Bringing cutting-edge technology to the medical field
Sony, Olympus, and Sony Olympus Medical Solutions (SOMED) joined forces to create a new surgical microscope system,
an innovation that translates the latest technologies into a user-friendly solution for medical professionals. How did the new system take shape?
Designers from Sony and Olympus take us behind the scenes, revealing the key concepts that informed the project.
(GUI Designer, Team Leader,
How digital imaging technologies
support exacting surgical procedures
The maneuvers that go into a surgical procedure can be extraordinarily meticulous. Take brain surgery, for example. Neurosurgeons often use surgical microscopes to get close-ups of the tiny tissue structures—invisible to the naked eye—that the success of a given operation hinges on. Not only does working within those extremely small margins of error ramp up surgeons’ stress levels, but the surgical microscopes of the past have also saddled doctors with a physical burden, as well. Conventional microscopes are usually bulky devices that require users to look directly through an eyepiece, a setup that can be a complicating factor in time-intensive surgeries, and take up so much valuable room in the operating theater that the surgical teams assisting the surgeons have to grapple with space limitations. The need for a new surgical microscope system was there, and Sony’s digital imaging technologies, Olympus’s expertise in developing medical devices, and SOMED’s technical development came together to fill it. Capable of displaying affected areas in three dimensions via 4K high-definition digital imaging, the new system marks a breakthrough in usability by giving surgeons a way to conduct surgery in a comfortable position without the stress and hurdles that come with the traditional setup.
Every last detail fits into the surgical space
The process of creating the new surgical microscope system operated on two fronts: Sony handled the product design, while Olympus used its expertise in the medical field to test and tweak the product. That’s not just an unorthodox approach to creating a medical device—the parallel arrangement was an unprecedented take on the design process itself.
Oba: Sony has designed broadcasting equipment for television stations and a wide range of other professional equipment. We’ve always trained our focus on what actual users need, centering what we do on the concepts of security, reliability, and necessity. Security means delivering intuitive designs with minimal learning curves, accessible to seasoned experts and first-time novices alike. The reliability component is all about guaranteeing long-lasting performance. The last element, necessity, centers on pinpoint utility: giving users what they need, where they need it. We wanted the new surgical microscope to fit right into that mold, and we worked with Olympus—an organization with extensive experience and deep insights in the medical field—to build our design concept around meeting real, pragmatic needs through an optimal package of leading-edge technologies.
Hakoda: However amazing our technology was, we knew that it wouldn’t do any good if users had trouble actually using it. We needed to make sure that the system could live up to its full potential, so we gave ourselves some homework. We went out and toured actual operating rooms and used our findings to build a faithful, 1/6 scale model of the actual user environment, complete with an operating table, anesthesia equipment, and an assortment of other facilities. With that, we had a clearer picture of key environmental variables: where the surgeon and assistant normally stand, for example, and how the nurses would move around the setting. The team members from Olympus, offering their far-reaching knowledge of the medical scene, helped us broaden the scope of our simulation to include everything that goes into the surgery workflow—from the pre-op setup phase to the actual surgical procedures and then on to post-op cleanup. Our simulations were complete, end-to-end tests, generating valuable insights into how to make an operation easier for the entire surgical team.
One of the big takeaways from the simulations was a clear understanding of all the different constraints on a surgical space; certain surgical procedures require surgeons, assistants, and equipment to be in specific locations. There’s simply no way around some of those spatial restrictions. To avoid tightening the confines even more, we knew that we had to make the body (base) of the system as compact as possible. We designed the base with flat sides, first of all, so that the system would give nurses and equipment enough room to move around as needed. While the compact design allows for more versatility in placing the system itself, we also made the arm supporting the microscope extend out from behind—a tweak that keeps surgeons clear of potential interference. Another big point was the placement of the viewing monitor, which we oriented in a way that’d be easily visible to both doctors and nurses alike. It was all part of enhancing usability for every member of the surgical team, an effort that stretched the breadth of our design scope across the entire surgical space.
Iseki: The scale model really opened our eyes to how the system would fit into real-world applications, helping us locate areas for improvement and work out every last kink down to the smallest detail. The microscope itself, which sits at the end of the system's arm, was where a lot of those improvements came. The cylindrical contours of the microscope unit, for example, allow users to get a good grip on the microscope from any angle and move it around with ease. The buttons and dials on the microscope speak to that focus on usability, too: we conceived every hand-operated element with maximum operability in mind, eventually coming up with a design that makes it easy for users to press buttons and turn dials over surgical drapes—and even with gloves on. Another piece of the usability puzzle was visibility. To keep the arm from obscuring too much of the monitor screen area, we leveraged high-rigidity materials into an ultra-slim arm design.
