2015Twelve essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Takahiro Uchida
Director’s message

Design that advances medicine and social care


Interest in medicine and assistive products has grown in recent years, and as the boundaries of traditional medical products expand with an infusion of IT, robotics, and other technologies, the award program will be seeing more and more genre-defying entries. What exactly constitutes good design in this field? Responding to this question requires us to investigate the role and significance of design that satisfies quite a few criteria – not only in matters of appearance, but also in improved functionality, complete innovativeness, regulatory compliance, fair promotion of efficacy and safety, and as an example of outstanding design in all of these respects, what message it conveys to society.

Only products duly developed following regulatory guidelines and proven to offer a suitable balance of efficacy and safety can be marketed as medical products. This efficacy or effectiveness must be explained appropriately, according to some scientific basis. Evaluating product efficacy and safety is not easy, which is why regulatory approval is generally essential.

The design of medical and assistive products is viewed from several different viewpoints by manufacturers and users. Some products are well designed but match previous products in functionality, for example. Others are elegant and outperform previous products in medical applications. Still others are well designed or perform well but cannot be marketed as medical products, due to regulations. A comprehensive perspective accounting for these different viewpoints is therefore needed when determining good design.

Although one product evaluated shows promise in aiding medical treatment through outstanding technology, it has only been commercialized for use in health and beauty applications, and R&D for medical applications is still under way. Used for health and beauty, the product is clearly innovative, but it cannot yet be evaluated as a medical device. We look forward to seeing it adopted in medical scenarios in the future, with its technical innovation presented effectively through design.

Evaluation this year revealed how various approaches in design have improved the quality of medical and assistive products. Some winning entries, such as the 3M Japan face shield, seem to have begun from a bright idea that inspired outstanding product design. In others, such as the Eli Lilly insulin auto-injector or the GE MRI system, superb design can be traced back to the technical wizardry that made these products possible. Another winning entry built on solid technical expertise at the crossroads of medicine and robotics is a Denso robot that assists in surgery. Manufacturers have eagerly promoted robot technology in medical applications for years, and the fact that some robots now assist surgeons in extremely delicate tasks demonstrates how far robotics has come in medicine. Other admirable products blend IT with medicine, which is also creating waves.

Thus, we can see research achievements, technological advances, and industrial changes vividly reflected in entries, but determining design quality in this field essentially remains a matter of seeing how the developers persuade society that the products are safe and effective, and how they secure benefits for users.

Allow me to conclude by mentioning some guidelines for entries in this field that will support evaluation. Admittedly, judges were misled this year by one entry, marketed as a medical device, which was described misleadingly by discussing functions outside the scope of regulations on efficacy. Information required for evaluation includes both the current status of regulatory approval and entry highlights within the scope of regulations, in support of the approved efficacy. Preferably, entrants should also clarify whether the design primarily emphasizes styling, usability, functionality, or technology. Entrants should consider comparing entries to their previous products, and explaining improvements. Comparing entries to competitive products and describing their competitive edge will also support efficient evaluation.

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