iF Design Special: Medical Design
Scroll through the best in medical design, read how the complex briefings between designers and medical tech companies succeed, where Big Data and AI are heading and find what character traits the best medical designers have to have!
iF awarded medical and health designs 2019
Get inspired and view all 96 iF awarded medical designs in our iF DESIGN AWARD 2019 collection.
Interview Prof. Detlef Rhein, Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design: “It is a field of design with general validity”
As one of the most sought-after medical design experts, speakers and professors, German Detlef Rhein knows what good medical design means – and what challenges it poses on young professionals. Read about the role of Artificial Intelligence, pragmatism and radicalism and why designing a plain sofa can be as complex as designing a medical diagnostic tool.
About Detlef Rhein
Detlef Rhein studied Industrial Design at the University of Darmstadt and the State University of California, San Jose. Professional stages while studying include Adam Opel AG and frog design. Later, he started as a designer at wiege GmbH (Wilkhahn Entwicklungsgesellschaft). After many years working in the Netherlands at ninaber / peters / krouwel and then in Hamburg as a partner of npk design, Detlef later founded the design studio open fields together with Till Garthoff. Since 2009 he is professor of industrial design at the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design.
iF: Companies have high standards when it comes to the design of their products or solutions for medical and healthcare. There are many components to consider. What are the challenges designers in the medical sector are facing exactly?
DR: The field of medicine, or rather health, is a very complex area. Designers know many facets, not just medical technology, which in turn is also very divergent. Central to the design in this field is certainly the importance of man and his individuality as well as his physical and cognitive condition. It is about empathy and accuracy, a sensitive field, with very different perspectives, demands and needs of professionals, developers, sponsors, patients and relatives. And: It is always about the design of partially highly specialized systems, interfaces and processes in specific contexts and with specific regulations and organizations as a framework.
iF: There is a great need for a purposeful exchange and briefing between designers and companies in this area in particular. After all, it’s about sensitive topics, unlike the design of a sofa. How do you see that?
DR: By the way: the design of a sofa is also a sensitive topic, quite complex and also very interesting. New developments and designs in the field of medicine should be obliged to a central question: Does something in a specific context with the relevant users and actors really work as one had imagined? Is it valid AND resilient? Do you agree with the assumed interaction setting and the declared user experience? Does the whole thing create a new quality or break it off somewhere? You should work together very well, intensively and confidently, and experiment, test, simulate and discard a lot in the development process in order to make good decisions. In fact, briefings always capture only part of the truth, and experience has shown that the results are never really a direct translation of a briefing. What was not yet recognized? That would always be an important question in cooperation. And not to forget: What are strong unique selling points in the market? How can you convince? These key questions should definitely be clarified.
„The treatment of health conditions of all kinds is per se interaction and information design in historically and culturally conditioned knowledge, technology and social contexts.“
iF: How important is design in the medical field anyway? For many, the focus is first and foremost on functionality or diagnostic precision. How can and must design “perform” here?
DR: Basically, medical design has always been there, from the beginnings – if it is understood as the design of relationships in the health context, because the treatment of health conditions of various kinds is per se interaction and information in historically and culturally conditioned knowledge, technology and social contexts. With the differentiation of health care markets, the field of creative activities has also become more differentiated, so we are talking about markets, competition and societal values, that have played an increasingly important role since the late seventies. Today’s medical/health design is at a comparable level, such as the areas of work, leisure or mobility. It now has to meet the high and highest demands of all concerned, not only in function, but in refinement and perception – lack of sensitivity and negligence are no longer an issue. In addition, there is the crucial question of the image of humans, which is built into every project. If it reduces man, makes him an object or activates him and assigns him an individual dimension. For design, this is a fundamental question that needs to be clarified.
iF: You have already been awarded for your seca designs in the past, with your studio open fields. Biotronik is also among your customers. Can you briefly outline your work for the company?
DR: The role of design has changed significantly in cooperation with both companies in the last 10 years. Whereas previously it was more traditional design projects for a hardware design with ergonomic aspects in which Till Garthoff and I worked together, today it is always combined hardware, information or interface designs. How is data collected, processed and presented? Who will deal with the data then? But new measurement and sensor technologies have also been added that dissolve traditional ways of thinking, create completely new product categories, and also demarcate many entrepreneurially as more accurate and comprehensive measurements can be made. We have a new strategic role in the development of possible new fields of application, e.g. in the area of data handling and interface design as well as system innovation.
iF: Big data and AI play an increasing role in the medical / healthcare field, e.g. collect data and analyze it meaningfully for diagnosis or patient information. Also, so-called brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are a thing tofday! This requires medical tools. How do you encounter this topic so far in your work or at the university?
DR: This is one of the big questions, in which it is important to clarify what desirable qualities are, because data is not a solution to everything and to itself, but actually must be good for something and make sense. Both in my design practice and at the university, there have already been a large number of projects that have addressed this topic, i.e. in cooperation with Siemens. More precisely, it was about the future prospects of mammography or the application of ultrasound. In addition to handling the hardware, the design of the technical images in particular was a question, as KI-based systems are revolutionizing diagnostics and image analysis. How does the communication work then? How is the diagnostic certainty increased? Occupational fields change, for example in radiology. And not to forget: Patients are getting more and more informed. We must ask ourselves: What influence does this have on the doctor-patient relationship in the future, especially if not all information is also substantial or utilisable?
iF: Can you give us your personal three trends, in the field of medical design?
DR: In short, I see the following fields in which we must fundamentally rebuild our understanding: the aging society, the changes in age image and understanding, and the question of technological support in this highly human relationship field. The environment and health complex including climate change and health in a global context (potential threats and rare diseases from distant regions are also beginning to show themselves). And of course there is also the trend of the entire field of e-health and digitization, including remote diagnostics, data processing and information transfer. There will be completely new tools for self-examination that need to be designed. I can not go into the present possibilities of changes of the body by e.g. invasive technologies and genetic engineering.
iF: Some of your students were also honored with our iF DESIGN TALENT AWARD. What are reocurring problems of the students in the design process?
DR: Pragmatism and radicalism are the two antagonists who keep coming back into the ring. Design needs framework conditions, requirements and information in order to orientate oneself and to develop criteria. Where can I get them? Information gathering and analysis is a challenge. On the other hand, these aspects lead to nothing in terms of design, it needs an idea of a new quality, of a change, in short: a new understanding. This is built into every design project. How far do you throw and what compromises do you make? The force of the expert opinions and regulations can be intimidating, I see this currently at work on the reorganization of the emergency department in hospitals. Only visionary strength and posture help here, which one must develop in order to generate substance and bring new qualities into the world. At the end of the day, it’s basically just that and not the kind confirmation of the established.
iF: And what advice would you give your students if they want to specialize in medicine and healthcare?
DR: Provocatively: It is a design area with generality. Understanding people and actors, exploring specific contexts, shaping social and technological change and becoming very sensitive, critical and precise; Coordinate systems, processes and interactions, make information meaningful and create collective value. So, working on truly sustainable “futures” for a healthy life. This skill set is so comprehensive and sophisticated that it basically leaves a lot of future-relevant areas and innovation settings open beyond medicine.