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Posts Tagged ‘user centered design’

Going to Work With a KOL? Don’t Forget the Intangibles

Posted by Plish on June 2, 2014

Over the past couple of decades I’ve had the opportunity to work with many Key Opinion Leaders (KOL’s) during the course of developing medical products***.  KOL’s can be a vital part of a product development team.  In my experience, some were a pleasure to work with, others, quite frankly, were a pain.

There’s a good summary on selecting KOL’s here.   It’s not the whole story, but it’s worth checking out.

He mentions some great tips to sift out the KOL’s from the ‘regular’ folks (it’s important to remember that a person doesn’t have to be a physician to be a KOL):

  1. Regularly sought out by their colleagues for opinions or advice
  2. Speak often at regional or national conferences
  3. Have published articles in a major journal during the past two years
  4. Consider themselves early adopters of new treatments or procedures
  5. Help establish protocols for patient care

Also look at:

  1. The Associations to which the key decision makers belong, as well as the Research Groups that they work with
  2. The places they deem to be the key referral Treatment Centers
  3. The Treatment Guidelines/patterns employed by the various physician KOLs, as well as the general protocols that they follow
  4. The Clinical Trials they have participated in

I would add the following that get at the “intangibles”, and may cause you grief:

1. Does the clinician always seem to talk about money and/or royalties?  If so, you may have your hands full.  As I once heard a KOL say, “It’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

2. Is the KOL talking about other ventures, or possibly products he/she wants to develop?  This could create friction about product concepts being developed in the future. There could also be ulterior motives to working with you.

3. Is the KOL personable?  Does he/she get along with people?  There’s enough stress in a product development process without a KOL adding more.

4. Does the KOL act like part of the team or like someone hired for an opinion? Even though laws seem to push you towards the latter, you want the former.  The latter knows and often acts like he/she is being paid for opinions.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  See #5.

5.  Make sure time commitments are spelled out and understood by all parties involved.  Yes, KOL’s have their practices, but if they are truly committed to improving healthcare, they’ll understand that getting a new product to market is not clean-cut and predictable.  Everyone is short on time.

6. Because KOL’s are usually well published, they are great resources for helping to understand strategic landscapes.   That can often be more important to overall success than input on specific product attributes.

7. There are ethical and legal ramifications of using medical doctors as part of a product development process.  Be diligent about following the law.  You don’t need those types of stresses in your life.

With regards to KOL’s in general, it’s important to realize that designing a product based solely on KOL input is generally not a good idea.

Yes, a KOL may do 1000 procedures a year, but that person won’t use a product the same way as someone who does a 100 procedures, or for that matter, 10 procedures.   The majority of people who will use your products are not KOL’s.  Most KOL’s work at prestigious institutions and have resources available to them that most people don’t.  It’s important to know what the non-KOL’s have available to them.  If you design something to accommodate the majority, odds are it’ll work for the KOL.

Remember too that KOL’s are often laser sharp in their focus.  If they are great surgeons, don’t ask them about something that a surgical tech is doing during the procedure.  Ask the tech.

Better yet, don’t just ask.


Observe what is going on before, during, and after the time when a product is being used.  Don’t just trust what people say they do.  People (even KOL’s!) often think they are performing an action, and even will tell you they are doing it if you ask them afterwards.  If you watch them, they may never do it or do it in a different manner.

Working with KOL’s can be exciting and insightful for all involved parties.  Keep these points in mind and it won’t be a drag on time, money and patience.

I’d love to hear your experiences with KOL’s.

***While this is written specifically for medical product development, these guidelines can apply to other industries.

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Ergonomics, Healthcare, innovation, Medical Devices | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts and Images from FUSE14

Posted by Plish on April 11, 2014

The FUSE conference has come and gone.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the last day, but the first two days were pretty amazing.  It was a conference of great insights into the power of Design in creating powerful, memorable experiences of products/services/brands.

I made concept maps of all the presentations I sat in on.  You can check them out on SlideShare.

Day 1

Day 2

There’s a mashup from Twitter here and here.

If you can make this conference in the future, it’s well worth it. The speakers are top-notch, the facility is beautiful, and the food was excellent as well.

Some of my pics are below:

The conference was not just about the past and present.  It was about the future as well.   There are challenges presented by technology and human nature, challenges that could demean instead of elevate people if not addressed.

The conference was exciting, precisely because it acknowledged the multifaceted challenges that await those who seek to design better experiences, better products, a better, more human, sustainable future.

Posted in Best Practices, Brands, creativity, Customer Focus, Design, Experience, innovation, Research, Service Design, Social Innovation, Sustainable Technology, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

See You at FUSE14 in Chicago!

