A couple of years back, a friend who works for a fashion brand, was describing her experiences with user testing in different countries and how the user expectations could vary hugely across countries, e.g., “Seeing maximum products in one go (efficiency)” vs. “A leisurely shopping experience which goes beyond products” etc. Even though our product domains have almost nothing in common, that conversation was really enriching for me and for her (so I hope…). In my experience, inspiration from multiple disciplines and domains is one of the fastest ways of learning, plus throwing in a variety of things in the mix makes the smoothie taste more delicious ;). So, here’s a try at articulating my learning as a usability professional in the healthcare industry that I would take along to any product I work with.
Design around a strong core
A medical device should be ‘safe and effective’ as defined by this IEC62366 standard and FDA guidance. Elaborating a bit further, we are asked to prove that the intended users will be able to perform the safety-related and the essential tasks on our device successfully in the intended context of use.
What makes this requirement powerful for me is that the ‘must-have’ criteria for your product is laid down at the beginning. So, way before you start to design, you are prompted to think about:
- The key user needs that your product is fulfilling, e.g., for headphones for swimmers, this could be “Providing swimmers with a noise free listening experience while underwater”.
- The context of use, e.g., a 7 feet deep swimming pool?, the sea?
- The users, e.g., adult swimmers, senior citizens, competitive swimmers, children?
- What would make the use ‘effective’, i.e., the bare minimum tasks that the user should be able to perform with the device. For the headphones, some potential tasks could be, being able to turn the define on/off or changing songs on the go without interrupting swimming.
- Minimum requirements your product must meet, e.g., waterproof, wireless, light-weight and when is a requirement is considered met, e.g., waterproof till what depth? How much weight is considered light-weight while swimming?
Make a plan
A usability engineering plan is a required document for the IEC 62366 standard. This plan describes Who is going to do What activities and When in order to design your product or user interface.
The form the plan takes could entirely depend on the context of use, e.g., bigger teams with complex projects might need ‘formal’ plans while with a smaller team it could be bullet points on a sketchboard. In my experience, writing down plans makes ‘it’ real for yourself as well as your team and avoids or eases many difficult discussions later.
To swim along with the headphones we started to develop above, activities in an example plan could be:
- User Research: Go for a swim and try different competitor headphones to get familiar with the context, Interview 4–5 competitive swimmers at an athletic swimming pool to get an understanding of user needs and context of use
- Brainstorm to elaborate further on the ‘core’ questions with the team
- Outline some key use scenarios which you will design for (tip: include ‘real life’ breakdowns, interruptions and distractions in scenarios)
- Create First concepts (go for atleast 3)
- Some more user research by interviewing some more swimmers and use the concepts as ‘conversation starters’ to get some feedback and discover missing user needs further
- Refine the ‘core’ and scenarios and develop 2 or 3 concepts further or create new concepts
- Prototype Round 1
- User Testing Round 1
- Iteratively, Refine concepts, Prototype, Test, Refine until you have a design that at the very least meets or exceeds your core statement
In conclusion, I would like to leave you with this key thought,
“Design around a strong core and go forth armed with a plan”
while I leave here with a distinct desire to go swimming.
I would like to hear what are some of the lessons from your domain or work that you would take with you?