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User Research, Sustainability, Design + More: Top 5 blogs 2010-2011

Posted by Tristan Sedgwick on Thu, Dec 22, 2011

Conducting User Research in the OR

User ResearchMedical device manufacturers understand the need to conduct in-depth user research in the field (design ethnography) as part of the product requirements process, but little information exists on what to expect when conducting user research in the OR. Although every hospital is different, here is some practical advice from Farm’s experience…

Sustainable Product Design: One Powerful Principal

An individual perspective on a research study titled "Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project." The bottom line: Companies who embrace sustainability are winning. A focus on one powerful, underlying principle that any company should consider…

Selecting Cities for User Research

How do you select cities for user research? You should select cities based on the type of research—is it generative field research to identify user needs or areas for innovation, or formative testing of prototypes in order to get design feedback? Select cities based on the type of research you’re doing…

System Design for Auditory Perception

Auditory PerceptionAuditory fatigue, or auditory desensitization, occurs in many working environments where auditory perceptual needs go unmet. Poor auditory environments challenge our ability to understand a situation, make appropriate decisions, and respond in a timely manner. Fortunately, these challenges can and should be addressed through appropriate auditory system design…

Ideation Throughout Medical Product Development

A wide range of techniques have been developed to help product development teams produce novel ideas effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, few design professionals are aware of these methods, and even fewer understand the elements of creativity to help make ideation sessions more productive…

Topics: user research, sustainability, medical device product development

Sustainable Product Design: One Powerful Principle

Posted by Chris Loughnane on Wed, Apr 20, 2011

A few months back, MIT Sloan, in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), recently published the verbosely titled Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project. It's a well-researched study—which is to say that it's a long read—and definitely worth reading.

Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project

I read it. It got me to thinking about the fallacy of ignoring what can't be measured, that sustainability needs to be a part of performance reviews (behind budget and schedule, certainly, but it deserves a spot), and so on. I found myself concluding that companies that embrace sustainability are winning (from both a financial and talent perspective), and poised to widen the gap.

I created notes that resulted in an exhaustive set of recommendations or methods for improving the sustainability of any company. And that is the problem...they are only methods.

Methods are weak and fleeting, so instead I decided to focus on principles. Scratch that, I will focus on one powerful, underlying principle that any company should consider.

Start small, start now.

It's how you train for a marathon; it's how you save for retirement; it's how you do almost anything. Yet hyperbolic headlines get traffic so that you are conditioned to think that you either have to "Make Your Company Sustainable to the Bone" or do nothing, and that is a dangerously false dichotomy.

Instead, look at your business for low-hanging fruit. For current products look at PVC alternatives (DEHP-free) or switch to a plastic that has a small percent of recycled content. If you are doing a redesign, consider architectures that encourage recyclability or re-use.

These small wins, like compounding interest, can snowball. They will make your products more attractive to buyers (see Kaiser Permanente's Sustainability Scorecard) and are an insurance policy against future legislative change. Feeling good about what you're doing is a byproduct, what drives sustainable product design is practicality.

In the sustainability game, the barrier to entry is less a barrier than a threshold. All you need to do is move in the right direction.

I highly suggest reading the report Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project. Really interested? Use comments or contact us privately.

Topics: medical device regulation, sustainability, sustainable product design, sustainable product development

Sustainable Marketing Guidelines from the FTC

Posted by Chris Loughnane on Mon, Oct 11, 2010

The year is 1998. LEED has just been enacted by the newly formed US Green Building Council, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index doesn't yet exist, and odds are you have never heard the terms BPA, carbon footprint, cap & trade, or compact fluorescent.

Yet, even with all that's changed in the past 12 years-can anybody say Prius?-the growing market for green products is still being held back. It's like we said in our practical case for sustainability in product design,  people do truly want to buy sustainable products, but they just don’t believe anything that they hear.

Until now... hopefully.

You see, what has only just changed is that on Wednesday the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed revisions and additions to their "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims." These Green Guides exist to discourage marketers from making environmental claims that are unfair or deceptive.

So what arethe FTC's proposed revisions and additions? You can read the whole report,  a (lengthy) summary, catch the highlights below, or just know that the soul of the updates can be broken down into three words to marketers:

Show your work.

