September 2, 2011

2 Min Read
Incorporating Design Elements from Consumer Electronics to Promote Usability

One of the most salient trends in medical device design is undoubtedly the influence of consumer electronics and the rising demand from end-users for sleeker, more user-friendly products. The catch, of course--other than the stringent regulatory environment--is that the pace of product development in the medical device industry differs vastly from that of the consumer electronics realm. But every medical device design doesn't have to be on par with the iPad; sometimes incorporating just one or a couple of intuitive or high-tech elements can have a profound impact on usability and user acceptance.

Stuart Karten, founder of design consultancy Karten Design, recently addressed this convergence of industries in a Q&A with the folks over at Medgadget. "It used to be that device manufacturers only emphasized design in consumer-facing products. Now companies realize the advantage that attention to form, color, material, and construction strategy can provide for B2B devices," he says. "Consumer electronics have popularized some new habits and ceremonies in the public consciousness, such as touch screens and gesture control, which have changed the ways that people interact with technology. Those of us designing medical devices have the opportunity to reference the positive feelings around such new interfaces to make medical products, from hearing aids to hospital monitors, easier to use."

Karten illustrates this point by discussing an interesting partnership with Starkey that yielded a next-generation hearing aid that relies on "discrete gestures to control hearing aid volume and settings." Inspired by the prevalence of touch technology, the two companies created the S series with sweep technology. The product eliminates the small and difficult-to-maneuver buttons typically found on hearing aids, taking into consideration that many patients requiring hearing aids may be elderly and have problems with dexterity or arthritis. Instead, the hearing aid has a larger surface area that allows patients to alter settings or volumes via touch technology. This reevaluation of a hearing aid design that incorporates familiar touch technology has the potential to make patients' lives easier.

This example is a good one about how you don't have to necessarily reinvent the wheel to satisfy the increasingly vocal demands of end-users; you just have to improve it to make it more user-friendly. Head over to Medgadget to read the full interview with Karten--Shana Leonard.

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