For the past month my co-worker, designer Eric Schmid, and I have spoken to audiences of designers, researchers, and product development professionals about making design research actionable for healthcare products. We were excited to present together as a researcher and a designer, sharing how the two of us have collaborated in various projects to make sure that design research is translated into product innovation.
Much of our healthcare product development at Karten Design involves introducing disruptive innovation into the healthcare system. We’ve developed products like the V2 Renal Denervation System that enable doctors to perform new procedures, and we’ve even designed products that change the ways consumers manage their own health. Although such innovations promise to raise the standard of care and save time and money, it’s still possible for them to meet resistance. After all, we’re asking people to make changes to the habits they’ve built for years.
Today, disruptive innovation is becoming the norm in the healthcare industry, and these products need to match people’s needs. If they fail to do so– if they demand more change than a user is willing to endure– then the product will not be adopted. Design research is more important than ever. Designers like Eric want to approach designing disruptive products with a full understanding of users’ behaviors, ceremonies, and perceptions.
As a design researcher, I go out with my team to study people. I end up in hospitals, homes, offices… even bathrooms. Getting rich, nuanced information from people about their needs and desires is only the first challenge I face. Perhaps even bigger and more important is the challenge of communicating this information to the rest of my product development team in a way that’s engaging and ultimately actionable.
If designers don’t latch onto the insights our research team uncovers in the field, then our insights are lost and the value they could bring to a product never materializes. This is especially problematic for healthcare products, where applying research insights affects product safety and patient well-being, and where product design can have such an impact on an emotionally charged patient journey.
That’s why this transition phase between research and design has become an important part of our product development process at Karten Design. We’ve found that making design research actionable comes down to a few key principles. Eric and I shared these strategies with our colleagues at the IDSA and PDMA SoCal Chapter, and want to make them available to our followers who could not be at these events.
1. Define a Success Criteria.
As a team, it’s important to define the necessary elements for your program to achieve success. Before anyone goes into the field or puts pencil to paper, talk to your teammates and establish a common vision. This alignment will help researchers target their programs to provide information most useful to product development. It also helps teams stay focused on the big picture and avoid spending too much time on the tangents that research can unearth. When working with a medical device company to drive innovation in non-invasive ventilation, we hosted a kick-off workshop at Karten Design that brought together 25 people, including the client’s engineers, marketing team, and sales team– disciplines that rarely talked to each other and had competing priorities for product development. One of the biggest factors to success in this project was the written Criteria for Success that came out of the workshop, reconciling the needs of every stakeholder involved. Having a shared vision creates a common framework that enables better communication between researchers and designers as a project progresses.
2. Marble Disciplines.
Throwing information over the fence from one discipline to another invites disconnect. Instead, we practice something that we call “marbling” at Karten Design– like a delicious marble cake or a succulent piece of marbled beef. (What can we say, we have a bunch of foodies in the studio…) We believe that product innovation works best when research, design, and engineering collaborate throughout the process, spilling outside their silos. By getting designers in the field and involving researchers and engineers in concept development and reviews, we create engaging experiences for the entire team. Each discipline is responsible for making research actionable, so designers start to feel a personal ownership of the research insights.
3. Build Empathy.
People, not just systems or products, are a big part of our research– how they feel when they undertake a task or interact with a product, what challenges they face in their lives and work, and even how they feel about themselves. The most fertile research creates an empathetic experience for those who attend interviews or ethongraphies. Whether we’re watching babies in the NICU or listening to someone talk about the toileting experience with the complication of hemorrhoids, we come out of the field inspired by the human emotions we’ve witnessed, driven to find better solutions. It’s then our job to recreate the empathy we feel for team members who were not involved in the field research. We invite designers and other team members to mine these stories along with us. This deeper engagement starts the empathetic process as designers begin to connect with users’ joys and frustrations. With an internalized understanding, designers quickly realize opportunities to design a better experience.
4. Study the Full Ecosystem.
Understand the interactions and relationships between all components in an environment if you want to ensure you’re considering the full range of opportunities. This means studying all stakeholders who interact with a product, from doctors and nurses to patients and caregivers. It also involves looking holistically at the product experience. For the V2 Renal Denervation System, a key research objective was to ascertain the optimal location for the device in the cath lab, how it should be operated, and by whom. We answered this by studying the full ecosystem of the cath lab– the complete use environment, the different people and equipment, how they relate to each other, and how things flow during a typical procedure. After studying a handful of cath labs we started to see the different possibilities and the opportunities for design.
5. Make it Visual.
Most people, especially designers, are visual learners. It’s important to transition as early as possible in the analysis phase from text and data to image-based information. We’ve developed a number of tools, including ModeMaps, Thread Matrixes, and Opportunity Landscapes, to put our information out for all to see and analyze. These tools help us to interpret and organize information to communicate, prioritize, and comprehend findings by all team members.
Regardless of the size or scope of the project, or the nature of your business, these are principles that you can apply to use design research effectively to turn research insights into innovation. In the end, they’re all meant to facilitate communication. It’s this dialog that forces project teams to own design research, internalize it, and dig deep to create insights that are larger than the sum of their parts.