18th December 2023
5 min read

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

I spent the week in beautiful Perth last week. Being the bigbrain that I am, instead of bringing my workstation with me, or swapping all my software licenses onto the laptop, I used Parsec to connect to the workstation remotely. Hotel Wi-Fi notwithstanding, it worked great.

Until it didn't.

The first symptom on Wednesday was Parsec telling me it wasn't receiving a video signal from the host computer (desktop). A few disconnects and reconnects later, I did manage to get a non-responsive login screen.

Time to call home.

After about 30 minutes working with my 13 year old son to troubleshoot, we hadn't gotten anywhere. The machine would boot, but the screens wouldn't come on. No bios boot logo or anything. In the end I accepted defeat, had him turn off the computer, and set it aside as this week's problem.

But as I usually am with all such problems, I was like a dog at a bone trying to solve it.

I spent the early mornings and evenings thinking of reasons why the computer would no longer boot. I went through things like a thermal shutdown (it was hot in Syd, more on that later), a dead GPU, and even a botched LogoFAIL attack that maybe bricked the motherboard 🙄 .

I'm sure you can relate. In the absence of information, your mind invents all kinds of possibilities.


You know the game Charades? The one where you have to flail your limbs in certain ways so that the other players can guess a specific word or phase?

Yeah, trying to diagnose a computer problem through a telephone with an inexperienced "technician" on the other end is exactly like that.

In fact, trying to diagnose any problem without all the information is exactly like playing charades.

The Problem with Users

Users are experts at experiencing their own specific problems. Very often however, they are not skilled at diagnosing them or finding the root cause. Further, they may also not be great at communicating the symptoms and the context surrounding them.

As with my son, he could tell me what was happening based on the symptoms, but was not sufficiently skilled to dig into all the possible causes of those symptoms. Startlingly, he couldn't perform a reverse-FMEA analysis. Down the phone I did my best to have him investigate x and y, but without being there it was not possible to see all the context. He didn't know what he was looking at, or didn't know what to tell me.

And because of this, a great deal of information is overlooked.

So it is with design, and especially medical device design.

Share the Experience

I shared this a couple of weeks back, and I want to further expand on it here.

This joke hits because as designers at some stage we've all been guilty of googling some background data on our user group and calling it a day. Maybe we ask one or two people we know that fit in that group.

This can be dangerous as it allows our imagination to run wild filling in the gaps. In a best case scenario, it can mean our designs might treat the symptom, without actually solving the problem. Often it can mean an over-simplification of the problem and root cause. Nothing is ever simple when it comes to humans. Worse still, we can make assumptions that are just plain wrong.

To overcome this, you need to share the experience with them.

Yes, this means you have to leave your office.

I get it, this is hard and takes a lot of time. You have to seek out users, and meet them where they are. You may have to go through several gatekeepers to talk to the people you need to talk to. Then you may need to further wade through some red tape to see them experience the problems you're trying to solve first-hand.

In some organisations they call this co-design. An integrated collaboration between users and designers to develop a design that meets the needs of the user. It is more than just talking to the users and getting them to tell you about their problems, however. Just like my son, users often don't know what information is pertinent to solving the problem, or what little observation could unlock genuine innovation. More than just listening to their experience, you need to experience their experience.

With your trained eye you can see things they can't see. Something they do every day without thinking about (and hence don't think to mention it to you) could, under a critical eye, begin to identify the unspoken needs and uncover the root causes.

With the right information the solution could be obvious.


So once I'd returned home on Saturday, had a good sleep and some coffee, I took a look at the computer. The problem? My 9 year old son had switched off the power point to remove a connected pedestal fan so he could use it. He hadn't switched it back on. Everything on that powerboard, including the monitors but not the PC, were powered off.

It took me 15 seconds to fix.

With the right experience and knowledge I was able to start a process of elimination that led very quickly to a solution. Something my son and I couldn't solve through 30 minutes of charades. Being present meant I had the additional context. Information that was not obvious, or was obvious to the point of being invisible.


Get out and engage with users and stakeholder. Be humble and curious. Observe and ask questions. Let them tell you and show you.

As you begin to uncover the causes of your user's problems, and begin to address them, you'll find new doors being opened that may ultimately help you find the root cause.

As I mentioned once before stakeholders want you to succeed because succeeding means you're solving their problem. The sooner and more integrated that 'co-design' is, the higher the chance of success.

I post every week on the topics of design, medtech, and my journey in it. If you'd like to follow along, feel free to either subscribe to the newsletter or give me a follow on LinkedIn. Even better; subscribe to the RSS feed with this link.

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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