Environmental Marketing Claims


Eco-friendly is on the way out


[The Green] Guides caution marketers not to make blanket, general claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits.

Whether or not the marketer has deceptive intent seems to be irrelevant. What matters is what the FTC has determined what consumers think when they see general terms, and that these consumers expect more than they are getting.


One label to rule them all


While the FTC isn't backing any particular green label, they are cleaning house:

The [Greeen] Guides more prominently state that unqualified product certifications and seals of approval likely constitute general environmental benefit claims, and they advise marketers that the qualifications they apply to certifications or seals should be clear, prominent, and specific.

What the FTC is confronting here are OEMs using their own in-house green label (like SC Johnson’s controversy laden Greenlist) as opposed to an independent, third party label.

Side note: UL Environment is making a strong push to be that label, and their acquisition of TerraChoice (who we've covered before) makes them that much more of a favorite.

Don't be silly

For example, a company could make the logical argument that since (on a long enough time scale) everything is biodegradable, their product is biodegradable! The FTC says don't do that. The same logic applies to compostability and any other environmental claims.

New is harder

The public has a pretty good grip on sustainability mainstays like recycling, but when it comes to more recent, complex issues, like materials produced with renewable resources or carbon offsets, delivering a clear message may prove more difficult. Act with caution. I have to admit, as I was reading the report, I was a little surprised (disappointed?) at the gentle language being used by the FTC. I mean, misleading claims are so endemic to the sustainable product market that the only solution would seem to be a healthy dose of assertion, maybe even a little aggression. Well, it turns out the chairman of the FTC has a slightly more direct mentality:

In response to a question about how the commission plans to enforce the guidelines, Mr. Leibowitz said that he expected most businesses to comply, and added “for those companies that don’t, that fall on the wrong side of the final ‘Green Guides,’ we’re going to go after them.” New York Times

The days of coming up with a green marketing campaign after the product is already designed are numbered.

Topics: medical device regulation, sustainability, sustainable product design

Sustainability Scorecard: Kaiser Permanente Raising the Bar

Posted by Chris Loughnane on Mon, Jun 7, 2010

Sustainability ScorecardKaiser Permanente is raising the bar for it's suppliers.

From Fast Company:

We [Kaiser Permanente] evaluated the four major players and found that clinical performance and pricing were comparable, but there were big differences in terms of sustainability performance," explained Robert Gotto, the executive director in Kaiser Permanente's Procurement & Supply group. "One supplier had the foresight to develop a camera that doesn't need to be sterilized with chemicals. It uses steam instead, and can cut down chemicals in operating room by half." So the steam-sterilized endoscope provider ended up getting the five-year, $100 million contract.

Four OEMs. Each one indistinguishable from the next on the basis of cost and performance, but only one lands the $100M contract by virtue of its sustainability.

I was pumped to hear the news. Finally, a product selected on its sustainable merit. Surely this will lend credibility to the not-so-new green movement in the medical sector.

Much to my dismay, I found nothing regarding bioplastics, compostable materials, PCB reduction, or even alternative power. In fact, it seemed as though the only sustainable feature of the product was that it was able to be steam sterilized.

Steam sterilized? Well that's not terribly impressive.

Or maybe it is.

As much as sustainabiliphiles like myself tend to worship the latest widget on the front page of TreeHugger, Kaiser realizes it won't make any hay by demanding top-flight sustainable innovations from OEMs. Not yet anyway.

No, for now Kaiser has deemed it prudent to encourage device firms to test the water rather than push them into the deep end, and their Sustainability Scorecard is as simple and straightforward as you could ask for. At 13 line items deep, it's worth the 30 seconds to garner the insight into Kaiser's new strategy.

If you've got a few more minutes (or are wondering what Polybrominated Bipheyls are),

check out the breakdown of some key scorecard line items.

Is it a NICU Product?

Kaiser doesn't elaborate on why it cares if it's a NICU product. However, it's a good bet that if your product is going into the NICU, the importance of sustainable, healthy materials (especially with regard to RoHS, below) will be exaggerated.


Children are generally more susceptible to certain substances (such as lead), so allowing them to exist in products used on (or in) fragile infants would likely incline Kaiser to look elsewhere.

Is it a PICU Product?


Is it Latex Free?

