Sketches and Concepts for a UI Design For a Medical Device

Designing a better User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) for medical devices presents unique challenges not typically present in other products or applications. If you press the wrong button when ordering your mocha latte, you may not get whipped cream. If you press the wrong button when administering medicine through an infusion pump, your patient may overdose. One study showed that infusion pumps account for up to 35% of medicinal errors that result in significant harm.[1] A large percentage of those errors were attributed to poorly designed user interface. For instance: a clinician might have entered “lbs” instead of “kg” for the weight of the patient, or perhaps they did not see a decimal point on the display, or they selected the incorrect dose mode while administering medicine. That is one of the many reasons medical devices must pass through numerous regulatory tests to make sure user errors are minimized.


While the consequences of improperly using a non-invasive blood pressure monitor are less extreme than an infusion pump, all professional clinical-grade medical devices must be held to a high standard in both their performance, accuracy, and usability. In order for those higher standards to be met, the user experience of those medical devices must be considered from ideation, through development, and on to production. It shouldn’t just be something tacked on at the end of the project to make the UI “look pretty”. Whether you’re designing the UI for a simple medical device or a medical device that requires extensive training before use, I’ve put together some best practices for you to consider.


Keep Open Communication with Engineers, Developers, Product Managers & Regulatory

Great UI design is a process, not just an end product. In order to achieve the best results, make sure you are included in the discussion early on with the engineers and or product managers who are driving the project forward. As a UI designer, you should possess the ability to empathize not only with the end-user, but with the various parties involved with the development of a new medical device. Product Managers may require certain features on the product so that it is relevant to the market. Engineers and Developers will have technical restraints based on the hardware available, and Regulatory will certainly recommend specifications to meet FDA guidelines and other international standards or protocols. Your job as a UI Designer, is to consider and weigh each of these internal requirements and balance them with a great-looking UI that is optimized for the end-user.


Consider Technical Limitations

One thing that can help to focus your thought process is to know your technical limitations and project specifications early on. Here are some questions you’ll want answered before you dive too deep into wireframing or UI design.


Research Competitors

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel so don’t be afraid to build off of commonly accepted best practices in the industry. By doing this, you can rely on the end-users knowledge of existing devices to help them better understand the new one you’re making. It’s important to take an honest look at what works and what doesn’t for your competitors. Do as much market research as the time and budget allows and get end-user feedback on competitors devices. Once you identify the areas where your product can differentiate itself from the competition, focus your creative energy on the areas where you can do better than the status quo. While it's acceptable to build off of elements that work for competitors, make sure the style and branding of the UI match your own companies vision and visual identity.


Consider the Audience with Human Centered Design

More important than making a UI Design “look good”, is the ability to empathize with the end-user. The best way to do that is to get to know them and what their needs are. Here are some items you may want to consider before you get too far along in the development process:


Test Prototypes & Challenge Assumptions

Once you have some preliminary UI designs, it’s time to test your concepts on the people who will be using your product. It’s important to do this testing before a considerable amount of time and resources have been spent on programming, software development, and firm decisions are made on hardware. If there are significant flaws in the assumptions you’re making or the conclusions you’ve made, you’ll want to know about them sooner rather than later.

These early prototypes can be low-tech and simple or they can be more advanced depending on your situation. Usability testing can be performed by placing printed mock-ups of the screens directly on a 3D printed rendering of the device and the end-user can “navigate” using the UI on the paper. Depending on what they pressed on the mock-up, you can “load” a new screen on to the monitor by placing a new printed screen. You can also create a digital interactive simulation of your product that will allow the end-users more freedom to click and explore in real time.

When it comes to UI design, you can’t anticipate every variable from the beginning so it’s inevitable you’ll be making assumptions about the end-user based on the information you have available at the time. Perhaps you assume they will find a feature or benefit particularly useful but once you begin testing, you discover they wouldn’t use the feature you had in mind. Maybe you assume everyone knows what a certain icon means but as you conduct usability testing you find out that it means something else to them entirely. In many cases, you won’t know for sure until you test your ideas. If you do this early and often, it can save you a lot of headaches that can come from having to make big changes close to production. Catching big changes early on will help your companies bottom-line and make you look like a rock star.


What do you think are some important considerations to make when designing a UI and UX for a medical device? Let us know in the comments below.