Medtronic's Craig Lauchner talks Assumption Storming, industrial design, and bug books.

Jamie Hartford 1

January 28, 2013

6 Min Read
Think Like a Designer

As an innovation program manager at Medtronic, Craig Lauchner is charged with helping one of biggest medical device companies in the world stay on the cutting edge of design. That’s a tall order but one Lauchner is more than capable of fulfilling. In his eclectic career, he has designed retail, computer, industrial, and medical products—and even designed for the extreme amusement ride market. Lauchner is also the inventor of Assumption Storming, a philosophy that urges adherents to set aside what they think they know in order to create new, more innovative solutions to problems.

Craig Lauchner will give a two-part presentation on Assumption Storming at MD&M West

MD+DI caught up with him in advance of his MD&M West presentation to talk about Assumption Storming, industrial design, and how his background in interior design informs his approach to medical device design.

MD+DI: What is Assumption Storming, and why is it an important thing for medical device designers to do?

Lauchner: At a very high level, our schools and universities are not doing a good job of teaching critical thinking skills. Our thinking as a culture has become too quick, too shallow, undiscerning, and less able to think deeply about why we do things. Where are the wise philosophers? One result of our mental decline is a shrinking ability to think broadly and deeply about what type of therapy or product would best suit a given set of customer needs. Without higher level thinking, given a product and a customer need, we tend to design the most expedient change, pick concepts most like the existing product. We predictably get really good at incremental, line-extension design but less able to see the larger picture and discover disruptive, game-changing ideas. Assumption Storming efficiently fills the gap between shallow design and breakthrough concepts, offering a tool that forces the deep thinking we neglect and resulting in a broader, more diverse set of raw concepts to choose from.

MD+DI: Medical device design has improved by leaps and bounds, but we still haven't seen a medical device like the iPhone or iPad, which people just intuitively know how to use it. Why is that?

Lauchner: It’s hard work to make devices elegant and intuitive, and industrial design is almost always an afterthought, rather than a primary design driver, like [it is] at Apple. Medical device designers accustomed to writing reports and living in test labs are not trained or necessarily motivated by industrial design excellence.

Also, I learned years ago the hard way at Hewlett-Packard that an engineer who creates a design is the world’s least qualified person to evaluate that design for usability effectiveness. Why? Anyone who designs invests their own mental use models into their designs. A designer naturally (and uncritically) believes their design is the most usable thing in the world. They’re shocked to watch stupid users fail to understand the brilliance of their design. “User error!” they scream, when it’s just design error.

To create an iPhone medical device, industrial designers (who should have a better grasp of how people use things) need to drive the look and feel of a device before mechanical engineers muck it up by creating objects that require only simple sketch and extrude shapes in Solidworks.

MD+DI: I read on your LinkedIn profile that you have a background in home/interior design. How has that helped you in designing medical devices?

Lauchner: As a designer, I’m often appalled at what passes for interior design and architecture these days. There’s so little curiosity or humility about the needs or personalities of homeowners. Where people drop their bags, keys, and phone when they get home, for example, is not thought through well, or how they process mail. Or what type of space kids need to do their homework—they need a dedicated space (not the kitchen table) that’s connected to family activity (not an isolating bedroom) and not distracted by TV. Where is that? Architects don’t even ask the question. And interior designers don’t realize that wall colors need to relate to human skin and eye color, intensified or muted to match personal intensity—shouldn’t that be obvious?

My work as an interior designer just intensifies my passion for user experience. I’m an experience architect at core. How surgical tools are experienced is important to me: correct handling angles, forces required, intuitive interfaces are really important to me, and need to drive design, not be delegated to a contracting industrial designer at the end of the project.

MD+DI: Any advice on how to become a more effective designer?

Lauchner: Keep a bug book. Pay attention to the little things that bother you and write them down. We overlook so much in our experience of design that we don’t grasp how much power we have to improve others’ experience of our designs. Common bugs most people don’t acknowledge: opening doors with full hands, straight rows of cubes that feel impersonal, “dead” internal spaces, being cut off in conversation, embarrassment making “noise” in the bathroom.

Keeping a bug book opens your mind to usability issues that can lead to innovation. For example, I listen to worship music in the morning, and when I listen to a song too many times, it eventually fails to inspire me. That’s a bug for me that I recorded. Because I wrote it down, I pondered what assumptions drive that bug, and I came up with “Recorded songs don’t change.” As you’ll learn in Assumption Storming, once you write down an assumption you have the power to break it, so I had the notion that perhaps recorded songs could change, and I thrilled to the idea that my favorite songs could change each time I play them. Different endings, different instrument and vocal tracks! Awesome! No one has done that before. There’s probably a free patent idea there for anyone who can reinvent MP4 protocols.

Craig Lauchner's two-part workshop on Assumption Storming begins Monday, February 11, 2013, at 10:10 a.m., at MD&M West.

Jamie Hartford is the managing editor of MD+DI.  


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