The CDC estimates that anywhere from 1% to 6% of the general population, and 8%-12% of healthcare workers, are sensitized to latex.

That's not news... Latex has been a touchy subject for quite a while, and most medical device companies take precautions to avoid its use wherever possible. The result is that there are whole organizations dedicated to cataloging both consumer and medical latex-free alternatives.

Is it RoHS Compliant?

Although Kaiser Permanente fails to mention the EU's RoHS regulation by name, the prohibitions listed in the Sustainability Scorecard are identical to what has been banned in Europe for years.

Like latex, there aren't any surprises here. In fact, it's likely that the last time you heard the name of any of the substances listed below, it was followed by the word "poisoning."

The following substances can exist in quantities <0.1%

Lead (why it's bad)

Mercury (why it's bad)

Hexavalent Chromium (of Erin Brockovich fame)

PolyBrominated Biphenyls (PBBs) (why it's bad)

PolyBrominated DiPheynyl Ethers (PBDEs) (why it's bad)

The following substances can exist in quantities <0.01%

Cadmium (why it's bad)

The good news about all these restrictions? Printed circuit board manufacturers and custom polymer compounders (whose products are some of the biggest potential RoHS offenders) have been dealing with RoHS for years, and can help you with compliance.

Is it PVC + DEHP Free?

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP) are bad news.

With countless advocacy groups sternly cautioning against the use of PVC and DEHP (DEHP is used to make PVC more flexible) in everday products like shower curtains, flooring, and credit cards, it's no surprise that Kaiser is pushing to eliminate it from products people have a much closer relationship with, such as tubing and catheters.

This concern has been around for a while as well, and though PVC-free alternatives do exist, PVC is such a great material otherwise that, although declining, use is still broad.

In any case, Kaiser has seen the danger in PVC for a while, and now they aren't buying it.

It will be interesting to see where sustainability in the medical field goes from here. My bet? It's only a matter of time before RoHS (or something similar) becomes law; and even if it doesn't, the great BPA backlash of 2008 exposed the kind of brand damage (Nalgene anybody?) that can occur when short-term thinking results in the use of controversial chemicals.

But regardless of what I think, the fact is that Kaiser Permanente wants you to be sustainable.

Right now that means complying with the Scorecard.

We should all be prepared for what it might mean tomorrow.

Topics: medical device, sustainability, sustainable product design, medical device company

A Practical Case for Sustainable Product Design

Posted by Chris Loughnane on Fri, Feb 12, 2010

Sustainable Product Design

A bunch of labels with green letters and nature motifs. That's all sustainability appears to be.

I consider myself a sustainability advocate, but the explosion of vague claims and misleading marketing has me empathizing with the companies that choose to just leave it alone. Unfortunately, they're likely missing out.

The truth is that there is a market for green products, and it's growing.

The Market for Sustainable Products

Sustainable products give me the warm-and-fuzzies, but the bottom line is that if the market doesn't approve, the product is a giant failure.

So how does the market feel?

Business-to-Business Markets

In 2009, Terrachoice (of McKinsey's "Helping 'Green' Products Grow") published their EcoMarkets 2009 Report. The report is a compilation of responses from 587 professional purchasers on the state and future of green B2B purchasing. You can check out the 26-page report when you've got an hour to kill, but check out these highlights:

  • Most purchasers see no difference in performance between green and traditional products.
  • Four out of five purchasers who consider our economy in a "recession" anticipate an increase in green purchasing in their companies.
  • Three out of four purchasers who consider our economy in a "depression" anticipate an increase in green purchasing in their companies.
  • Purchasers of electronics deem the importance of take-back programs second only to energy efficiency.

Consumer Markets

Terrachoice also recently published a report geared toward consumer products. "The Greenwashing Report" (another 26-pager) looks at green claims made by manufacturers. A few highlights:

  • More green products are on the market.
  • More products are making green claims, but most (98% of products) are deceptive.
  • 80% of the time deception takes the form of hiding tradeoffs, showing no proof, or being vague.
  • Legitimate eco-labeling has nearly doubled in the past year.

If I were to sum up the three reports in one sentence it would be this:

Even in the current economy, people are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products that function as well as their traditional counterparts.

They just don't want to be duped.

