Dispensing wisdom: How a Heinz Ketchup bottle can inspire smart medical device design

What can a Heinz Ketchup bottle teach medical device design engineers? You might be surprised. Amanda Pedersen, News Editor at PlasticsToday sister brand MD+DI, recounted in a recent article how Brian Mullins, Director of Design and Development at Kablooe Design (Koon Rapids, MN), speaking at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) Minneapolis last month, used the classic glass Heinz bottle as an example of smart investment in product design that all manufacturers should emulate.

Heinz neon sign

"This bottle ... [is] really good at holding ketchup, but what they didn't really think about was how to get the ketchup out of the bottle," Mullins said, according to Pedersen. "There's a process involved. First you have to turn the bottle upside down; then you might have to hold it at about a 45-degree angle; then tap on the 57 [on the neck of the bottle]; then you get out a knife and start trying to pull out the ketchup; then you give it a shake; and the final step of the process is to clean off your shirt."

Mullins’ point was that Heinz made a great product but did not give much thought to the user experience. That changed in 2000, when the company introduced an easy-squeeze plastic bottle with an inverted design that we have all come to know and love. “They invested in the design and catered to the user needs,” explained Mullins. “They actually paid an individual who invented a nice little silicon valve that holds the ketchup in. When you squeeze it, it allows the ketchup to come out, and when you let it go, the valve seals." With that, he went on to dissect the “five hardest design problems in medtech,” writes Pedersen, “using the Heinz example to address the first ‘secret’—investing in design.”

That’s the kind of creative, throught-provoking presentations that are par for the course at MD&M events: The next one, co-located with PLASTEC West, will be in Anaheim, CA, on Feb. 11 to 13, 2020. And it so happens that an entire one-day conference track will be devoted to design strategies that put the user first.

The User-Centered Design Strategies and Tactics for Faster Product Development track is scheduled for opening day, Feb. 11, and will delve into multiple aspects of designing with the user experience in mind as well as medtech-specific topics, such as wearables and combination products.

Philip Remedios, BlackHagen Design
Philip Remedios

Three product design experts will begin the daylong track by exploring the shifting human-machine relationship. Specifically, they will address best practices for developing products that transcend functionality to delight users. The panelists are Emily Hildebrand, Director, Research Collective; Roger Mazzella, Senior Product Manager, The Qt Co.; and Philip Remedios, Principal, Design and Development, BlackHagen Design.

The session that follows will do a deeper dive into delighting consumers by plumbing the user’s emotional response to a product. “You have to consider the industrial design perspective that looks at the emotional forces at work in your product. These emotional elements are evoking a response from your users, whether you're taking ownership of them or not,” notes the session description on the MD&M West website. Speaker Jeevak Badve, Director of Strategic Growth at Sundberg-Ferar Product Innovation Studio, will offer pointers on designing products that evoke the right emotional response from the user.

Ben Zwillinger, Product Creation Studio
Ben Zwillinger

The afternoon begins with what might appear to be an unusual dichotomy: Wearables versus implantables. “As the point of care shifts toward the home . . . wearables and implantables are both logical options to help manage care outside of a clinical setting,” states the session description. Product Creation Studio’s Ben Zwillinger, Senior Human Factors Engineer, and Scott Thielman, Chief Technology Officer, will present case studies and outline the pros and cons of implantable and wearable device options.

Saher Bishara, Senior Principal Human Factors and Usability Engineer at Medtronic Diabetes, will continue the afternoon track by explaining how to translate user needs into formal design requirements in compliance with regulatory requirements. Users can be a tremendous source of inspiration, notes the session description, but designers must be able to read between the lines of user feedback to develop a successful product.

Tom Kramer, Kablooe Design
Tom Kramer

The day will conclude with a focus on usability study techniques and how to mitigate user errors led by Tom Kramer, President and CEO of Kablooe Design, and a panel discussion on next-generation combination products. Panelists include Susan Neadle, Senior Director, Global Value Chain Quality Design at Johnson & Johnson; James Wabby, Executive Director, Regulatory Affairs, Devices and Combination Products at Allergen; and Paul Lindstrom, Director, R&D, Combination Products at AstraZeneca.

User-Centered Design Strategies and Tactics for Faster Product Development is one of several conference tracks at the co-located MD&M West and PLASTEC West trade show and conference. The event runs from Feb. 11 to 13, 2020, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. For more information and to register to attend, go to the MD&M West website.

Lead image courtesy Alex Liivet/flickr.

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