by Matt Bell
March 28, 2022
The goal of any entrepreneur or startup founder should be to create a product that meets an important need for the people who will use it. This may seem self-evident, but it can be easy to lose sight of during the development process. According to CB Insights, one of the top reasons startups fail is that the product isn’t user-friendly. Give yourself the best chance at success by adopting and maintaining a user-centered product development approach.
But how do you identify the needs of your target users, and how will you balance those user needs with other product development constraints? I recently had a chance to sit down with Julia Anthony, Founder, President, and Chief Strategy Officer of SOLUtion Medical. We discussed how her patient-centric design philosophy has guided the development of SOLUtion’s TwistJect™ device, a reconstituting autoinjector for people living with adrenal insufficiency. Read on to learn more about how Julia has kept user needs a top priority throughout the development process, and her advice for how others can adopt a similar user-centric approach. Click here to watch the full webinar recording.
Design Philosophy Origin
Julia’s educational background includes time studying Kinesiology (the study of body movement) and Industrial Design with a focus on medical device creation and user interaction. Her personal design philosophy is an adaptation of a statement she came across while earning her Kinesiology degree: “people should move as complex as human, but as simple as possible”. Looked at through a design lens, this became:
“Design as complex as human, but as simple as possible.”
At the core of this overarching philosophy is a focus on the user – the human at the center of any product or service. One of SOULtion’s advisors is Dennis Boyle, founding member of global design firm IDEO, an early leader of the human-centered design movement. Julia found inspiration in design principles developed by Dennis and his team when working on an autoinjector device:
1) Meet people where they are. (design for flexible uses and provide agnostic support)
2) Deliver a comprehensive solution. (providing the elements that work together to create a consistent experience, nothing more)
3) Minimize barriers. (invite people into a simple and unhindered experience)
4) Put people in control. (give control where appropriate, and choice and support where desired)
5) Practice good bedside manners. (enable a personal, optimistic, and calm experience)
6) Safeguard the valuables. (provide protection where it counts)
The importance of this user-centric approach can’t be overstated. Remember, the success of your product isn’t dependent on what the designer or founder thinks, but what the product’s end users (and other stakeholders) think.
Identifying User Needs
So with a guiding philosophy and these design principles in hand, how does a motivated founder or product designer apply them to ensure they’re developing a product that meets an important need in a user-friendly way? If you’re developing a medical device for sale in the US, you’re required by the FDA to implement Design Controls, which includes establishing user needs early on in the development process. Even for non-medical devices, this is a product design best practice – not just a box to check, but an important step worth taking the time to get right. Think of user needs as the foundation for your product development.
One key to developing effective user needs is to put aside preconceived notions about the end product that will ultimately meet those needs. Focus on the problems to be solved for a specific set of users. Ideation about potential solutions to solve those problems comes later. They also need to be actionable, meaning they can be directly linked to product requirements, or design inputs, and can be validated in a clear, unambiguous way. Julia recommended reading 5 Secrets to Actionable User Needs in Medtech from Archimedic’s always insightful blog for more information on this topic.
Advocate for Your End User
With a strong set of user needs in hand, your job as founder or designer is to ensure that these needs are prioritized throughout the development process. To echo the title of the webinar, advocate for your end user! There will inevitably be pressure to optimize for other factors, such as manufacturing complexity and cost. While cost is an important consideration, you must not sacrifice usability. Nobody will use a product that is inexpensive but ineffective at solving a problem.
“Remember, the success of your product isn’t dependent on what the designer or founder thinks, but what the product’s end users (and other stakeholders) think.”
Julia described one example of when she embraced the role of user advocate during the development of the TwistJect™ device. As a reconstituting autoinjector, one function of the device is to combine and mix a powder and liquid. Prototypes of the powder container were made out of metal and worked well, but user testing revealed that it was important for people to see the powder to ensure it looks suitable to inject in their body before mixing. It would be easier and less costly to manufacture this part out of metal, but Julia insisted that the user need for visibility took priority. When you see TwistJect™ on the market, the powder container will be made of glass. This highlights another piece of advice offered by Julia: you should actively solicit and embrace user input during development. This be difficult, since you’re asking for critical feedback, but through this feedback you are able to reduce friction and barriers to design a better, more usable product.
Julia also described how a strong company mission statement and personal “Why” can serve as guides in decision making throughout the development process. SOLUtion’s mission is to “Empower people experiencing life-altering conditions with a solution to better self administer care, anywhere, at any time.” A user-focused mission like this provides a constant reminder to put user needs first. A personal “Why”, popularized by Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why, is another powerful tool to remind oneself why their work is worthwhile. Julia’s personal “Why” is to help people like her brother, who lives with Salt-Wasting Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (SWCAH), and the many people she’s met whose life might be saved by a device like TwistJect™. Julia, too, lives with SWCAH.
“You should actively solicit and embrace user input during development”
When developing a product, remember that the users and other stakeholders hold the key to your success. Be sure to identify their needs early on, advocate for them during development, and actively solicit their feedback along the way. If you’re looking for inspiration, sign up for the SOLUtion Medical Newsletter to see how this advice is being put into practice.
If you’re looking for help designing a product that meets important user needs, we’d love to talk about how our strategic user-centered development approach can help you create the best version of your product or medical device. Book a call with me here.
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