Christine Park

Unleashing the impact of colour in medical device design: The right colours


How to choose colour for your medical device

Inspiration board by Reiko Morrison, CMF.

Inspiration board by Reiko Morrison, CMF.

Guessing which colour will be received well by the market is a very risky method for a product that has been thoughtfully developed.You can enhance the success of your medical devices through thoughtful colour design.
My first blog discussed the impact of current colour trends in medical device and how a unique colour palette will help establish brand recognition.
My second blog explained how colour can be applied to improve usability through organization and eye flow, and to diminish negative emotions associated with having to use the device. You may still feel that choosing the right colours for your product to be daunting.
This article offers a process for those involved in developing medical products without a design background or colour training.

Colour is a very important tool in design. There is an entire industry devoted to researching and forecasting colour trends with specialists who help companies make informed decisions on colour, material, and finishing. It is important to devise a strategy for choosing colours for your medical device. There are many different strategies for colour choosing. Below is an example of how you can start to build your own.

First, ask the five W’s and one H to define the user and the scenario. Most of these questions will have been answered during the previous stages of concept development for the product.

  • Who is using the product? Is a patient, a physician, or both that will be interacting with the product? Who is the patient? (Gender, age, physical capability, cognitive capability, emotional state, educational level…etc.)
  • What does the product do? What materials is it comprised of? What is the appearance of the product? (Scale, sharpness, painful, heavy, cold…etc.)
  • When does this product get used? (During operation, during doctor visit, at the end of the day, while sleeping…etc.) What is the duration of use? How often does it get used?
  • Where will the product be used? (In operation room, patient room, at doctor’s clinic, at home…etc.)  Are there particular colours that dominate the environment? Is the environment visually busy, calm or in between? Should it stand out or should it blend in? Where is it stored when not in use? (on a surgical tray, resting on a patient’s bedside table, sitting on a dock mounted onto a boom,…etc.)
  • Why is this product used? (Purpose and goal.)
  • How is this product used? What are the steps? Consider the workflow of the user. How is it cleaned/sterilized? Sterilization methods can affect the colour of the product. EtO and gas plasma sterilization does not have a significant effect on colour. Radiation sterilization using gamma or e-beam will cause a colour shift toward yellow. Colour-shift is most noticeable in transparent materials.

As these questions are asked, keep in mind the user’s emotional state, needs, and desires. Often, medical devices are used in negative circumstances when the patient needs treatment for illness or injury. Colours can be used to calm the fear and stress associated with the circumstance. Consider how you can improve usability by using colour to organize the user control surface and direct eye flow.

Use the information you have gathered from the answers to the five W’s and one H to come up with the “attitude/characteristics” you want the product to portray. Do you want the device to look “intelligent”? What are some of the colours that portray the attitude? A hue (colour) can be dramatically impacted by tweaking the value and saturation (lightness or darkness of a colour and purity of a colour). Explore different values and saturation to see how they affect the mood of the colour.

Visual aids help organize thoughts and help you envision your colour design. Create inspiration boards for some of the attitude/characteristics worth considering. This will help you decide on a colour palette. Above is an example by Reiko Morrison, one of the CMF (colour, material, and finish) specialists I met while working at Belkin. She drew inspiration from products in various industries and nature to create a colour palette of apple green and cool white for Xbox360. You can visualize how the colours for different parts of the product will look next to each other.

smashinghub.comCreate a palette direction. Educating yourself on basic colour theory may help with choosing a colour combination to come up with a palette.  If creating a market differentiation based upon colour is part of your business strategy, examine if the colour palette chosen is unique enough to deliver that goal. Explore different ways of using the colours from your colour palette on your product. Do you want most of the surface of the device to be in neutral colour with a splash of a bold accent colour or do you want to use colours as a tool to separate or highlight certain functions? Also, review your colour palette against current colour trends. Blindly following a trend without examining whether it is appropriate for the market is dangerous, but it is also crucial that your product does not look out dated– especially if it is a high-tech medical device.

Lastly, always examine your production samples under the lighting condition of the environment they will be used in. Different light source colours (sun light, fluorescent or incandescent lights) and proportions have a direct influence on how we perceive the colour.

This concludes my three part blog series on colour. We’ve only just touched the surface on the impact colour has in medical device design and methods for developing a colour palette. As you might have noticed, colour design is a complicated field. I hope that my blog series helped you gain an understanding on the importance of investing in colour design for your product, or helps you make an informed decision if you decide to develop a colour solution yourself.

Lead image: Inspiration board by Reiko Morrison, CMF.

Other image:

Christine Park is an Industrial Designer at StarFish Medical where she uses her knowledge of colour, material, and finish to design innovative medical devices for clients.

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