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High fidelity UI prototype represented by a person looking at a user interface on an ipad

Fast tracking medical device development by prototyping user interfaces

Published: August 2023

Grant Howarth

Grant Howarth, Interaction Design Consultant

In the field of medical device development, an accessible, user-friendly, and intuitive user interface (UI) is crucial for ensuring the effectiveness and safety of any product. Creating seamless experiences that allow healthcare professionals and patients to use medical devices competently and confidently can place your product ahead of your competitors by ensuring safe use, driving engagement, and encouraging adherence. 

At Shore, we ensure that the UI is implemented effectively through the creation of proof-of-concept UI prototypes and the adoption of user-centred design from the earliest stages of the development process.

What is a user interface prototype?

A user interface prototype is a mock-up or representation of the graphical user interface (GUI) or UI design of a medical device. It is a tangible physical or digital model that showcases the visual layout, interaction elements, and functionality of the device. The prototype can range from low-fidelity representations, such as hand-drawn sketches or wireframes, to high-fidelity, fully interactive simulations that closely resemble the final product.

The purpose of creating a UI prototype is to provide an interactive demonstration of how the device will look and function from the user’s perspective. It allows designers, developers, and stakeholders to test and evaluate the usability, intuitiveness, and effectiveness of the interface design before committing to the product architecture of the device.

This article explores the numerous benefits of adopting this methodology, including achieving earlier product architecture alignment, improving user feedback integration, identifying potential design flaws, robustly gathering user feedback and identifying use-related risk, quicker overall product development and ultimately development cost savings.

Aligning product architecture early on

By designing, prototyping, testing, and validating a proof-of-concept UI design in the initial stages of the project, medical device developers can establish a solid rationale for the products’ architecture and core functionality. Rapid low fidelity, functional prototypes can help to quickly identify core product features and requirements. These prototypes can be tested internally in the earliest stages of development but ideally should be tested with your intended users too. This approach allows clients to visualise, evaluate, and rationalise core user flows and tasks long before expensive software development takes place, enabling product owners to make informed decisions, and formulate robust product specifications, improving stakeholder alignment and minimising the need for extensive revisions later in the development process.

Formative studies with intended users and environments

Prototypes serve as valuable tools for conducting formative studies, allowing teams to assess user experience in an environment that closely resembles real-world usage scenarios. It is critical that you test with your actual users as they are experts of their context and are rich with insights from their daily life. You may find that users’ mental models and expectations of how a device works or should behave often do not align with the reality of the engineering. They may have learned behaviours that do not easily map to a new paradigm or may have developed shortcuts to overcome the shortcomings of poorly designed devices.

Identifying these perspectives early gives an opportunity to learn from their experience and design solutions that meet their needs and expectations. By observing user interactions and behaviours during these studies, potential use-related risks can be identified early on, enabling the implementation of timely mitigation strategies and improved overall safety. It is beneficial that formative studies are conducted with interfaces that accurately reflect the intended design and implementation so that new use errors are not discovered during validation studies.

Optimising product architecture

All too often, people forget that user interfaces go beyond screens. The buttons you choose, LEDs, speakers or ports are all parts of the UI and should all be considered early on, for example, if a product button does not provide adequate feedback users may not know whether the device is registering their input. Through the creation of proof-of-concept UI 3D models, you can experiment with various button configurations, placements and types of feedback. By testing different options, you can identify the most intuitive and efficient arrangement, ultimately enhancing the ease of use and reducing user errors.

Increasingly, medical devices such as diagnostic tools and therapeutic devices have embedded screens or connected apps. By creating prototypes and observing user interactions, you can gain insights into the ideal screen sizes and layouts that promote effective information presentation and interaction. This knowledge is invaluable in optimising the device’s UI, ensuring that the screen elements are appropriately sized for optimal visibility, accessibility, and user comfort.

Medical devices often require additional features such as status-indicating LEDs and audio feedback to convey vital information, attract attention and enhance user interaction. Through the creation of multimodal proof-of-concept UI prototypes, you can accurately evaluate the need for such components and their optimal placement. By incorporating these requirements at an early stage, you can ensure that all aspects of the UI design come together seamlessly.

Reducing risk in product architecture decisions

The adoption of a prototype driven user-centric methodology instils confidence in product architecture decisions. By conducting thorough user testing and incorporating feedback into the design iterations, you can validate the usability and effectiveness of the medical device early in the development process before expensive hardware and software engineering phases. This proactive approach ensures that usability considerations are prioritised from the outset, resulting in a more refined and user-friendly final product. Ultimately, this allows the Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering, and Software Development teams to proceed with confidence, and that they won’t have to perform expensive redesigns when use risks are identified late in the development process.

Prototyping tools

At Shore, we use a range of tools to create prototypes depending on your project requirements. Foam and 3D printed mock-ups allow us to quickly explore the physicality and ergonomics of various UI layouts, such as touch buttons and screens. These can be combined with digital prototyping tools like Figma that allow for the creation of rapid click-through prototypes to quickly evaluate concepts. Whereas tools like Axure enable the creation of robust, logic-driven prototypes, allowing you to simulate more complex interactions, such as editing therapeutic values in input fields. By more closely resembling the final product, these higher fidelity prototypes allow you to extract insightful usability and use related insights from formative studies.

Reduce project risks, costs and decrease development time by prototyping medical device user interfaces

Incorporating UI prototyping early in the development of a medical device allows alignment on product architecture more quickly, and with greater confidence. By prioritising a user-centred development process, integration of target users’ feedback and usability insights from the outset, you can implement usability risk mitigations while the development is at a state that can be modified cost effectively. This leads to reduced risk, reduced development costs and reduced development time.

Shore’s user-centred medical device development process ensures that the architecture, functionality, and visual language of the product UI is well-tailored to your target users and their context of use. This provides an intuitive, clear and aesthetically pleasing user experience centred around usability, resulting in medical devices that give you a competitive edge and delight your users. 

We would love to discuss your next UI project!

Read more about our capabilities in UI here.

Contact us.

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