The design does more than just facilitate surgical procedures—it also figures pre-op preparations and post-op cleanup into the equation. Setting the system up for an operation involves placing a surgical drape over the arm to prevent infections, so we took steps to make that process as effortless as possible: the system's internal cable housing and protrusion-free exterior help safeguard against the drape getting tangled or hooked on any components. We also kept bumps, grooves, and holes to an absolute minimum, which makes the entire system easier to wipe clean. All together, the system epitomizes the idea of necessity—it condenses solutions to medical professionals’ needs into a versatile, elegant package.
A GUI that gives users effortless command
over a powerful array of advanced features
The brains behind the graphical user interface (GUI) for the new surgical microscope system were several designers from Olympus, a company with a storied history in the medical device market. How did the Olympus contingent go about giving doctors an intuitive interface for wielding the latest technologies with ease?
Sugaya: Whenever we design a medical device at Olympus, we focus on ensuring that people can use the design with a sense of safety and security, rooting the design in the actual user’s perspective, and helping patients live better, fuller lifestyles. The new surgical microscope system reflects that mindset, especially in how the GUI connects with all the front-line technologies enabling new observation techniques: NBI observation, which gives users crystal-clear views of capillaries; infrared observation, which represents an important research frontier in the medical field; and a host of image-enhancement technologies, to name a few. In designing the GUI, our job came down to creating a platform that’d allow the end users—doctors and other medical personnel—to access and utilize specific features and functions from a vast array of options as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Amari: Imagine you’re a surgeon with a new, high-performance microscope system. You’re in an operation and trying to locate a specific feature on the system, but it’s too complicated to find in the user interface—and you end up having to cancel the procedure because you can’t get access to what you need. That’s something that simply can’t happen. Knowing how much of our new system’s success hinged on the GUI, we decided to get our footing in the basics: understanding exactly how our end users go about their work. We did meticulous analyses of each surgical procedure, looking at who did what under what types of conditions, and sorted out the functions that various situations called for. With that information, we sat down and started figuring out the ideal GUI framework for providing users with the necessary features. That meant deciding on things like which features to put on the top screen, how to design the GUI information, and how to make the screens transition from one to the other. We started making mockups right from the earliest stages of development, gleaned input from people with intimate knowledge of the field, discussed things with each other, and kept going back to the drawing board until we’d gotten everything where it should be. One of the GUI’s defining elements is how little scrolling there is on the main screen—we wanted to make things as simple as possible for surgical teams.
Sugaya: Customizability was a big priority, too. We wanted to make it easy for doctors to configure their own interfaces depending on which surgical procedures they’d be performing. Customizing the interface requires some pre-op setup, naturally, but the system lets users configure presets for specific procedures and simply load an entire preset package before an operation begins—all at the push of a button. Not only does the preset feature streamline the pre-op setup process, but it also gives the system quick, responsive versatility for applications in various departments. Doctors with individual preferences can take advantage of the system’s customizability, as well, tailoring their setups in whatever way they please. With the GUI, our goal was to let doctors and medical personnel concentrate on what they do best—not have to waste time adjusting complicated settings and doing meticulous operations. The interface really eases the burden on the user.
How different corporate identities shaped medical innovation
As the different corporate cultures at Sony and Olympus came together, what grew out of the interaction? How are the team members hoping to impact the future of the medical field?
Nohara: Our corporate cultures might be different, I suppose, but both companies have the same core approach to manufacturing. Forging connections with the real end users in the field—doctors and other medical professionals—has obviously always been a big part of our work as designers at Olympus, a medical device manufacturer by trade. Trying to make the most of that experience, we met with Sony designers on countless occasions and focused on creating a new product together. We didn’t want to let our different corporate cultures hold us back or dictate the way things went; we set our respective backgrounds aside, kept our minds open to learning from others, and let the system take center stage. To me, that’s how we managed to make the system a bold new take on what a surgical microscope can be: not just a device for looking at things, but rather a device for expanding the possibilities of surgical procedures.
I’m looking forward to taking the quality of our designs to an even higher level, one that’ll leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that Sony Olympus makes medical devices that epitomize user-friendliness. That’s what a commitment to safety and operability can do, I think.
Oba: The biggest thing that I learned working with Olympus Design was how design takes on whole new levels of gravity and depth when you’re working with medical devices, where the look and feel of a product can have life-and-death consequences. When I saw the Olympus team set to their work with a commitment to serving doctors and patients, a determination to leave no room for any potential problem whatsoever, I could tell that we had a phenomenal foundation for creating a design that redefines the very notion of a surgical microscope.
To me, design has the power to translate technology. By rendering all the technologies and features that doctors, medical professionals, and patients need in usable formats, design crafts viable solutions out of scientific breakthroughs. There’s still so much territory for us to explore in the medical world—and I know that design can make a difference across the spectrum. I’m excited about harnessing the synergy between Sony and Olympus into something special, a dynamic source of new innovation.
Designers from Sony and Olympus collaborated to create a new surgical microscope system, playing off each other’s ideas in formulating the optimal solution. Always looking ahead to the next challenge, both companies will keep uniting their design capabilities into compelling new products and solutions for the medical field.