4 Best Practices for Effective ID and ME Collaboration

As an Industrial Designer at Key Tech since 2012, I know first-hand how critical a multidisciplinary team is for the success of a product development program.  To create truly beautiful and efficient use-experiences, an Industrial Designer within a team needs to function as a user advocate, translator of client vision, and reviewer of fabrication considerations as the design evolves.  The latter, relating to the essential collaboration between Industrial Designer and Mechanical Engineer, is crucial to arrive at the optimal design. Both ID’s and ME’s need to collaborate to make certain the product is developed to the intent of the industrial design.

Here’s a 4 step best practice approach to collaborative design:

#1: Jointly Understand Use Case – This step is important for empathy for both industrial designers and engineers. At Key Tech, this collaboration between MEs and IDs often starts with educating industrial design and technical team members on the project, through experiencing the workflow firsthand.  Allowing the development disciplines opportunity to both observe and inquire through their own filters, provides a knowledge base for future alignment and development between the team. This permits the designer and engineer to focus on their own tasks with the same goals and understanding, when not working side by side. This also allows the team to push each other to use the right fabrication methods to arrive at the design intent without incurring compromise on the function. At Key Tech, we foster a unified, tandem effort resulting in practical design concepts, early in development, and avoid having two separate approaches needing to be stitched together.

#2: Define Design Direction This should be informed by space claims inputs from engineers and benchmarking completed by designers. Once a design aesthetic direction is selected based on client brand language or vision, MEs and IDs will work together to define an assembly strategy and the proper manufacturing method.  This out-of-the-gate checks and balances approach, when established collaboratively in the beginning, ensures a fluid back and forth of ideas to facilitate multiple design iterations. Keeping the team together, without pass-offs as a product evolves from concept, to prototypes, to testing, helps to eliminate the questions of who owns the design, and avoids the chance of misalignment.

Historically, the approach in product development had been more segregated, with industrial design firms generating concepts that weren’t optimized from an engineering design perspective. The nature of the product being designed relies on the function, but it also has to be used correctly, and safely. Especially in med-tech products, the user experience must be understood. Designs that cannot be effectively implemented aren’t beneficial to anyone. By having engineers spec the components and define the space claims inside the device, and having designers simultaneously exploring the product vision, you end up with industrial design concepts that are real.

#3: Prototype to Test Once the design is defined, prototyping and testing of both user and engineering functions should be completed to test that the optimal architecture has been selected.  Our work on the General Electric NICU MRI Scanner is a good example. GE was in search of a design solution to transfer the baby from the incubator to the MRI device with minimal patient stress.  For this project we had deep collaboration between design and engineering to assess the usability and comfort considerations and ergonomics that went into the design to accommodate the fragile neonatal babies.  Minimizing handling and length of time outside of the incubator was key to reducing risk during transfer. Early and intensive research with NICU nurses and the involved workflows were conducted. Even the transfer sling, part of the innovation and solution, had to be engineered in a way to safely support the patient, and it had to fit within the MRI cart mechanism.

Prototype to test – from design to use testing, it’s important to keep the utilization considerations at the forefront.

#4:  Iterate and Stay Involved – Collaboration doesn’t end with a first prototype.  Both disciplines should be a part of formative evaluations through to product validation. CoolStat is another good development project case-in-point where the engineering team-members, who have been involved in the design process, could see first-hand in the use testing how prototypes performed. After one of the CoolStat use evaluations, it was clear that the first latch mechanism for locking the manifold in place was confusing and difficult for users to manipulate correctly.  This resulted in iterating on the mechanism, leading to a more recognizable and easier to manipulate rotational mechanism (see the orange knob in the picture below).  By always keeping the user in mind, we are able to develop a product designed for simplicity, portability and ease of use.

Use Testing is a critical step for all team members to observe for best product optimization.

As a product development firm specializing in high tech solutions, solving the toughest technical challenges, Key Tech is tasked with not just creating the technology for our clients, but creating the technology with a viable, marketable product in mind.  This requires the close collaboration of ID’s and ME’s working together from the beginning, resulting in beautiful, practical design solutions. Whether we are working on a specific outsourced development project or on a full-scope product development challenge, Key Tech is always working within a collaborative user experience framework.

For more on our design projects check out our work portfolio here.

Ask us about your technology needs! Contact us at: talktous@keytech.com or 410-385-0200.

Chet Larrow
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