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Career Story: Ergonomic Design Engineer

Ergonomic Design Engineer

Job Title: Human Factors Design Engineer

Type of Company: My company is a conglomerate and does lots of things, but I work for its healthcare products division.

Education: BS, Biomedical and Electrical Engineering, Duke University •• MS, Administration, Boston University

Previous Experience: My entire career has been spent with medical device or instrumentation companies, some very small, others very large. I started as an electrical/clinical applications engineer for a neuro-stimulation device company, then moved into software engineering and software project management at three different medical device or instrumentation companies. I worked as a software quality engineering manager, then moved into user interface design and usability engineering.

Job Tasks: I am responsible for the usability and user interface design of life-saving medical devices. I work with a cross-functional team, most closely with product marketing, mechanical engineering, industrial design, software engineering, clinical specialists and a program manager. I contribute to the development of the product requirements and system specifications, developing software prototypes of a design based on the requirements and testing various concepts with clinical users. I focus on improving ease-of-use and decreasing safety risks. Once the design is in the final stages of usability testing, I start creating a detailed user interface specification -- detailed design instructions for the creation of knobs, buttons, indicators, screen displays, and the device's screen layouts, interactions, and behaviors.

Once these specifications are complete, I work with the software engineering team to ensure the device is developed according to the specifications and their intent. When the product reaches a certain stage of development, it can be tested with clinical users -- mainly nurses and physicians -- to ensure we've met our design goals. Because this is a life-saving medical device, the design goes through safety risk assessments throughout its development lifecycle. We assess any potential risks that can be caused by "operator error" or hardware failure or any other causes, and we design in risk prevention safeguards.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of the job are the interactions with the nurses and doctors who use our products or might use our products. It's satisfying to see positive responses to my designs, or have the chance to hear constructive criticisms of aspects of my design and make improvements. I get to be creative.

One of the hard parts of the job is that everyone has an opinion on the user interface design. You have to be able to listen to and consider critiques and suggestions.

Job Tips: For me, the most important thing is to choose a general direction or field and prepare yourself to be flexible. Don't ever stop learning new things. Take advantage of opportunities that arise. You may not get a second chance.

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