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Design & User Research

Design and user research lead to the catalysts that make innovation possible. Research helps us “defuzz” the front end of product development.

Early in the design process, insights into unmet needs expose opportunities. This is Generative Research. Evaluative Research plays a major role later on, when we test concepts using a variety of methods. Research drives distinct, effective decision-making and improvements at every juncture.

Asset 2QUALITATIVEQUANTITATIVEEVALUATIVEGENERATIVE Asset 1QUALITATIVEQUANTITATIVEEVALUATIVEGENERATIVE
Concept Testing Ergonomic
Assessment
Face-off Usability Studies Heuristic / Professional
Evaluation
Focus Groups User Advisory Panels User Interviews Task Analysis Surveys

A high-level overview of a selection of research methods used during the design process.

Generative Research

The goal of research at the front end, or beginning, of the product development process, is to understand customers’ needs, wants, and frustrations, and how they might be better served by a product or service. These generative research methods uncover tangible, useful information that quickly becomes opportunities.

Generative Research Methods:

  • Contextual Inquiry or Ethnographic Research is the study of users in their natural environment (home, office, hospital, etc.). Ethnography typically involves both observation without interruption and face-to-face interviews to clarify those observations. Being there in the moment is powerful, because it allows our researchers to see what people do — as opposed to what they say they do, or even what they think they do.
  • Workflow Mapping identifies the steps and sub-steps users take in order to capture a holistic view of a task or process. Once completed, a Workflow Map can be used to identify pain points, bottlenecks, and ways to optimize efficiency.
  • Diary Studies are a form of qualitative longitudinal research, where users self-report activities, thoughts, and feelings at pre-determined intervals. These studies can include photos and videos and offer the advantage of data collection in a user’s natural environment over the course of days to weeks, rather than at a single testing session. When designed around mobile platforms, this is an efficient way to connect to hundreds of users across broad geographies in a short time.
  • Needs Prioritization involves identifying users’ unmet needs and using this input to prioritize what to focus on during product development. This type of research, using quantitative methods such as the jobs-to-be-done framework or qualitative interview methods, is a valuable step in early-stage design efforts to identify the most fruitful paths forward for design.
  • The goal of Exploratory Concept or Feature Testing is to gauge user reaction to early concepts. Qualitative interviews or quantitative survey methods (such as Kano methodology for Feature Testing) can be used to assess perceived value of new concepts or features. This lets design teams focus efforts on the concepts that are most appealing to end users, while de-prioritizing concepts or features that are lower priority for users.

All projects benefit — both in effectiveness of solutions and eventual time to market — when a team’s designers and engineers participate in the research process. In our multidisciplinary teams, all disciplines working on a project are kept abreast of new insights to newly inform and inspire ideation.

Evaluative Research

The concept testing and usability testing we do throughout product definition and development is part of our cross-disciplinary process, with continuous interplay between researchers, designers, and engineers. We rely on our in-house usability lab when we need quick, high-quality user feedback during generative to mid-stage evaluative research.

Our in-house research, design, prototyping, and testing capabilities result in rapid and effective improvements. Storyboards, simulations, models, and mockups are created, evaluated, and matured, leading to higher fidelity models and building confidence in the right solution.

Evaluative Research Methods:

  • Formative Usability Studies help inform the design of a device by gathering input from users before a design is finalized for production. Formative testing is typically conducted using product prototypes with representative users to identify strengths, weaknesses, and potential use errors that may occur while using a product. Sometimes various design options are tested against each other. 

    This type of testing can be conducted as often as desired, with even just a few users, to better inform the design process. Conducting formative testing early and often is especially helpful in medical device design, where companies stand to save significant time and money before investing in creating final prototypes. 

    Formative testing can include both qualitative observations and assessments, and quantitative analysis of task performance and subjective feedback among concepts or even across a series of formative tests.

  • Human Factors Validation or Summative Usability Testing might be done for submission to the FDA or other regulatory bodies (i.e., if the product is a medical device), or it might just be part of the product development process. During medical device development, Human Factors Validation Testing is needed to demonstrate that the production-ready product can be used by the intended users, for the intended uses, and under the expected use conditions without causing harm or degrading medical treatment.

