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Industrial Design

Research realized: Urgency understood

December 27, 2018

I am fortunate to be working with a great client in the medical equipment industry within a very meaningful product category.

The project has been ongoing for some time, which has allowed me to gain insights of the product use scenarios, users, and the incredibly critical tasks that are encountered daily on their jobs with the equipment that are their tools of care.

The primary users are medics. Their tools of care are the emergency equipment that gets carried and/or rolled out of the back of ambulances to stabilize and transport patients en route to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

The project involved divergent concept exploration of the equipment geometry and interactions to improve user experience. The client provided product expectations/criteria for performance and usability. Our task was to identify and design product interactions so the medics’ focus remained on the care they provide, not the equipment they use. A priority was ensuring the medics’ safety while doing their job (not allow them to do anything wrong that may compromise their health… a HIGH percentage of medics experience career-ending injury due to lifting) and provide a more comfortable/reassuring experience for the patient.

Key to designing the user experience criteria was understanding the users and situations they encounter. We created a journey map to help communicate the sequence of user steps. This was the first realization that first responder medics are a special type of person. There is no typical sequence of use for attending to patients requiring emergency medical care. There is no short map of an anticipated journey that medics can plan for while transporting a patient out of any building to the ER. Each response and scenario are unique to the personal attention required at the moment of care.

Multiple prototypes of various concept features were built during our project to learn appropriate combinations and opportunities for an improved user experience. The earliest fidelity prototypes consisted of plywood and pipe of unrideable configurations and big-picture explorations. As resolution of details increased incrementally, so did the benefits of the use interactions of the conceptual architecture of the equipment geometries.

The latest prototype is now the most definitive — a CNC-machined fabrication of aluminum and plastic designed for a 300-pound-plus test patient rider load capacity. The prototype has fully functioning actuations of the equipment through all scenarios of use including a new patient restraint system. Design development visibility was maintained throughout the process with client co-creation sessions, collective review milestones, and iterative evaluations of ongoing concepts by professional medics that simulated the procedures of care required. We continued to build to learn. However, the simulations were lacking full context.

No one wants to get that call ...

The teenage daughter of my neighbor was calling for help while frantically explaining that an ambulance was on the way to help her mom. I rushed to my car and urgently navigated the 2½ mile route of the rural block to help my neighbor friend. Ambulance lights were cresting the distant hill at the second intersection as I pulled into their driveway and parked on the lawn with just enough time to wave down the ambulance and direct them to the side entry door.

Stories of medic responses I learned in project research flew through my head while I ran to the porch. I planned to help however I could and immediately noticed that the medics were arriving on the scene as the stories characteristically mentioned; the first medic carrying the critical care bag and focused on rushing to the patient to assess, the other medic quickly following with deployed equipment and other supplies from the ambulance for patient transport.

At the porch, this scene seemed to unwind in a fast-forward-slow-motion of flashing lights as the consistencies of medic procedure research notes were confirmed. Urgency returned to me as the first medic came up the lawn saying, “Where’s she at?” I knew the voice and turned to see the medic looking at me in the same way I was looking at him. My response was immediate, stating that she was upstairs and not able to walk (and not yet acknowledging each other from previous project research sessions). His reply was equally as immediate upon entering the house and seeing the stairs, “Tell my partner to bring the chair.” I returned to the porch to yell to the medic partner for ‘the chair’ and watched as he immediately stopped preparing the cot and went to a side storage compartment of the ambulance to grab the folded chair equipment, put it under his arm and quickly go into the house and up the stairs to provide care.

There is no short map of an anticipated journey that medics can plan for while transporting a patient out of any building to the ER.

This continued to confirm the medic response procedures that I learned from research. Stair chairs are used in tight spaces for additional maneuverability where cots are inaccessible and/or stair ascents/descents are needed. Knowing this allowed me to anticipate the remainder of workflow and contribute firsthand without interrupting the medic critical care. I continued to help by preparing the chair for patient transfer and clearing the path of eventual exit of any furniture and obstacles.

The descent of the chair with my friend aboard down the narrow/steep farmhouse stairs was challenging, yet never in question because of the skilled techniques of the medics. A final transfer of my friend from the chair equipment to a cot for ambulance transport was required. My last assistance was stowing the chair handles, straps, and folding the complete assembly in seconds (as I have done many times previously during the project at the office) and returning it to the dedicated storage compartment in the ambulance that I mentally noted earlier.

As the cot was loaded in the ambulance and I was left standing in the driveway with the medic partner. He turned to me looking around and asked, “What did you do with the chair?”

My reply was that I put it back in the rig … and quickly reading his puzzled expression, I offered that they needed to get going and that he can ask his partner later about how I knew how to do that.

This experience was surely more than I expected, and additionally valuable beyond my initial core response to help support my friends. Being there allowed me to see my friend in fully capable care transitioned skillfully through challenging navigation of scenarios. I received the fully valuable research confirmation of in-context experience.

Real time is a real factor. Design in the absence of context, especially urgency/time, is only part of the experience.

I am glad that my friend is recovering and honored to contribute to the design of future tools of care.

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