Industrial Design Project Improves Medical Device

Justin Chin (right) and Christopher Dang worked with Clearwater Clinical to improve a smartphone adapter for an endoscope. (photo supplied)

Industrial Design projects are often about coming up with a brand new idea, but Carleton University grad Christopher Dang has learned that sometimes it can be more important to focus the design process on improving an existing product.

One of five Industrial Design students who worked with a local company that leverages existing mobile technology to replace traditional health care equipment, Dang partnered with fellow student Justin Chin as part of their fourth-year capstone project to improve a smartphone adapter for an endoscope, a medical device used to look inside the body.

Their redesigned Clearscope, sleeker and more functional than the original and complete with ergonomic handle, is expected to make it to the marketplace.

Matthew Bromwich, an ear, nose and throat surgeon and founder of Clearwater Clinical, helped the students to identify issues with the device and gave feedback as they worked together.

“It’s exciting for me as a clinician, as well as for the students, working with something that has an unknown outcome,” says Bromwich. “It’s not always obvious if something is going to work or not.

“I was impressed by the talent of the students and their enthusiasm and energy was nearly boundless. They all made significant progress and we have borrowed some of their ideas. One product (that is, the redesigned Clearscope) will be quite useful and is now in the early manufacturing stage.”

Says Prof. Bjarki Hallgrimsson, who directed the students: “A company such as Clearwater coming to the university to engage students in design research is a great way to work. Students are more likely to think outside the box and since companies often limit themselves to safer design solutions in house, this collaboration allows them to explore less defined and perhaps risky approaches.”

Design schools, he adds, are increasingly at the forefront of a fairly new concept called “design thinking.”

“We focus on the end user in an empathetic way. Designers actually interact with the real end user, come up with ideas and test them with these users.”

Hallgrimsson points to the massive amounts of information and technology now available to students. “They use all kinds of software, including computer-aided design, Illustrator and Photoshop programs, and 3-D printing. They test prototype after prototype, and this iterative new way of being all-encompassing really does work. They can dare to fail, and make mistakes along the way.”

Dang, 25, landed a job this summer as a user experience designer and hopes to eventually bridge the worlds of software and digital with hardware and physical products.

“What was interesting about the Clearscope project was that the idea and concept were already there,” says Dang. “Our job was to improve the user experience. It wasn’t ‘What does this do?’ but ‘Does it do it in a nice, intuitive, enjoyable way?’ It’s not always about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes it’s just about solving a problem.”

Twenty-one-year-old Chin chose the Clearwater project because of his interest in the medical field. He earned a Bachelor of Industrial Design with a minor in Psychology and is now pursuing a master’s in design.

“It’s amazing to see your own work actually get somewhere in the world. Working with real-world doctors and getting their perspective is very valuable. Whatever field I decide to go into, I would love to work with the actual user of the product.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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