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Amanda Pedersen 1

February 8, 2017

4 Min Read
How Color Can Make Your Medical Device Better

Color can be an overlooked aspect of the product design process, but Christine Park, an industrial designer at StarFish Medical, says color can be used to establish brand identity, improve usability, and evoke a positive emotional response.


Amanda Pedersen




At MD&M West, Christine Park of StarFish Medical talked about unleashing the impact of color in medical device design



Choosing a color for a new medical device requires more thought than simply picking one's favorite color. According to Christine Park, an industrial designer at StarFish Medical, of Victoria, British Columbia, color can impact everything from brand identity and usability to what kind of emotional response the device could provoke from patients.


Color, materials, and finish design specialists like Park use a combination of color psychology and market research to help manufacturers pick the right color scheme for new products.


At MD&M West, Park used examples from the consumer electronics industry to illustrate how color can impact brand identity. In the 1990s, for example, black and silver was the color scheme of choice for most stereo systems and personal cassette players. Then, in 2001, Apple introduced the iPod in white. Soon it was easy to recognize Apple users by the gleaming whiteness of their earbuds. Similarly, Park noted, Dr. Dre used the color red to build brand identity for his product line of headphones and earphones.

3 Steps To  Choosing A Medical Device Color

1. Understand your users

2. Research market trends in other industries that the target the same users

3. Decide on a message and communicate it using color psychology  


In healthcare, many of the larger medical device companies have also infused color into their brand identities. GE Healthcare, for example, uses a muted blue throughout its product line, and Siemens machines can be recognized by the color teal that's found throughout its product line.


Another way color can impact medical device design is through usability, Park said. She explained how color can be used to group related functions and organize buttons on a machine by areas of function and importance. She used the example of an ultrasound machine from Philips Healthcare that makes use of a muted orange color to draw the user's eye to the more important areas of function, as well as different tones of gray. The keyboard, on the other hand, blends in by being the same color as the background of the system, she said. The user quickly learns to recognize the orange-colored buttons and the trackball as having a unique function, and it's easy for their eye to find as they glance back and forth between the machine and the patient.


This Philips Healthcare ultrasound system uses the colors orange and dark gray to group buttons by function area and importance.



"You can train the users to associate different colors with different functions," Park said.


She cautioned, however, that it's important to test a color decision early in the process through an online color simulator, to see how it would appear to someone with colorblindness, as 8% of the male population is color blind. Females are less likely to be colorblind, with only 0.5% of the female population being affected by colorblindness.


Color psychology can also play a key role in color decisions for medical devices, Park said. The color blue, for example, is often associated with tranquility, loyalty, security, and trust, which is why it is a commonly used color for MRI machines. Pink tends to be associated with femininity, nurturing, and compassion, she said, using a pink pregnancy monitoring device as an example. She did point out, however, that color symbolism varies from culture to culture so it's also a good idea to keep that in mind during the color decision process.


During her presentation, Park shared a three-step process for choosing the right color of a medical device. First, she said, "understand your users." Second, research market trends not just in that particular device sector, but also look at color trends in other industries that the target user is familiar with. Third, decide on a message and use that to guide color decisions. A device designed to deliver migraine medication, for example, could communicate empathy and calmness through a muted yellow or a calming seafoam color, Park said.


Amanda Pedersen is Qmed's news editor. Contact her at [email protected].



[Image credit: Pixabay, and Philips Healthcare]

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