Life Changing Design: cutting through the noise. By Ben Strutt, Cambridge Design Partnership



Following his presentation at CWUX, Ben talks about user-centred research approaches in product design. Highlighting the development of life-changing products that focus on outcomes, speed of response and accuracy of effectiveness, to enable benefits for all stakeholders.


Sometimes a product experience truly stands out from the crowd. In these cases it is likely that rigorous attention has been given to the specification and creation of an exemplary user experience from the very earliest stages of inception. More often than not, for such products, success in the market naturally follows.

While the synopsis of the recent Cambridge Wireless User Experience special interest group, provocatively suggested that ‘UX can still be seen as a nice to have, not a must have!’ Usability Consultant Lucy Sheldon and I were keen to illustrate how, in our experience there are certain scenarios in which offering anything other than a seamless User Experience is simply not an option.

With the conference agenda focused specifically on ‘Life-changing design’, Lucy and I discussed a number of human-centred products for life-changing situations. Our key message was that an optimised user experience is essential for successful outcomes.

At Cambridge Design Partnership we believe many of the best user (UX) or stakeholder (Sx) experiences result from pioneering businesses getting the front end process right. These insightful, human-centred innovators ask the right questions, of the right people, at the right time. And as a result they identify the right opportunities. If the problems are identified through evidence gathering activities and correctly defined, it follows that the business is positioned as strongly as possible to effectively translate insights into the right product and service solutions.

Often in life-changing situations there are multiple key stakeholders, all of whom demand prioritised and sometimes differing experiences to achieve effective outcomes. In optimising stakeholder experiences, our team of designers, user experience and usability experts typically consolidate and prioritise three key areas.

  • Outcomes – Who are the key stakeholders, what’s important to them (both functionally and emotionally), and what are they trying to achieve?
  • Accuracy of Assessment – How can we use technology to cut out the noise, filter the data and clearly communicate vital information?
  • Speed of Response – Prioritising key information/challenges to enable swift action.

The element of speed is probably one of the biggest differences between developing a high quality UX in a life-changing situation such as a medical device for emergency treatment, and one for a consumer scenario, where a more leisurely experience may contribute to a higher quality outcome.

Very detailed task mapping takes place considering all of the functional and emotional needs of the stakeholders – searching for points of friction, sources of confusion and use-error, and opportunities to streamline and ‘humanise’ the technology.

Example case studies we presented included a blood diagnostics device for diabetes sufferers. Early research uncovered the pivotal insight that users often weren’t the patients themselves, but were the parents of children who needed bloods to be tested several times a day. By focusing on the emotional needs of parents who didn’t want to hurt their children yet needed to carry out a procedure that was critical to maintaining their welfare, and children who did not want to be hurt or afraid, an enquiry was set off to create the lowest pain, most minimally invasive lancing system.

Further examples where Cambridge Design Partnership has applied a human-centred approach to the design of life changing products include a compact connected battlefield vital signs monitoring system to allow field medics to make rapid, accurate triage assessments of wounded soldiers; and a balloon tamponade to stop severe bleeding after childbirth, one of the biggest causes of maternal mortality in the developing world.

Through asking first response medics about the challenges of saving lives on the front line, we learnt that regular monitoring and recording of vital signs was time consuming and challenging when combined with stress and sensory deprivation. Yet this provided key data for prioritising (triaging) the treatment and evacuation of their colleagues. This insight was translated into a low cost vital signs monitor for first responders to bridge the gap between manual vital signs monitoring measurement and large, high value, first response patient monitoring systems.

In low resource settings where risks to life are increased by fewer life-saving resources and challenging environmental conditions, a design needs to be appropriate to that setting. Postpartum haemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. While existing uterine balloon tamponade designs provide a rapid and effective intervention, many solutions are expensive devices used by highly trained clinicians in a surgical context supported by auxiliary equipment and a second pair of hands. In contrast Cambridge Design Partnership has developed a design with features specifically for use by minimally trained birth assistants in low resource clinics and health centres.

These case studies help to highlight the paramount importance in involving users and other key stakeholders in early immersive research. Only by uncovering these needs can a target User Experience specification be created which becomes a guiding foundation for the product, and in particular the application of smart technology.

In conclusion, carrying out rigorous, immersive research helps identify the most important stakeholder needs, helps make faster decisions, and avoids having to carry out unnecessary repeat research iterations or take leaps of faith. Ultimately the aim in potentially life changing situations is to minimise and prioritise human interactions to maximise beneficial outcomes.


About The Author

Ben Strutt is Head of Design at Cambridge Design Partnership


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