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3 Tips for Improving Product Usability through Documentation

Technology is evolving faster than ever before. While technology of the 20th century accelerated at first, but eventually settled into a manageable rate of change (think telephones, automobiles, jet engines), today’s technology is self-accelerating. Users are accustomed to the increasing capabilities and sophistication of computers, smartphones, and 3D printers. The more users interact and utilize these features in consumer products, the more they’re expecting medical devices to have similarly sophisticated capabilities and interfaces.

Earlier this week, Maria Fontanazza, Editor-in-Chief of MedTech Intelligence, interviewed Kenneth Fine, President of Proven Process, on how product development teams should be collaborating to meet these increasing user expectations. In the article, “Obamacare and Great User Expectations Hit Device Design,” Kenneth comments:

"We want the interfaces of where the device is going to be used and how it is going to be used to be integral parts of the team, and that happens right at the beginning. . . . We have the types of people who will reach out and touch the environment that the device is going to be in; and then we have the engineers who will make sure the pieces fit together so that, at the end of the day, there really are no surprises."

Kenneth is referring to his team’s approach to usability – the practice of taking human physical and medical-device-product-design-novatekpsychological requirements into account when designing products, devices, or content. When users and their environments are considered in the product design, the result is a more intuitive medical device.

But product design isn’t the only phase of a new product launch that needs to consider usability. In cases where the medical device is not intuitive or there is a functionality failure, users resort to the technical documentation to learn or troubleshoot. Here are some tips to incorporate usability into your documentation, as well:

How to Improve Product Usability through Documentation

  1. Put Yourself In the Shoes of Your User

As mentioned in last week’s blog, Technical Documentation Shortcuts That Will Cost You, content is the key component in a user’s experience with technical documentation, so it’s critical to understand how your users will use the device. Consider:

  • Without instruction, how would an individual naturally use the device? What type of experience would that create?
  • What might confuse them?
  • What would delight them?

If you want to know the cost of skipping this step, read the 3 Technical Documentation Shortcuts You Should NEVER Take.

  1. Anticipate User Needs

Once you know the answers above, create content that anticipates areas of confusion or frustration and make it accessible in those anticipated moments. While many new medical device product launches focus solely on Instructions for Use, remember there are additional forms of technical documentation that can assist users in the moment without reaching for paper instructions. Consider a Quick Start Guide, job aid, online help, video tutorial, or context-sensitive help.  

  1. Provide Instructions in Error Messages

On the occasion that a user performs a function incorrectly, they will be looking to understand how to do it and why it’s important to perform the instruction in a certain way. While the product development engineers create safeguards to avoid damage, safety hazards, and erroneous results, buzzing, beeping, flashing, or crashing aren’t sufficient in instructing users how to recover from the error. They require an explanation of what the problem is and instructions on how to recover.

Companies often hear from their customers when product and documentation usability are lacking and can be improved, but rarely when the device is so intuitive it’s a piece of cake to use. So, product usability can often be measured in the same way as documentation - by the inverse.

For a list of ways to measure documentation usability that apply to product usability…

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Topics: documentation, usability