In recent posts, we have been considering how medical product design can use knowledge gained from the field of cognitive psychology to suggest ways in which medical products and devices can be designed so they are more effective for users. We have written a lot about how the way in which we see influences our reaction to products. There are other cognitive processes at work, and we’ll turn our attention to those next.

Though our first experience of a new object is usually through vision, our normal reaction is to want to handle the object. We investigate not only by seeing, but also by feeling and manipulating. Our sense of touch has significant influence on how we judge things and our reactions to them. If we hold a warm cup of coffee, we will tend to be trusting. If we hold an iced drink, it will have the opposite effect. This is referred to as the “priming” effect. Designers tend to focus primarily on the visual aspects of the design, but it is important to consider the tactile as well (and aural, for that matter, as well as the other senses when appropriate). Warm or cold, heavy or light, rough or smooth – all influence our opinion.

Research done by Harvard, MIT and Yale  revealed the extent to which physical attributes influence how we think:

In one experiment, subjects used either light or heavy clipboards while evaluating resumes. Candidates whose resumes were on a heavy clipboard were seen as better qualified and more serious about the position than were those whose resumes were on a light clipboard. Subjects also viewed their own accuracy at the task as being more important when they used a heavy clipboard.

In another experiment, subjects engaged in mock haggling over the price of a new car sat in either hard or soft chairs. Those in the hard chairs were less flexible, showing less movement between successive offers. They also judged their negotiating partners as being more stable and less emotional.

So how does this apply to medical product design? It reveals that there are many factors we evaluate unconsciously when we interact with an object. Deliberately designing an instrument to be heavier than it needs to be could signal that it is solid, well-made and can be trusted. Designing a grip using a material that is quickly warmed by a user’s hand could provide a signal that relaxes the user, reduces stress and gives the user confidence. Admittedly, these are subtle cues. But that doesn’t mean they are not powerful. Paying attention to these details of design is what creates an exceptional user experience. And that is what will make your products excel and will build loyalty to your brand.