    In this type of testing, a minimum of 15 users per user group (a set of users with distinct characteristics) must use the final product to perform critical tasks (tasks that could lead to medical harm) in a representative use environment. Any use errors or close calls observed are probed to understand the root cause and inform the risk management process to determine if further design changes are needed.

  • After identifying user needs and designing a product to meet those needs, User Needs Validation ensures that those needs are met by the final product. It’s a critical step before manufacturing. User Needs Validation may involve qualitative methods and, in some cases, be combined with Human Factors Validation Testing. Quantitative methods may be used in situations when manufacturers have usability performance acceptance criteria requiring statistical analysis. A key part of a robust human factors engineering plan is to identify which elements of the design need human factors validation, and which elements require user needs validation.

In general, evaluative research is especially vital for mission-critical, Rugged & Portable, and Medical Products where safety, efficacy, and performance can be a matter of life or death. The rigorous approach we’ve established for developing products in these specialty categories informs our consumer work. Similarly, our focus on usability and user experience for consumer products rubs off on our Medical Products development.

Research for Medical

Our researchers employ a wide array of techniques to help clients in medical and healthcare industries navigate the FDA’s human factors regulatory process, from initial product design to final validation testing. The FDA requires human factors and usability engineering to help maximize the ease of use, efficiency, and user satisfaction of every medical product. Medical device designers must conduct human factors validation testing to demonstrate that the intended users of a device can use the product to perform the intended uses in the intended use environment. The goal is to ensure that the device has been optimized to eliminate, or reduce to the furthest extent possible, use errors that could cause harm to a patient.

Read about how we employ usability testing to reduce medical device risk. Although user research for medical devices is typically synonymous with qualitative usability testing, we also employ mixed-method approaches during medical device development. Including quantitative research in your early-stage medical device design can help focus the development on new concepts that are best aligned with unmet, high-priority needs.

The FDA requires human factors and usability engineering to help maximize the ease of use, efficiency, and user satisfaction of every medical product.

Including quantitative research in your device’s human factors plan can help de-risk your product launch by identifying rarer use errors; demonstrating whether design changes are likely to substantially improve the safety of a device; and understanding which product interactions are likely to generalize to the entire population of users.

We have extensive experience executing user research that aligns with regulatory guidance and are well-versed in standards requirements, including: FDA Guidance 1757: Applying Human Factors and Usability Engineering to Medical Devices; AAMI/ANSI HE75:2009 Human Factors Engineering — Design of Medical Devices; AAMI/ANSI/IEC 62366-1:2015, CE marking (Europe); and Medical Devices Directive 93/42 EEC (Europe). Find out more about our research expertise in Medical Product Design.

Mixed-Methods Research

Mixed-methods research integrates multiple research methods to answer a research question. For example, you may design a mixed-method study that uses qualitative contextual inquiry to provide inputs to defining user needs, and then employ a user needs prioritization survey to map opportunities in that market.

All research methods have benefits and limitations, so we often recommend that multiple user research methods are implemented over the course of product design and development. We find that an effective approach is to combine qualitative and quantitative methods at each critical juncture.

Mixed-Methods Research Approaches:

  • Early on, you might identify user needs by observing and talking with users in a contextual inquiry, and then use a quantitative survey to validate and prioritize the needs identified through the contextual inquiry.
  • As you develop prototypes, you might conduct a series of qualitative formative studies, using statistical methods to track usability over time and compare concepts.
  • Finally, you may perform the qualitative validation testing on your product for FDA approval and separately conduct a quantitative evaluation of the device to ensure the remaining user needs are met before the product is launched.

Every client and every product is unique and there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for what mix of user research you should do and when. That’s why we’re not only here to conduct research on your product — we’re also here to help you figure out what your research strategy should be, and what combination of methods will help you achieve the best design possible.

Ask us what research can do for you. Explore the opportunities.

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