Düsseldorf, Germany — Sometimes designers need to be reminded of the simple fact that they are human — and so are the people who will use the products they design.
So says Steve May-Russell, managing director of Coventry, England-based Smallfry, an industrial design and innovation consulting group known particularly for work in the medical device market.
“We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are,” he told attendees at the two-day Design Chain @ K conference, organized by Plastics News Europe. “It can be hard to see beyond yourself, your own perspective.”
Frequently what's missing between designers, engineers, OEMs and customers isn't great ideas or innovations, it's empathy, May-Russell said. With medical devices, more empathy can get a device's design from “serviceable” to “excellent.” But getting there means actually getting involved, and has to be an organizational priority.
“I don't think thinking about it is the same as doing it,” he said. “Asking questions, that's how you validate, not innovate.”
In working with one customer on a drug delivery device for Parkinson's patients, the first version of the device was exactly what the OEM wanted — “and it was horribly flawed,” he said. Users had to go through 26 assembly steps to get the wearable device up and running just to get their day started, which was an impossibility for some patients with severe tremors.
For the redesign, Smallfry designers wore it themselves throughout the day, putting them and the device through its paces with different scenarios. Human-driven, personal research in a natural environment goes well beyond asking artificial questions in a conference room for market research, May-Russell said, and it yields designs that work and that people want to buy.
“Ask the right questions,” he said. ”Look at the market, your customers, your consumers, your patients. Do it yourself. If you make what they want, they'll buy it.”