nurse who the product is actually designed for.


Empathy is Key

Co-designing and developing ideas with users during the initial phase of a project always produces the best results. It's important to look not only at the average person, but the outliers too.

You can learn a lot from people who are extreme in different ways. Whilst they don’t represent the majority, these people are interesting to include because they have the same problems/needs as everyone else but magnified. This is particularly useful during ideation, when trying to establish and understand unmet needs.

Once a need has been established, it’s critical that usability testing occurs early and often during the development of any medical device. And it’s particularly important to understand why user errors occur.


Assessing Use Errors

Understanding the root-cause of each use error is essential, as the nature of the error informs the fix. A useful tool to identify why each error has occurred is the PCA framework – a concept endorsed by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

PCA is an acronym for the three categories of use error: Perception (trouble perceiving stimuli); Cognition (trouble processing stimuli); and Action (trouble acting on stimuli).

Perception errors may involve failures to see visual information, failures to hear auditory information, and instances of misreading information.

Cognition errors fall into three sub-categories: memory failure (an inability to recall knowledge gained prior, or missing a planned step); rule-based failure (the misapplication of a generally accepted rule); and knowledge-based failure (improvisation or the misinterpretation of information).

Action errors are caused by events like failure to reach controls, pressing the wrong button, applying inappropriate force, or failure to activate a control.


Mitigating Risk

Once a use error is placed into one of these areas, it needs to mitigated to make the device safer or more effective to use. This can be done in various ways.

Modifying the form or function may help the product to be inherently safer. Incorporating safety guards or adding alerts for hazardous situations may be required. Improving supporting information, such as adding cautions or warning statements to user manuals, or simply training users to avoid the error can also help.

The repercussions of use errors in products released into the medical arena can be significant. Early prototyping and usability testing is therefore essential.

An aging population combined with an increasing reliance on patients to use equipment themselves, means that products must have intuitive design. From both a safety and commercial perspective, simple user experience will become a non-negotiable attribute for many future healthcare products.