Posted by Plish on April 3, 2014

If you don’t have your tickets, make sure you check out Fuse 2014!

This is truly a great networking, educational and inspiring event.  Check out the line-up!

Fuse is about Innovation, Brand Strategy and Marketing, Trends, Design and more!  If you go, I guarantee you won’t be sorry.

Oh, and once the conference starts on April 7, tune in to the Seen page (It doesn’t go live until the conference starts).  It’s a great place to see a mashup of tweets for the conference.

If you’re going, drop me a line – would love to meet up!

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, innovation, Service Design | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Small Changes in Design Can Positively Impact Customer Experience – Thoughts After the Storm…

Posted by Plish on July 16, 2011

I don’t know what chord the wind was playing, I only know it wasn’t that “shoosh’ sound that a breeze, even a strong one, makes.  The haunting drone of 75+mph winds was punctuated by the snapping sounds of tree trunks and shuddering thuds as 30 foot  tree  segments slammed onto, or rather, bounced off the roof and then landed in front of the window. The lake, usually filled with whitecaps during storms, instead was flattened and swirling, looking as if it were going to part.  Given the apocalyptic combination of noise and wind, it wouldn’t have surprised us to see ghost’s of Pharoah’s army riding on chariots through the waters.

The onslaught lasted only minutes while we frantically grabbed cats, flashlights, phones and water and tunneled into the closet in the center of the house.

Winds subsided and water started dripping through the bedroom ceiling…

As if the entire block was cued by an off-stage director, people walked out of their homes and into the street, drizzle falling and cracks of lightning still flashing in the distance.  One by one we evaluated each other’s property and looked at the damage. Maple trees that have faced battles for over 50 years lost this one.  Trunks over a foot in diameter snapped and splintered. Our fascia was ripped off in one place, a tree branch pierced into the attic in another, and a dent in a ridge turned out to be a broken beam.  Small holes randomly pocked the shingles.  Shattered trunk lay on top of bushes and small trees.  Their forced bends seem to be screaming, “Get off my back!”

The lack of power and the holes in the roof are main concerns.  Those will get patched by roofers that were kind enough to end their gruellingly long day with a trip to our house to seal them off.  The power?  We had that covered with a generator, albeit 24 hours after the power was lost. 

I prepared the generator for its run.  I took a quart of oil and tried to verify how much oil would be needed.  The instructions said .6 liters.  I looked on the side of the plastic bottle to see if I could gauge how much to pour. 

Sweaty, with a headlamp on my head and mosquitoes beginning their evening feast, I looked in disbelief.  The bottle is filled with 1.419 liters of oil.

Seriously – four significant digits? (This is actually 48 ounces but I’m not about to convert .6 liters to ounces)

The markings on the container start with 1.3 and go down in 0.1 liter increments.  So, as if the situation isn’t bad enough, I now have to actually think.  I subtract .6 from 1.417, that’s 0.817.  I begin pouring.  Nope, not enough…pour more…I’m close…pour again…too much…augh, oil is dripping out of the fill port.  I pour some oil out and recheck…I add more again….perfect.  

Add gasoline, flip switches, pull cable, it starts.  We have power to fridge, freezer and a fan. 

I look at the oil slick on the concrete and do damage control to keep it out of the grass and flower bed.

I look again at the bottle.


As I listen to the generator humming in the darkness and mosquitoes in my ears, it strikes me how the simplest products can be made so much more helpful with a minimum amount of effort.  All it takes is a little empathy and understanding.  The manufacturer provided a clear stripe of plastic and gradation marks so that the contents could be measured as it was dispensed.   It wouldn’t have been any more difficult to reverse the sequence of the numbers so that they could actually be useful to the pourer.

Click for Full Size

Click for Full Size

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Ergonomics, Experience, innovation | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Novel Tool for Measuring Emotional Response to Products – PrEmo

Posted by Plish on December 5, 2010

Companies put extreme effort into making sure their products are built according to specifications in repeatable, cost-effective processes.   For many, quality is seen almost exclusively through the lenses of assuring or controlling quality, Six Sigma,  Lean Manufacturing and the like.  In other words, improving quality means minimizing scrap or complaints due to product failures.

The problem is that none of these quality measures actually look at intangibles of quality, that je ne sais quoi tied into the emotional responses of the people purchasing or using the product.  Instead, these intangibles are indirectly (and many times incorrectly!) measured through metrics like increasing sales, i.e. if the products are selling, people must be happy with them and love them! 

