Ergonomics and Usability

From our viewpoint, ‘ergonomics / usability developments’ in medical design are distinguishable from User Interface / Graphical User Interface projects in that they are primarily mechanical “human machine” interfaces.

  1. These may be small parts such as Luer screws or handles for peripheral IV catheters (two-finger grips).
  2. For example, handles for manual surgical instruments, handles for trolleys and OR lighting (hand grips).
  3. All products involving the whole user and/or patient, such as OR tables, rehabilitation robots or wheelchairs.

Certainly, there are also transitions between ergonomic developments and User Interface / Graphical User Interface tasks, such as an RF switch on a laparoscopic instrument. Although it is an electric switch, it is guided by overall physical aesthetic and purpose so that it is not a separate panel, for example as is the case with the front side of an RF generator.

Ergonomics and usability in medical design

The ergonomic and usability development of products in medical design and laboratory technology is, of course, a principal focus of our project work. Safety and reliability of use are of the utmost priority. It’s not without reason that we devoted so much to this aspect of development from the outset at Held+Team. Our design takes into consideration what we have learned over time and what has been verified in user tests. After years of project experience, we have acquired a differentiated know-how in medical design, particularly on all manual instruments of the above-mentioned groups 1 and 2. Know-how, which certainly has an impact on further medical design projects. It ensures that many “detours” can be avoided as these have been identified as non-productive in former user tests. This applies especially to questions of how to conform the degree to which users are accustomed to an existing means of operation with a new, optimized method of operation. Incorporating too many new aspects could overtax or unsettle users, which threatens safety when operating. Long learning periods of usability and ergonomics for new operations are also deemed negative with regard to the effectiveness of usage. Therefore, established ergonomics are usually a compromise between the current operation technique and a ‘new’ ergonomic / usability solution. We have developed numerous projects for the 3rd group as well. From complex physiotherapy devices with integrated robotics via OR microscopes and stands to OR tables and ceiling supply units.

Visual design for improved usability / ergonomics

Despite extensive experience, visiting and repeatedly observing the user is the starting point for nearly every new project. We take photos and record videos and then perform an evaluation. International ergonomic and usability databases are inspected and used. Initial studies are commenced, which are usually based on manually-created models. These rather rough models may already be used to survey users. Long before work is taken up in the CAD, statements are available which can determine the general direction of further activity. In the further course, more user tests are conducted through iteratively refined patterns, mostly in Rapid Prototyping. At some point during this process, formal design work begins – the visual design. This date cannot be specified as it depends heavily on the product and the influence of a design on a fixed ergonomic or usability solution. What is important is that we do not put this last, because the visual design must be verified with regard to usability. This process, from the first visit to the user via the “cognitive walk-through” to the final design, is documented by us and processed such that the project team can use it for the usability file (DIN60601-1-6/62366).