Med Speaker Series: Karten Design

Past Tides
October 2, 2017 By Wendy Wolfson

According to Stuart Karten, founder of Karten Design, emerging trends in healthcare and medicine such as aging in place, the desire for convenience, and interfaces in virtual reality interact with consumer companies entering the healthcare space. At the July 29 meetup of the Med Device & Tech Young Movers and Shakers OC, in a talk titled “Front End Medical Device Innovation,” Karten asked his audience, “Now that we have this perfect storm, what are we doing about it?”.

Before he started his eponymous design firm, Karten worked for companies including Gould Medical Products, Mattel, and Baxter Medical Products. He founded Karten Design to connect “creativity and commerce” by developing emotional bonds between consumers and products to help companies build brands and revenue.

While design used to focus on styling and functionality, Karten says that design is now about growing business. He advocates that the best practices in design help companies increase customers, as well as solve problems like improving usability and work flow in healthcare. Karten described several projects in which his team applied design principles to transform the function of a medical product:

•To design a better patient wristband, they tracked the path of a wristband through admissions, surgery and recovery, to map how it conveyed information.The designers sketched multiple solutions and then put them through rounds of vetting to “fail forward fast.”

•To make chemo drug delivery simpler, his team made devices in pieces, interviewing 12 different people to determine needs.

•To do a deep dive into how nurses work, they studied the emotional facets of nursing instead of focusing on the purely functional aspects of interactions.

•To prevent hospital falls, the team interviewed hospital staff, as well as patients and the attorneys who represented patients who had fallen, to gain perspective into the events that led up to falls.They also talked with people trained on consumer applications for further insight.

When designing new technologies, Karten advises product development to create a vision, and make models of potential solutions. When thinking about creating the best market application for a technology, consider the context, for example, a better understanding the ecosystem around a sensor technology could improve patient compliance. “Make it sticky,” Karten advised. “Make it fit along with ceremonies and habits, minimize change, appeal to emotion, and make room for evangelism.”

His team developed a smart cane with a patient screen that incorporated an app to “nudge” patients towards certain behaviors. Karten advised thinking beyond the technology itself to the people who will be using it.“When developing a new technology or product, you need to think about incorporating good design from the start.” Karten said.

When designing a complex product, consider:

•What is the current state of that technology’s art?

•What are competitors doing?•What are the technical issues?

•What are the medical issues?

•Whom do you ask to gain information?

“Iterate, iterate, iterate,” Karten said. He emphasized the importance of measuring results, and commented that most product clients may not have conducted enough advance user research–a process that can take six months to a year. Karten asked his audience to consider: “How far along in the design process can you let something fail?”

According to Karten, effectively incorporating human factors into design means communicating and translating user perceptions to engineering groups. Karten suggested that product development teams send one of their engineers into the field—for example, to visit a hospital, but otherwise, use an edited video. “Human factors are a box that needs to be checked but is typically checked too far down in the process,” Karten said.