In reality, however, good sales of a product may not have anything to do with people being excited about a product.  Instead, people may buy because of  how easily something can be purchased, or simply because of the lack of other offerings.   We’ve all had the experience of buying something that really wasn’t the preferred product simply because it was more readily available at a closer store.  In fact, since we are creatures of habit, we may even repurchase that very same item the next time our ‘habit cycle’ comes around! Does that mean I like that product? 

Of course not! It means I can live with it, and in the increasingly competitive world of  product offerings, successful companies shouldn’t, and in some cases can’t, rely on their products being ‘good enough’ to live with.  What are needed are products that elicit powerful emotions in people – those emotions that make people want to buy something even if it means driving 2 hours and waiting in line for 10 hours to buy it.

How do we know if a product elicits this response?  We measure the emotional response


Pieter Desmet, Ph.D.,  has done some excellent work in  finding ways of objectively and effectively measuring emotional responses.  To that end, I strongly suggest you read his paper entitled, ‘Measuring Emotions.’  It’s an easy but informative read about the development of his emotional response measurement tool called,  PrEmo.  

PrEmo is based on the premise that people are more able to effectively articulate their emotions through recognizing those same  emotions as conveyed in the facial/body expressions/vocal tones of others, than they are able to describe what it is they are feeling.   To facilitate this process, PrEmo consists of animated cartoon characters depicting 12 emotions (it used to be 14) on a screen.  Also on the screen is a picture of the product that’s being evaluated (though this product could be held in someone’s hands or experienced another way).  The person then clicks on each cartooned emotion, noting the extent he or she feels that particular emotion.  The data is compiled at the end and voila! Emotional responses have been measured and comparisons between populations and products can be made. The tool is easy to use and is even described as fun by some people.

 SusaGroup, in conjunction with the Delft University of Technology, built the system into a reasonably priced  commercial product.  If you contact them they will even oblige you with a demo so you can experience the tool for yourself.   

I think you’ll find that, like me,  PrEmo will have a place in your research toolbox, because product quality isn’t just about specifications and manufacturing processes – it’s also about the experiences people have when they interact with your product; it’s about designing products that elicit emotional bonds.

The importance of this emotional response can’t be overstated, because when the experience of a product is memorable in a positive way, you’ll find that people are often more than willing to overlook certain ‘quality’ issues.

Posted in Design, Emotions, innovation, Innovation Metrics, Market Assessment, Quality Systems, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

It’s Not About Users but About People – Research into People Centered Design

Posted by Plish on October 8, 2010

Just got back from the 7th International Conference on Design and Emotion.  This was a wonderfully stimulating conference, one that I’ll be processing for quite some time.

While there were multiple sessions that were truly inspirational, perhaps one of the forerunners was a presentation entitled: Including people in the design process – Good but how? by Dr. Yan Ki Lee.

Her bottom line is this:

t’s not about users, it’s about people; people who are creative partners in the design process.  It isn’t about designing for people, but designing with people.

Rather than expound upon her work, I invite you to check out the thorough and provocative toolkit at designingwithpeople.org .

The methods and activities sections of the site are full of case studies, video diaries and resources.  Fascinating and educational, it’s well worth the time spent on this site.  It will only make you a better designer, a better innovator, and dare I say, a better person.

Posted in Case Studies, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, design thinking, Healthcare, innovation, Innovation Tools, Research, Society, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Lessons in Design Process from the Egyptian Pyramids

Posted by Plish on October 26, 2009

Since the ancient Egyptians didn’t technically document their design process, I decided to do some reading and tease out the process that they used to design and construct the pyramids.  What I came up with is diagrammed below.  

pyramiddesign michaelplishka2009

Click to See Full Size

Their overarching concern was obvious: build a suitable eternal home for their ruler in a limited time

These constraints (italicized in the above sentence) bounded their design/build process.  If we agree with video game developer, Dino Dini, that the definition of a design process is, ‘the management of (negotiable and non-negotiable) constraints,” then in fact the Egyptians were indeed using a design process as they were accutely active in managing some very basic constraints:

1.  Materials

2.  Workers

3.  Guiding Perspectives on the Afterlife (Providing for the needs of the dead)

4.  Manufacturing/Construction/Artistic Techniques (Technology + Art)

5.  Time

Of the above 5 constraints,  two constraints  were non-negotiable: ‘Guiding Perspectives on the Afterlife’ and ‘Time’.

Their Perspectives on the Afterlife dictated what must be contained in the tomb from foodstuffs to boats, to how the tomb was constructed. 

