The future’s non-invasive – Part II

In the last article about non-invasive surgery, I introduced the early stages of our collaboration with Rejoin, a newly established Chinese medical start-up specialising in sports medicine implants and non-invasive arthroscopic tools for surgery. Please visit part 1 to recap our initial partnership.

Having worked for a range of different sized medical companies in the past, WILDDESIGN’s aim was to support Rejoin in the next step of their development plan; to implement an industrial design language that would give birth to highly functional and enticing arthroscopic tools for surgeons and hospital staff.

During the end of our background and market research phase, we created a number of perceptual maps in order to visualise both international and local competitors. Aimed at understanding a range of factors from branding, marketing and product touchpoints, we found an overwhelming majority of established competitors stuck within traditional medical visual identities. Only a small fraction of the entire global market had striven to change tact and opt for something more dynamic in feeling or appearance. It was from this initial snapshot, that we could begin to see how Rejoin’s products could boldly stand out if we allowed form and colour to drive our preliminary design exploration.

Moodboard inspiration: Image citations at bottom of article.

Vision from the get go

The client followed our bold and potentially risky decision in creating early market attention. By convincing Rejoin to perceive their company as dynamic, taking cues from big consumer brands as mentioned in part 1, we gained the freedom to explore our intention further. Now it may seem like we were working in reverse when we jumped upon the idea of using ‘shocking purple-pink’, but in fact we were attempting to establish colour in order to make it an integral part of our identity.

We also did not want this decision to shock the client at the end of our development phase, since the notion of colour within the design of surgical tools has its limitations and preconceptions when compared to consumer wearables within the private sector. It took a fair bit of convincing too, but such is the beauty of visual research in affirming design decisions, in keeping the client visually and wilfully aware of a design journey. Without assigning specific Pantone swatches, we traversed into ideation and most importantly, usability.

Usability – The fundamental design principle

At kick-off, it was essential for our team to gain an understanding of how each tool worked to heal and fix patient injuries. As was the case with my surgery, a variety of specialised shoulder tools were used to cut, burr, drill, suture and screw. To cater for this complex requirement, the world of sports medicine has created a range of standardised implants (anchors and sutures), which either stay within the patient permanently, or biodegrade after 5 or so years.

Polyether ether ketone, otherwise known as PEEK, which is a colourless organic thermoplastic polymer acid, is the industry standard for this case. The decision for PEEK over titanium comes from the inevitable wear of the joint; Titanium parts can lead to potential abrasive issues, damaging the inside capsule. With this know-how engrained, we honed our focus upon the usability issues within the surgeon’s palms and fingertips; in the ergonomic considerations for handles, interfaces or mechanisms that facilitated the preparation and fixation of implants within the patient.

During the ideation stages of our first tool, rapid iterative prototyping techniques were used to hand test a range of form factors. We ended up with a handle tapered into a rounded pentagonal cross section that felt ideal when used for its particular surgical application, meniscectomies. Further 3D-printing and hand modelling was used to simulate the end plastic texture, enabling us to perform tests with the all-important addition of latex gloves. Since ‘double gloving’ is now industry standard in order to reduce surgical cross-infection, surgeons require ever improved levels of control over the tools they use.

Once we had the shell of our first tool fixed, we trialled ribbing techniques that would allow us to cut raw material usage, heighten the levels of tactility and lastly, stylistically create a unique product language. Exploring this option further, we tweaked the ribbing to ensure it could be moulded as a single, solid piece. Through dozens of foam and 3D-printed prototypes we defined the size and space of each hole, bringing the final shape in-line with both design and engineering constraints. We also had a ribbing formula for the next set of tools although we were missing one vital feedback, usability tests from the surgeons.

Yet more usability testing

Now nearing the latter stages of design development, to ensure we properly understood the surgical procedures and practical application of these tools, WILDDESIGN met with surgeons and hospital staff at seminars to test developed functional prototypes. This enabled a raw glimpse of actual usage and user perception that we recorded via usability scores for various hand holds and interactions.

The final aim of these tests, can be best surmised in Markus’s previous post: “designing surgical tools in such a way that enables more efficient workflows, a higher degree of safety for the patients and a lower burden on the users”. Inevitably, discomfort and potential impingement points came to surface, which fed back into the refinement of the product prior to engineering. This request required yet more modelling and in-house testing to ensure we had an intuitive operation, without error.

It’s worth noting that making such links with surgeons at this early stage was invaluable to confirming Rejoin’s intention and presence within the marketplace. By empowering surgeons with these usability decisions and by opening a feedback loop, we in turn fostered their interest in Rejoin, driving early success and market attention. Since such events exposed all elements of design, we also scoped the upcoming certification and distribution hurdles, whilst all importantly, visualising how we would support product launches and bolster exciting brand experiences.

Reaching the Colour, Material and Finish line

Back in the design studio, we reignited the process of CMF. Having witnessed the immense sea of traditional products, we were ever more confident to make colour an impactful part of our design direction. There was one last trick that we hadn’t considered however; how could the product become even more intuitive to use and perceive through just the material alone, whilst still retaining its eye-catching worthiness. The answer was deep and bound with limitless refractions – The answer was translucency.

Multiple refractions bring depth and saturation whilst the visible internal structure of the assembled instrument, gives more confidence to the intended usage for the surgeon. From purely aesthetical considerations, a purple translucent tool lying on a table with other ‘solid’ tools, would definitely stand out. Teaming up with specialist medical plastic suppliers, we began selecting the ideal polymers and finishes to bring this consideration to life.

After a long period of testing the polymer in moulds and confirming CFDA certification, we achieved our original goal, creating a highly attention-grabbing worthy tool for this sports medical segment. From an executive level, with the vision to make the brand a leader and by using a unique design language as the vessel, we then needed to transfer that language across all future tools, in order to reinforce brand values and give the confidence for global aspirations.

In our > third and final part of this blog series, we will showcase some of our latest developments for Rejoin and discuss the direct and indirect benefits of building CIDM’s; in how they facilitate great user experiences and why they also educate employees in a way that improves internal working structures which in turn constructs progressive company culture. Be sure to stay tuned. The future’s not only non-invasive, it’s also translucent purple.

Do you have any more questions?

Do you want to learn more about why usability and colour play a vital role within medical product design OR are you eager to know more about CIDM’s and how your company could benefit?

Please get in touch if so and if you haven’t done already, you can download the Trend Report eBook free of charge!

Image Sources:
[ Nike Uniform: ]
[ Nike Golf Shoe: ]
[ Asus Zenfone: ]

The future’s non-invasive – Part III
The future’s non-invasive
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Jon is a UK based designer intent on crafting form and meaning within brand, product and service design outputs. Focused on understanding consumer behaviour via human centred design approaches, he strives to create unique brand assets and lasting user experiences. He loves a good roast parsnip and when energy permits, yearns to ‘shred’ polyrhythmic desert-rock guitar solos.

Originally written by Jon Walmsley, 04. April 2018. Last updated 23. April 2023


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