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Why you should pay more attention to color in medical device design

The judicious use of color can put patients at ease and inspire confidence in surgeons, according to Christine Park, an industrial designer at Starfish Medical.

Norbert Sparrow

January 12, 2017

4 Min Read
Why you should pay more attention to color in medical device design

When it comes to designing medical products, one needs to consider safety, efficacy, human factors, the benefit-to-risk ratio, regulatory pathway and much more. Color, generally, does not enter into the equation. Christine Park, an industrial designer at Starfish Medical (Victoria, BC, Canada), thinks that it should.

Christine Park, Starfish Medical.

The color, materials and finishing (CMF) category of industrial design—which can be loosely defined as the use of color to improve a product’s usability or to elicit an emotional response from the consumer—is fairly new. “A lot of industrial design programs don’t even offer CMF courses,” Park told PlasticsToday. During an internship at Belkin (Playa Vista, CA), Park was introduced to the world of CMF while working with a team that made iPad and iPod accessories. She brought that sensibility to Starfish Medical two years ago, and will share her thoughts on how the color of a medical device can affect the patient experience during a conference session at MD&M West, co-located with PLASTEC West, in Anaheim, CA, on Feb. 7 to 9.

Park has discovered a true passion for medical technology. “I wasn’t necessarily looking to work in medical device design, but an opportunity opened up at Starfish Medical, and now I’m so glad to be working in this field,” she says. "By designing medical products, I can have a direct impact on the patient’s quality of life and influence more-positive behavior.” Color is one of the tools she uses to achieve this outcome.

“Colors can put patients at ease,” says Park. If they are anxious about a dental procedure, for example, or are about to undergo a serious exam, the color of the room and the medical devices can allay that anxiety, according to Park. “Cool colors, for example, are associated with relaxation, tranquility. Yellow and orange are associated with optimism, so those colors are great for rehabilitation devices. I try to use colors to promote positive emotions,” explains Park.

Christine Park will discuss the impact of color in medical device design during a conference session on Feb. 7 at MD&M West, co-located with PLASTEC West. The largest annual medical manufacturing event in North America, MD&M West comes to the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA, on Feb. 7 to 9, 2017. For more information and to register to attend, go to the MD&M West or PLASTEC West website. 

In a blog post on her company’s website, Park notes that “medical devices that help physicians to feel confident and in control of the situation will . . . produce better results from the physician. Medical devices that have a ‘friendly’ look can help calm the anxiety of the patients by providing a more positive patient experience.” Park then provides the example of a completely black MRI machine, adding “imagine how scary [that] would be?” But when it comes to small hand-held devices or wearables, black can be a sleek, classy color choice that denotes advanced technology, she adds.

No colors are off limits, stresses Park: Everything depends on context and the emotion that is sought. "Personally, I’m attracted to warm colors—the yellows to orange—that elicit empathy. They are appropriate for home-care products, which is a growing field,” says Park.

Medical establishments historically have chosen the blue/green color palette because, says Park, “it reflects the least amount of light and, hence, is the least harsh on surgeons’ eyes.” White is often the go-to color for medical equipment as that connotes cleanliness and sterility. This uniformity is also boring, however, and the medical space is ready to begin exploring other options, says Park. “While CMF is a new concept in medtech, “designers of consumer products have been using it for a long time. They recognize that design, aesthetics and color can have a tremendous influence on purchasing decisions and product usability."

In addition to its effect on the patient experience, CMF can also have a positive impact among medical personnel. Color plays a functional role in cables that are hooked up to medical equipment, providing a visual cue indicating where the cable needs to be inserted. This can be vital in a stressful, high-activity environment, where often every second counts.

Color can also direct eye flow to increase usability, adds Park. “If you want the user to look at the power button first, you would use the strongest color there. Color can also influence the clinician’s emotions, by inspiring confidence, for example,” says Park.

As materials go, plastics are the perfect canvas for CMF, as they allow an almost infinite choice of colors. “You do have to spend time with your vendor to get the color match you want,” says Park, “but with plastics, you can get any color you can imagine.”

Starfish Medical is an FDA-registered medical device design company certified to ISO 13485. It provides a full array of device design, development and manufacturing services and has a Class 100,000 cleanroom on site.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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