Tapping the Sustainability Market

Make a great sustainable product and be honest about it. Trust is what loosens purse strings (just ask Chris Brogan). Purchasers and consumers alike are (rightfully) becoming more and more wary of green claims.

Low-class tricks like stamping product with "No CFCs!" (they're illegal, of course you aren't using them) or the logo of your company's own internal "green team" (not-so-subtly implying 3rd-party certification) will damage your reputation in the not-so-long run.

Instead of trying (read: failing) to make a quick buck, take advantage of the current situation. The marketplace is increasingly populated with enlightened consumers and misleading products. It's an opportunity to gain the trust of would-be-buyers.

Just do the work. Develop a product that's sustainable, and then prove it.

What's Sustainable Enough?

"Greening" a product is not inherently expensive. It's your customers that determine how far you need to go.

If you cater to the hemp-and-granola set, they might demand everything be made of recycled cardboard. If you're courting hospital purchasers, they might be more accommodating to your sustainable claims.

Before you spend a dime on designing a green product, do the user research to know how far you must go to make greening worthwhile.

Sustainable Products 

Designing A Sustainable Product

When designing a sustainable product, it helps to have a healthy knowledge base. It's nice, for example, to know that aluminum is infinitely recyclable and that (currently) wind power has a smaller impact than solar power.

But our world is driven by budgets and time-to-market. That knowledge needs to be focused to get the most bang for your green buck.

The best way to focus is a life-cycle analysis (LCA).

Simply put, an LCA is the best way to measure the environmental impact of a product throughout its production, transport, usage, and disposal.

Software packages like Sustainable Minds streamline the process by calculating an impact score. The score is determined by looking at the individual impact of a product's material, manufacturing process, transportation mode, distance traveled power usage, power source, and disposal method.

For example, if you were to minimize the impact of a coffee maker, you would do well to focus your development efforts on reducing power consumption (think of how much energy/$$$ it consumes during the usage phase) as opposed to using a biodegradable material.

Once you've isolated opportunities into "greening" design inputs, it's development as usual.

Proving It's Sustainable

You can submit for third party certifications for some types of products. Energy Star, EcoLogo, and Green Seal for example, are three of the most easily recognized certifications in the U.S.

Third party certifications are great. They're clean, they're official, and they work.

That being said, social proof is best. Have a public conversation (not a stale page on your company website, a real conversation) about how user research fed into the sustainable design of your product.

A rock-solid sustainable product, a conspicuous absence of deception, and an open conversation. It's tough not to trust that.

Topics: sustainability, sustainable product design, sustainability in product design

Sustainable Medical Products: Consumer Perspectives

Posted by Tristan Sedgwick on Fri, Jan 22, 2010

Sustainable word cloud 

What is the everyday consumer's perception of sustainability in the medical and health categories? Will there be an expectation for environmentally responsible health products alongside the rise of "green" consumer products?

We posed these questions to commuters passing by Farm's World Usability Day exhibit at South Station in Boston. What words come to mind when they think about sustainable medical products?

The word cloud above shows the variety of responses and reoccurring themes. Recyclability, reusability, safety, and disposal were the primary concepts expressed by the respondents.

The commuters we spoke with represented a range of perspectives - from those unfamiliar with sustainability as a "green" concept to those who were founding members of Boston's many "green" organizations.

The exercise prompted a few participants to think about the environmental impact of consumer health products for the first time. Some felt that the concept of a sustainable medical product was contradictory - that the challenges of safety and efficacy were too great to also be concerned about environmental impact. Others spoke about their ongoing concern about the unsustainable environmental impact of single-use medical products being disposed of on a mass scale.

Considered as a whole, this snapshot survey reflects consumer sensitivity to reducing waste (concerns about disposal and preference for re-use and recyclability). A concern for safety was expressed as well, not only for the product's immediate clinical use, but also for the product's long-term impact on human health and the environment.

This observation is supported by the growth of organizations focused on this issue, such as Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm. Industry is also responding, with medical device companies such as Baxter and Medtronic listed at the top of Newsweek's 2009 Green Rankings, taking steps toward sustainable choices in their product development processes.

Do you expect to see medical and healthcare products influenced by sustainability practices in the future?

Where do you see opportunities for sustainability in the medical and consumer health categories?

Topics: sustainability, sustainable medical product, medical device company