Innovating alongside designers

Deana McDonagh, Joyce Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Building alliances with industrial designers offers health innovators a unique pathway to create new modes to serve their patients. Cross-pollination of ideas from the earliest stages of development in interdisciplinary research and development teams including major stakeholders and designers can lead to more meaningful and impactful innovations. A shift in future healthcare from cure to prevention will rely more heavily upon the individual. The home environment will house consumer medical devices that will carry out basic monitoring of the individual. While technologies are currently being developed to support this trend, there is a gulf that exists between the often-complex interfaces required by the highly specific functionality of products and the emotional needs of the target user. If a target user 'feels' a product was designed 'just for them' they are more likely to develop an emotional bond with that product. This manifests itself in the user engaging and interacting with the product. If a product, regardless of its high functionality, does not resonate with the user, this tends to result in product under use, misuse and possible abandonment. When those products are related to a course of medical rehabilitation or treatment, these results could be translated to 'more compliant' and 'less compliant' and ultimately can impact upon how a person heals. Industrial designers focus on ensuring that both the functional and emotional needs of mainstream users as well as technical-expert-users are met. Design research provides the opportunity to bridge the gap between the functional requirements and the less tangible unmet needs of the user by exploring authentic human behavior. This paper presents case studies of collaborative, interdisciplinary teams employing human-centered design and empathic research strategies (incorporating shared language, collaboration, ethnography, empathy and empathic modeling) to create real solutions that are responding to real needs of real users. The future is interdisciplinary. The future is bright.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-35
Number of pages7
JournalAustralasian Medical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013


  • Authentic human behaviour
  • Emotional needs
  • Human-centered design
  • Research strategies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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