Association Report, IDSA: Transforming Products into Services
Medical appliances are an ideal case study for the dual nature of industrial design. The devices must function flawlessly, incorporating a complex set of user/stakeholder needs, and also appeal on an emotional level. Good design addresses and eases the discomfort and anxiety that people may experience as they interact with an unfamiliar medical appliance and stressful situation without compromising care-efficacy or complicating the caregivers’ work. The successful design outcome demands absolute performance while providing a compelling empathetic solution that influences personal behavior in a positive manner. Other areas of design may be tasked with a similar tension, but the challenges of medical appliance innovation are particularly demanding given the current landscape of healthcare. Manufacturers must now address an ever-evolving user base, and regulatory system, while discovering new models and methods of delivering care.
Competing on performance alone will be increasingly hard to sustain. As patient needs become more diverse, research and development increases, margins decrease, and the medical appliance field suddenly becomes a commodities game, one where corporations and customers both stand to lose. Like an app that transforms your mobile device into a heart rate monitor, we need to glean insight from a wide variety of sources, and take an integrated approach to improving quality of life through its many touch points along the way.
Shifting the design effort from product-centered approach to a bigger, service-centric picture creates a new field of opportunities. The crucial element is interaction over time, both between the user and appliance, as well as multiple products. A service design approach has the potential to treat individuals rather than anonymous populations. Too often manufacturers are tempted to add technical product features instead of taking the time to consider how important the emotional experience is for successful treatment—and how different individuals may experience different outcomes based on usage. It’s not about bells and whistles; it’s about the continuity between pure functionality and the messy patchwork of emotions and happenstance that color people’s lives. The answer to the conundrum of diverse user needs is found in the primary focus of service design: empathy.
Transforming products into services means seeing the field through a wide-angle lens. Moving forward, innovative appliances will be elements of a larger system rather than individual entities. Moreover, seeing the appliance field as a network requires the inclusion of the entire life cycle of a product, starting with the initial purchase spanning all the way through its retirement. Linking people and communities will ultimately lessen the impact on the environment, as well as create more dynamic connections. An appliance must not simply be an object, but rather a point of interaction: the axis for relationships within the service ecosystem.
The transition from a standalone product perspective to a product family or system view also addresses the arms race that is sure to unfold amongst appliance manufacturers. Self-control can beget volume. The work Chuck Jones and team did during his tenure at Whirlpool comes to mind as a good example. The game-changing Duet was introduced in 2001 as a matching washer and dryer set with a complex set of user benefit considerations. Prior to its release, the overwhelming majority of such appliances struggled to connect function with meaning as a system and thus struggled against commodity pricing, often resulting in being sold as single units. Rather than focusing efforts towards adding superfluous novelties, Jones and Whirlpool targeted consumer behavior by taking the entire user experience into account—forgoing the laundry list of features and embracing the larger product ecosystem. The result was an unqualified success, with more than three-quarters of the machines being purchased as a pair. It didn’t hurt that the Duet line was a deft blend of technological beauty, ultimately being exhibited at the Louvre that same year. Medical product design has a lot to gain from a service and systems design approach.
This is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts—a focused network of service-based products is better able to adapt to the wide range of patients’ diverse and ever-changing personal needs. Effective medical design accounts not only for an appliance’s dedicated purpose, but also its ability to add value to the entire spectrum of care. This kind of service ecosystem provides a new platform for manufacturers that expands reach, and creates a roadmap for the future. Escaping a myopic obsession with functional performance will result in an equal broad based outcome: a more robust business model, more successful caregivers, and happier, healthier patients.