2016Nine essential GDA perspectives on design trends
Takahiro Uchida
Director’s message

Good design in fields of medicine and health


Doesn't the very existence of medical innovation, in the form of a new drug or medical device, itself constitute excellence in design? A basic question, but one worth considering.

Development of medical devices follows established procedures. Rigorous management of overall technical design and industrial design is required, and quality must be ensured. Thus, clearing medical device regulations signifies that the design has been approved for a medical device. Hence the opinion that for medical products, no higher standards in design may be needed.

Medical care can be viewed as a public good that should be accessible to all. In response to surging medical costs in recent years - especially in developed countries - driven in part by longevity and medical advances, some see it as a social mission to control medical costs, to the extent possible. Safe, effective diagnosis and treatment remains the goal of medical care, yet superficial design such as appealing drug packaging increases development costs and makes drugs or devices more expensive. This undermines the social mission to expand medical care. Taken to an extreme, this thinking even tempts us to believe that appearance does not matter at all.

But if we take a step back, we realize that those seeking medical care are unwell, and in this weakened condition, they benefit from medical services with a little warmth. And if so, we can appreciate that soothing elements of medical design - or elements that make users look dignified or attractive - are actually quite important. For that matter, surely the material that comes into contact with patients should be carefully designed for comfort. These considerations may convince us that medical design should also be as appealing as possible.

When views on medical design are so polarized and decisions so difficult, it is heartening to see so many entries distinguished by the quality of their product design, or their innovativeness. A commitment to improved design was seen in systems used for digital radiography, diagnostic ultrasound, and other applications. FUJIFILM DR CALNEO AQRO and SonoSite iViz and JPAP clearly demonstrate how design ideals of the manufacturer are reflected in the products. The last in particular responds to patient needs for smaller, quieter, and more visually appealing devices.

Similarly, in fields long in need of innovation, notable entries take on and support change through design from new perspectives. Morph are designed for use in airports and on planes. Another award-winning wheelchair, COGY, is the world's first that can be pedaled forward with minimal effort. As pedaling also serves as routine physical rehabilitation, the fresh thinking here is highly commendable. Both Morph and COGY represent products that fundamentally alter long-stagnant wheelchair design from the user perspective, and this thinking makes us feel the potential of new innovation in situations that normally go unexamined.

As with Morph and COGY, a prominent trend this year was the impressive design of products or initiatives that serve people who may be described as socially vulnerable or members of minority populations. New, non-auditory ways to make hearing-impaired users aware of a variety of ambient sounds are provided by Ontenna, which produces light and vibration based on frequencies of sound.

This novel "user interface" is worn like a hairpin, and users sense the vibration through their hair. For hearing-impaired users and others, Ontenna promises to support communication in new ways, and both the project's ambitiousness and overall quality of design make us eager to see further development.

To tear down psychological barriers around disabled people and other minority populations and change perceptions, Shibuya 2020 - Super Welfare Expo has been held at Shibuya Hikarie since 2014 by the NPO People Design Institute in partnership with Shibuya Ward and Superhuman Sports Society. Here, the organizers have seemingly found popular support in how they are redefining disability, encouraging admiration, and doing things that are more positive and creative.

Here, we should mention a relevant stance we decided to take in evaluation. Because medical devices are regulated, products that fail to earn this initial approval are effectively disqualified from entry in the award program, no matter how outstanding their design may be. Although products must conform to these medical device regulations to be considered medical devices.With design that stirs interest in the neglected issue of male fertility, Seem is an outstanding combination of an app and test kit for checking sperm motility and concentration through automatic analysis of semen video clips captured by the app. In simple at-home screenings, the service addresses a factor that has prevented some couples from conceiving.

Seem designers claim that their product is only intended for screenings, and therefore not a medical device. However, the fact remains that sperm and semen analysis devices are indeed one category of medical devices - a Class I device that measures the concentration of sperm in semen and identifies activity (specifically, motility). Personally, I sense that the product strongly corresponds to this category of medical devices. So how should we proceed in evaluation? After some discussion, we concluded that regulatory compliance must be left to the discretion of entrants and lies outside the scope of evaluation.

This policy resembles our own policy on potential patent infringement. In both cases, we evaluate design based on how entries are described by entrants. If award winners are found to have infringed legality in some way, awards are withdrawn, at the request of the winners. Discussions on this topic reinforced our evaluation policies in the context of medical regulations.

In general, it was certainly evident in screenings that a new era in medicine is dawning. IoT and ICT are increasingly blurring the boundaries between medicine and health. Even in these fields, IoT is becoming more familiar.

It used to be that we sought medical care only after we became ill. Medicine and health were once considered separately, but now, more people know the importance of staying healthy to prevent disease.

One background factor for this has relied on ICT: the spread of centralized management of personal health records (PHRs) and similar data, tracked from childhood. In fact, several PHR-related app and program entries were received. As these fields are also enhanced by robotics, AI, and other transformative technologies in the future, medical and health products may become even more diverse, and we will need to venture further in defining good design in the context of medical innovation.

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