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The image shows a OneTouch Verio Reflect blood glucose meter surrounded by several digital display cards to represent global user interface. The cards show blood glucose readings in different languages, indicating measurements in either mg/dL or mmol/L. Each card includes a smiley face and a color-coded bar. The readings on the cards are either "85 mg/dL" or "4.7 mmol/L" with labels such as "Avant repas," "Vor Mahlzeit," "Pre-pasto," "Before Meal," and "Antes comer," signifying "Before Meal" in French, German, Italian, English, and Spanish respectively.

Global user interface considerations for medical device design

Published: June 2024

Grant Howarth

Grant Howarth, Interaction Design Consultant

With just 20% of the world’s population being native English speakers, adapting medical devices for the global market doesn’t just open your business up to more markets—it guarantees that users worldwide will be able to access, understand, and use your medical devices safely and effectively.

 

At Shore, we hold many years of experience designing globally accessible medical devices. We know it requires a multifaceted approach that balances functionality, cost-effectiveness, and user experience.

 

Here, we’ll outline the key considerations you need to take in this process, focusing on the basics of internationalisation, choosing displays and designing for low-resolution user interfaces (UIs). We’ll also touch on additional considerations for cultural nuances and regulatory implications.

1. The basics

Write UI text in simple, concise language to facilitate easier translation. Avoid idioms, colloquialisms, and cultural references that may not translate well or could be misunderstood in other cultures.

Accommodate for longer translations

Take care when crafting your UI copy and micro-copy and consider its placement within the UI. Translations can significantly increase or decrease the character count and certain phrases may not translate like-for-like. Designers must also allocate enough space in the UI to accommodate longer text strings without compromising readability or aesthetics and copywriters should write in plain informative language at every opportunity.

 

The objective is to ensure that all users should receive complete, understandable, and actionable information, regardless of their language.

an example of a pop-up translated from English to German. The German text is substantially longer.

Consider that translations can significantly impact the length of UI copy.

Account for character variations

It’s not just the length of translations to consider, many languages feature characters that extend vertically beyond the typical character height found in Latin alphabets. These characters may include multiple diacritics (i.e. acutes, graves), form entire words, or form language-specific punctuation. To ensure legibility, it’s essential to adjust the leading between characters and carefully select typefaces that can accommodate these variations.

Many languages feature different character heights. For example, Chinese characters extend beyond the typical character height found in Latin alphabets.

Support right-to-left languages

To add to the complexity, languages that read right-to-left, such as Arabic, fundamentally shift text orientation. In the UI, functional elements should be mirrored to ensure an intuitive experience for users accustomed to these languages. It is also important to design for the reflow of information to account for right-to-left languages.

Select typefaces with wide Unicode coverage

Different languages use a variety of character sets of varying complexity; for example, Chinese characters are much more complex than Latin-based characters used in English. Not all typefaces support every language, so choosing typefaces with broad character support will simplify the process of internationalisation. However, when a single typeface does not cover all the languages you require, finding harmonious font pairings becomes crucial. Carefully considering your typography for internationalisation ensures a cohesive design aesthetic across different languages.

Separate text and UI elements where possible

Where possible, avoid embedding text within images or fixed UI elements. Keeping text separate removes the need to redesign bespoke graphics or UI components for each language.

To summarise the basics, we recommend considering and designing for internationalisation from the very start of a project. You should design to ensure that functional UI elements, such as buttons or forms, have space to grow, titles have breathing room and longer instructional UI copy has room for extra lines if needed. This ensures that your users, no matter where around the globe, will have a consistent user experience.

2. Choosing displays

The choice of display can have a huge impact on its ability to be translated:

Display type considerations

While specifying fonts for smartphones and devices with high-resolution screens is relatively straightforward, embedded screens in medical devices pose unique challenges. Pixel density, a critical factor in font rendering, varies widely across display types. High pixel density improves font smoothness but may increase component costs and device energy consumption. Conversely, smaller, lower-resolution displays are cost-effective and energy-efficient but as pixel density reduces, may limit design options.

Challenges with fixed-segment displays

Devices with fixed-segment displays, such as those found in basic digital thermometers or blood pressure monitors, present additional design constraints. These displays can only show a predefined set of glyphs, making internationalisation particularly challenging. Designers must carefully select which information to display and how to present it clearly within these limitations and you may need different display designs per region, adding to SKU complexity.

3. UI design for low-resolution screens

Many medical devices use small or low-resolution embedded screens to display critical information or facilitate access to device functions. Ensuring readability and legibility on these displays is vital. Depending on your device’s resolution and software constraints you may need to use bitmap fonts, which can be finely tuned for clarity at small sizes. Key considerations include the optimisation of anti-aliasing techniques and the use of sans-serif typefaces, which are generally clearer at low resolutions. It is important to consider your smallest permittable font size, as creating legible Chinese characters below 16 physical pixels in height is notably challenging, emphasising the need for careful design and testing.

4. Additional considerations

Account for cultural nuances

It’s also important to account for cultural nuances and sensitivities. Notably, regional differences in date formats, units of measure, and number formatting (including decimal points and commas) can influence screen layouts and the display of critical information. You should allow users to select their preferred formats. Beyond language, understanding cultural norms and preferences can influence design decisions, such as colour schemes, symbols, and expected interaction patterns. For these reasons, it is important to conduct user tests with native speakers and in different cultural contexts is crucial to identify and address potential usability issues.

UI and regulatory compliance

Internationalisation should not be an afterthought, as it is extremely important when it comes to regulatory compliance. Each market has its regulations and standards for medical devices, which can affect UI design, information presentation, and language requirements.

 

For example, the EU MDR mandates that all medical devices sold in the EU must have labelling which includes information relating to safe use, and instructions for use (IFU) in the official languages, and preferred data formats, of the member state where the device is made available.

 

Incorporating these considerations into the design process ensures that medical devices are not only functional and compliant but also accessible and user-friendly across international markets.

5. Planning for internationalisation

The safe and effective use of medical devices is paramount. Misinterpretation of device outputs or misuse due to language barriers can have serious consequences. Planning for internationalisation addresses these risks head-on, ensuring that all users, regardless of their native language, can accurately understand and apply the information provided by medical devices.

 

Ensuring that devices are accessible, usable, and compliant across linguistic and cultural boundaries, manufacturers not only fulfil a moral obligation to global healthcare but also position themselves for sustained growth and success in the international market.

At Shore, we have extensive experience in designing for low-resolution displays and optimising UIs for internationalisation. This expertise allows us to navigate the complexities of creating medical devices for global markets, ensuring they meet the needs of diverse user bases while adhering to our clients’ requirements and brand standards.

 

If you’re looking to reach global markets with your medical device, contact our Business Development Manager, Holly. We’d love to discuss how we can support you.

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