5 Ways to Design for Murphy's Law

Posted in Medical Device Business by Qmed Staff on March 8, 2016

Bryce Rutter, founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group, elaborates on five critical success factors to eliminate human error with medical devices.

Bryce G. Rutter, Ph.D.

Murphy's law

We’ve all heard of Murphy’s Law: if someone can use a product the wrong way, then they will. Count on it!  But in the design of medical products. this presents a significant problem. If someone uses a device or instrument incorrectly they can easily cause harm, irreparable damage, and even death. The goal of human factors engineering is to design products that are intuitive, easy-to-use, and simple. 

Human factors engineering focuses on all aspects of the user interface, cognitive, emotional and physical factors that shape and inform industrial design.

(See Rutter discuss medtech design at BIOMEDevice Boston, April 13–14, and watch him provide an in-depth look at the medical device design process at MD&M East, June 14–16 in New York City.)

On the cognitive side, human factors engineering experts collaborate with designers and software engineers to create graphical user interfaces that operate the way we think and expect.  For example, when we see an icon on a button, there should be no confusion or ambiguity whatsoever about what will happen when you press the button. On the physical side of human factors engineering, all touch points must accommodate fifth to 95th percentile variations in human size and strength, address gender and cultural differences, and take into account how our body changes with age.

Of equal importance is the emotional content of design. Great designs are seamless extensions of our body. They make you feel good and make you better at what you’re doing when you use them.

The challenge is to design products that never allow Murphy to show up for work. Products need to be based on how we think, feel and behave. They need to fit perfectly and  perform flawlessly. They need to be aesthetically stunning.

Here is your cheat sheet for the top five critical success factors in eliminating human error:

1. Keep it Simple­

Less is more. Don’t get cute or clever. 

2. Create a Visual Hierarchy

Everything is connected someway.Group controls and displays need to be based on function, importance, and frequency of use.   Establish visual importance through size, position, color, contrast, and shape.

3. Strive for Order

Our brains like order, not chaos.  Aligning and grouping fields, functions, and buttons and dividing content into digestible and meaningful chunks will create order and simplify a graphical user interface.

4. Design for Consistency

We like patterns. Good graphical user interfaces use consistent behavior throughout the application. 

5. Embrace Conventions

Experience is empowering. Building upon a user's prior knowledge and experience expedites learning and efficacy.

(See Rutter discuss medtech design at BIOMEDevice Boston, April 13–14, and watch him provide an in-depth look at the medical device design process at MD&M East, June 14–16 in New York City.)

Bryce Rutter is a specialist in ergonomic design and leading expert in the design of handheld products. He has been profiled in numerous publications and has been awarded more than 125 patents. His company Metaphase (St. Louis) has received more than international design excellence awards.