You’re starting a medical device design project. Do you know what your goal is? It’s not what’s spelled out in the design spec. It’s not what the marketing group thinks your customers want. It’s not what’s been summarized from focus group research. Your goal is to satisfy motivations. Do you know what motivates the people who are going to use your device? You might think you do, but you’re probably just guessing. Because most design methodologies and most design research does not address users’ base motivations.

What do I mean by base motivations? In a work context, they involve ego, money and time, sometimes in combination and sometimes all three. Consider a surgical device, for example. First, who is the user? There are probably two: the nurse who preps the device, and the surgeon. I’ll postulate that the nurse’s motivation is one of ego. (S)he wants to feel smart, competent and well thought of. Design can address that motivation by thoroughly thinking through how the product might be misused as it’s prepped, and designing to eliminate those possibilities. The nurse wants to be able to prep the device quickly and have it ready for the surgeon when (s)he needs it. The surgeon’s motivation might have to do with money and time. The quicker she can do the procedure, the more procedures she can do, or the sooner she can get back to her practice to see more patients. The device can be designed in a way that helps the surgeon be more efficient.

As device designers, we have an affinity for objects. And really, that’s our achilles’ heel. Because it’s not the object that has importance – it’s what the object allows us to do. But even digging down that far is not deep enough. For at the heart of the matter is the desire that the object fulfills for the user. Without understanding your users’ base motivations you won’t be able to design a device that truly serves their needs.