Amy Tenderich is a San Francisco-based journalist who runs the Diabetes Mine blog, a site that features diabetes-specific information, product reviews, and networking. She gained national notoriety last year when she penned an open letter to Steve Jobs asking him to apply his formidable design talents to the production of more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly medical devises. In the letter, she laments the fact that medical-device manufacturers are "stuck in a bygone era; they continue to design these products in an engineering-driven, physician-centered bubble."
Now, Mr. Jobs may have been a little preoccupied with his iPhone redesign and price-point-reality-check exercise to commit the requisite neuro-cycles to the medical-equipment design quandary. So Ms. Tenderich cast the net a tad wider and invited the whole-wide-wired-world to the party. Seems like the would-be designers came up with some interesting ideas.
This whole thing got me thinking. When you contrast the pace and scope of innovation of a consumer electronic product like the MP3 player with a medical device like the glucose meter, the difference is staggering. The MP3 player is designed in a fiercely competitive, user-experience-driven process that charts disruptive innovations in terms of months if not weeks.
The medical equipment device is designed in a context that often involves third-party payments, insurance, and medical and government bureaucracies. And it allows designers to employ concepts from a bygone era. These products are designed in an engineering-driven, physician-centered bubble because these entities really are the customer, not the end user, and they will continue to demand innovation from a medical technology standpoint with little thought to user experience.
Design contests like the one initiated by Ms. Tenderich provide an interesting way to inject a little user experience adrenaline into the med-tech design process.