Years ago, when Darren Saravis invented the SKB guitar effects pedalboard, he was met with quick success. The experience, however, prompted Saravis to envision a different approach to product development, one that combines or integrates multiple disciplines. “When I was designing the pedalboard, I didn’t see a lot of combined approaches,” he told MD+DI. His experience prompted the idea of a multidisciplinary product development firm. “There was an opportunity in the market to offer a process that took a product from start to finish. A holistic view was necessary to achieve this. We needed to understand the market, user, business pressures, ROI, and other factors in developing products,” Saravis explained.
Saravis decided to use the proceeds from that venture to start a product design firm that could help medical product entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes bring their product concepts to life. “Nectar is the fuel of life,” Saravis explained in a recent interview. “It is the perfect metaphor because we are providing the seed for creativity and innovation.”
Nectar’s diverse team has grown over its 25 years of experience to be higher tech and more efficient to serve clients best. Its start-to-finish product development services include user experience, industrial design, and mechanical and electronics engineering, all under one roof.
To help companies develop a medical device or healthcare product and bring it to market successfully, Saravis and his team point to these essential steps.
It is important that companies develop a product development strategy before development efforts even begin. Developing a holistic picture enables clients to review all the issues, costs, and risks to get to market, Saravis explained.
Taking such a wide view gives entrepreneurs and corporations the chance to plan well, including finances. “A lot of startups don’t understand their long-term funding needs,” Saravis said. Nectar can help with “an early-stage proof of concept and help clients get buy-in and funding.”
Planning also allows Nectar to help set expectations, explained Stacie Depner, director of engineering.
If the client has multiple ideas, “we can lay out products in the order of what makes sense in terms of development time,” she added.
In essence, Nectar suggests developing a roadmap. “We catalogue devices in the pipeline and develop a guide on how the products interact with each other,” said James Wilkin, industrial design manager. “It helps Nectar and the customer map out the strategy.”
“We can also help with contextual research to evaluate how current systems are used and what their pain points are,” Depner said. “We also ask whether our roadmap is correct.”
Take a Cross-Functional, Multidisciplinary Approach
In addition to project management, entrepreneurs can benefit from a program that integrates design and engineering services as well as testing. Nectar conducts market, user, and product feasibility studies, and then when appropriate takes a cross-functional approach to user-centered design, drawing from multiple disciplines to create an intuitive device. It also offers a wide range of testing to ensure products are successful.
“This multi-disciplinary approach allows Nectar to be more efficient, which saves the client money that can be used in other effective ways,” said Depner. “For example, when an engineer is immersed in the user experience, they can make faster decisions on design options and meet the customers’ needs without depending on others who don’t understand engineering to give input. This is the same for other disciplines as well.”
Focus on the User
“We refine the product based on feedback from customers and iterate on a more refined level each time,” said Depner. “When a product is not well defined, we may go through as many as three major iterations and get feedback at each point. Before going into product development, the team develops a proof of concept to present to customers and investors to feedback and also funding if needed to continue the development.” The result of such an approach is a user-centered design.
To ensure the team understands user needs, Nectar has set up “a facility where we can design, build, and test,” Saravis explained during the interview. “Our user-experience designers can engage the industrial designers and engineers for contextual research and to figure out if the technology and approach fits the use case.”
Test Designs in Several Ways—Especially Through Human Factors Studies
Wilkin said that many clients are surprised at the amount of testing the team conducts, which he says includes everything from “high-level” testing to the “nitty gritty.”
“We perform life and endurance testing, including challenge testing to make it fail,” he added. “This helps us understand how it fails and how to make it fail safer. We do all the testing to take it all the way to market.
“Sometimes we surprise ourselves during a study,” he continued. “For instance, for a children’s product, we had had a brainstorming session and thought we knew what the best solutions would be. We went to mockup and weighed it and realized it would be too heavy for a child. So, until you do such human factors work, you don’t know everything. You have to ask, ‘Is a product comfortable? Heavy? Does it need a handle?’ ”
Wilkin added that having users of different heights consider designs is also important. “Our principal designer is 6’7 and a colleague is 5’4, so we have both look at designs,” he said.
Saravis does see an increased industry awareness of human factors, but said “there’s a ways to go. We partner and try to help clients develop a robust approach.”
Such considerations may run counter to concern about time to market, added Depner. “It is all about speed to market, and some companies may improve human factors at the next generation. The medical industry does this often for novel new products. It is more important to get it on the market than to make it perfect. So, we may scale back to one user feedback session or, if the client is very immersed in the field, they are heavily involved in design decisions in this scenario.”
Many companies simply don’t understand how to approach human factors studies. “They are aware, but they know they’re not experts,” said Wilkin. Added Depner: “To hire a whole team in house doesn’t make sense, because companies won’t be conducting them all the time.”
Saravis said the Nectar team seeks to make a product better for the end-user so that it is “easier and safer to use, more reliable, and can help improve patient outcomes.” To understand the end-user experience, the team’s designers visit hospitals and meet with clinicians, administrators, and purchasers.