Time, or rather, time to the death of the ruler, was a powerful, non-negotiable constraint.  The structure basically had to be completed in time for the entombment.

These two constraints impacted the other three constraints as is clear from the archeological record.   The materials used, the technologies chosen for building aspects of the tomb, the abandonment of various aspects of the tomb and focus on other areas, the use of more or less workers, the change in architectural layout during the course of construction, all these were done in response to the non-negotiable constraints.

While managing these constraints they were basically following the User Centered Design process as spelled out in ISO 13407 and summarized below:

Courtesy of devx.com

Only they were doing it over 5000 years ago…

Posted in creativity, Design, Funding Innovation, imagination, invention, Life Stages, problem solving, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Design and Innovation for Seniors and Disabled

Posted by Plish on September 18, 2009

Where's the Innovation for the Golden Years?

Where's the Innovation for the Golden Years?

I’ve always believed that too many of the products that get touted as being great innovations with well thought out design actually are not necessarily all that great of products with regards to usability by seniors or disabled.

One of the main reasons this occurs is that, in general, Western Cultures do not promote interaction with seniors or the disabled.  These people get pushed into sub-cultures of sorts and are thus insulated from the society at large.  

Out of sight, out of mind, out of design…

It’s not just current product designs that are senior/disabled non-friendly.  Since many social challenges confront people as they age, innovation and improvements to address these challenges are required, but unfortunately are few and far between.

What would I suggest to start getting some innovative design work going in these areas?

1. There needs to be greater awareness of the needs of the aging and disabled population.  They need to be recognized, not as a subculture that is somehow separate from society, but as an essential part of society in the here and now.

2. Awareness comes from immersion.  Unfortunately, immersion can only happen in many cases by visiting places like assisted living centers, and hospitals.  In the mean time, we can start by visiting great websites like Serene Ambition – Boomers in Transition.

3. When present in those places where there doesn’t seem to be very many elderly or disabled ask: “What can be improved here so that elderly and disabled can truly be a part of this place/event?” 

4. When looking at products ask: “Could I use this device if I had arthritis? Or couldn’t walk well?  Or if my hand tremors? Or if my eyesight was failing? Or if my hearing was poor? Or if I couldn’t breathe well? etc…”

5. Be sure to visit the Center for Universal Design.  Great references there.

Finally, younger people need to get out of denial and see the spectrum of life in its entirety.  Everyone get’s older.

The good news is that designing and innovating for the aging/disabled is ultimately doing it for ourselves…

What are your thoughts on this?

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Human Rights, innovation, Life Stages, Society, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Princess and the Pea, User-Centered Design, and asking “Why?”

Posted by Plish on May 1, 2009

Sometimes 'Smaller' Doesn't Help...

Sometimes 'Smaller' Doesn't Help...

I was talking to a nurse about a particular medical device. She looked at it and said, “You need to make it smaller.”

“Why?” I asked -having a gut feeling that it didn’t need to be much smaller based on some in-field research.

“Because it’s too big. It get’s pressed onto the skin like this, and then…then it’s uncomfortable for the patient.”

“What do you mean?” I continued.

“It digs into the skin.”

“What about holding it,” I took a slightly different direction, “How does it feel?”

“Just about right, I wouldn’t change it too much.”

The picture came together all at once.  “So, do you think it needs to be smaller or more comfortable?”

“More comfortable- definitely!  Yeah, not too much smaller, I’d have trouble holding it like this with my stubby fingers.”

Sometimes when you’re asking people to give input on a product/process, the first words out of their mouths aren’t really what they mean.  In this case, ‘smaller’ did not mean ‘smaller’, it meant, ‘more comfortable for the patient.’

The result of not asking “Why?” could have been disastrous.  If I took the “make it smaller” statement at face value, I could have developed a product that was smaller (even less comfortable for the patient-think “Princess and the Pea”), and harder to handle – missing on two accounts.

Children are great at asking, “Why?”.  They don’t care about looking stupid, about not having all the answers – – they just want to learn.

So next time you’re trying to solve a problem, ask “Why?”…multiple times.  This technique works great for everything, even problem statements. For example:

Problem Statement: In what ways might we make this thingamabob smaller?

Why does it need to be smaller?

Because it needs to fit in this slot.

Why does it need to fit in the slot?

Because that’s how it turns this other doohickey on.

Why does it have to turn it on?

Um…it doesn’t…maybe being smaller isn’t what this thingamabob needs to be.

For another great perspective  on the pitfalls of not asking “why?” check out this blog entry.

Posted in Case Studies, Creative Thinking Techniques, Design, idea generation, Market Assessment, problem solving, Research | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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