User-centered design, the key to exoskeleton acceptability

In this webinar, Amélie Blondeau, Design Director and Co-founder of Japet, explains how user-centered design ensures the acceptability of exoskeletons.

Amelie Blondeaux acceptabilité exosquelette

You are interested in acquiring exoskeletons but you wonder about their acceptability?

At Japet, we have implemented a user-centred design approach to ensure adherence to these new physical assistance devices.

Exoskeletons are a relevant solution to reduce the arduousness and MSDs on the workstation.

Despite this, many companies are reluctant to go forward with such projetcs. Indeed, these devices are often not well accepted by employees. Considered too bulky and uncomfortable, they do not adapt to their daily needs and end up on the shelf.

What if the acceptability of an exoskeleton began with its design?

When designing, we are aware that a need which is met, does not guarantee the user’s acceptability. To ensure adherence to a product, we must consider the usage the user will make of it. This process this is called the user experience. Let us discover this approach together.

1. Understanding the user.

Without consideration for the user, his/her needs, and his/her restraints, it is impossible to make him/her adhere to a product, especially when it comes to innovative products, for which he/she has no frame of reference.

Indeed, a product cannot meet everyone’s needs. Each population group has different expectations. The more precise the target group is, the more common their expectations are, and the easier it becomes to formalise them and to design a relevant product.

In the case of the Japet exoskeleton which targets back pain, it is primordial to understand the pathology, its factors, and the psychological and physical impacts it induces.

Understanding the existing solutions and analysing their acceptance by users, allows us to identify which category of the population, already accounted for, is satisfied and which is not.

The Japet.W answers the needs of a user’s category that has not been considered yet by another back exoskeleton. By targeting operators with activities soliciting the back, the device helps to avoid the impact/recurrence of back related work stoppages, and allows to maintain employment for those who already suffer from this condition.

It is then a question of precisely defining the needs and expectations of this category of users by identifying oneself with it.

2. Identifying with the user and his/her ecosystem.

In any new technology, all key players in the user’s ecosystem must be defined. Indeed, adherence to a new technology does not stop at the product’s perception.

The players that make up the user’s ecosystem can have an impact on his/her adherence to the solution, and their interactions will influence his/her product perception and acceptability.

For instance, for a workplace use, must be taken into account the interactions between the final user and the ergonomists, HSEs, team leaders, colleagues, etc. Each one of them has a different interplay with the user.

It is then necessary to identify oneself with each of these actors on:

  • What they think and feel, allowing us to better understand their emotions, beliefs, frustrations.
  • What they hear, which enables us to know his/her influences, what he/she values and who he/she gives credit to.
  • What they say/do, thus letting us know how he/she acts and his/her behaviours.
  • What they see in the existing products and identify what they find to be visually familiar.

This work helps to define the fears and motivations of each individual, and to consider the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, cognitive biases, and behaviours impacting the perception of a product. Thus, this process allows us to know on which levers to act, in order to promote the exoskeleton’s acceptability.

3. Define what can be done.

The definition phase allows us to understand how, in each stage of the user’s journey, the product can be integrated. It also identifies which product typology to focus on. 

Indeed, now that you know your target, the user’s scenario or path allows you to identify and define, how the solution can be integrated into each moment and answer each need.

While designing them, we make sure the scenarios include all the steps necessary for the product’s acceptability (discovery, understanding), for its integration and its acceptance (in use).

In order to fully understand the usage needs of the product, this process must rely on industry experts and users themselves.

The detailed scenarios taking into account environmental, human, psychological, physical, and organisational interactions, clarify what the solution must and must not integrate. Thus, the solution’s design will be consistent with the usage needs and the users.

But before embarking on the design process, defining the typology (or DNA of the product) ensures that the solution will be integrated and accepted by the user.

In the example of the Japet.W exoskeleton, we have identified the lumbar belt, an existing product, already in use and well accepted by target users.

Indeed, we know how this product acts and interacts with the user: its textile composition, similar to a garment, is easily accepted. It can rely on a frame of reference, already well integrated in his/her daily life. This material also responds to biomechanical constraints, such as comfort and breathability, indispensable for this type of body-hugging product.

4. Designing

The design activity should always be human centred and must consider the whole use experience.

Each design brick of the solution will be projected into the scenario, to evaluate how it interacts with the user throughout his/her use.

Then, the solution is confronted to reality: it is the co-conception process. It provides a direct feedback of the user and his ecosystem.

The purpose is to obtain a conceptual response adapted to each of the uses and users.

5. Prototyping

Prototyping is the conceptualisation, the realisation of a tangible product for the user.

There are 2 types of complementary prototypes : intent prototypes and functional prototypes.

The intent prototypes will project the user into the visual, to validate the future product’s acceptability. Meanwhile, the functional prototypes will project the user into the actual use of the future product.

The prototypes will be studied by the users. It is thanks to their feedback, and to the iteration of the prototypes, that the solution will gradually become acceptable to the user, thus promoting immersion in its use.

6. Testing under real use conditions.

Essential to the evaluation and validation of the concepts put in place, testing in real conditions, or field testing, is the last validation of the future product’s adequacy and acceptability.

These assessments are not random, they must follow a protocol.

It is then a question of defining the evaluation criteria:

  • what we want to evaluate. Are we looking for an overall test of the product in the scenario? A test of a particular element of the product, or of a key step in the scenario?
  • by whom do you want it to be tested. Should we consider not only the direct user, but also all the players in his/her ecosystem?
  • the test environment. What is the targeted user’s sector of activity, and what are the environmental constraints it presents?
  • when to test. How long must the test take to get relevant feedback, and when to perform these tests?
  • how to perform these tests. What are the evaluation criteria necessary to obtain relevant feedback on satisfaction, efficiency, and effectiveness?
  • why do we perform these tests. Do we try to limit accidental, psychosocial, residual, physical or psychological risks?

All these evaluation criteria are based on the fusion and the balance between the user’s perception factors (perceived usefulness), his behavioural intent, and the affordance of the product (the ability of an object to suggest its own use).

They allow the test standardisation, thus the feedback can be analysed and transmitted to the design. Therefore, the user-centred design approach is an iterative approach. It ends when the solution reaches a sufficient level of acceptability and acceptance with the users.

At Japet, once the iterative design approach reaches the acceptability of the solution, it materialises by obtaining the CE Medical regulated standard, ensuring the product’s suitability for use.

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