In today’s world, brand recognition shows up everywhere, and the medical technology industry is no exception. Branding is ever-present, from medical equipment such as an MRI machine to the label on a disposable package. When OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) are in the design phase of product development, brainstorming new ways to cut through marketplace noise is becoming more difficult as time goes on but is still critical for product success.
Brand awareness seeks to familiarize the public with a new or revised product and differentiate it from the competition. In the medical technology industry, brand touchpoints are common across product lines and can be achieved in many forms. A growing trend in the med-tech marketplace is to add various aesthetic elements in product design to ensure they stand out and gain a competitive advantage.
One of the best ways a med-tech company can set itself apart in a saturated market is to make its products functional and visually elevated using color, light, and other materials to create a memorable user experience.
The primary goal of lighting in the medical industry is driven by functionality, but visual aesthetics is becoming just as important and should also be highly considered.
While the expression “form vs. function” is common, evidence suggests that how something is perceived plays a significant role in the function of a product. Incorporating elements such as light into a product's design can support a positive product perception and even enhance functionality.
From operating room lights to in-cavity surgical retractor illumination, lighting is one of the most critical components in the medical industry. From a design perspective, it is easy to focus solely on the light's function, but a product's aesthetics also play a role in its success. As found by Kurosu and Kashimura (1), aesthetics are a major contributing factor in how the end user receives a product. The authors found that when users are presented with devices with the same inherent functionality, the ones rated more aesthetically pleasing also scored higher on their perceived apparent functionality.
This article examines the concept of aesthetic lighting, its appearance in the industry, and its benefits. By the end of this report, readers will gain a deeper understanding of aesthetic lighting and its potential application in creating innovative technologies or products in the medical field.
What is Aesthetic Lighting?
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the beauty and nature of things. Aesthetic lighting enhances an object or atmosphere to make it more appealing. There are many ways to incorporate aesthetic lighting into product design; some of the most common forms are illuminated logos and product control boards.
Imagine you are the medical staff in the operating room; the lights have been dimmed in preparation for the procedure and, overhead lighting is focused on the subject. The nursing assistant brings over a piece of medical equipment, and you notice the controls and brand name are well-illuminated with sleek underlighting. This supports functionality, and you are more likely to remember interfacing with the well-illuminated product.
In another scenario, you are the patient at a hospital receiving an MRI scan. You observe that the equipment has soothing blue lighting in and around the bore chamber, illuminating the entire space compared to a previous experience where the bore was dark and claustrophobic. In this instance, the blue lighting feature not only elevates the product design but positively impacts the user experience by creating a calming environment.
These are just a couple of examples to explain how light can help with the aesthetic appeal of a product and help grow its brand recognition. The following section details varied factors to consider when integrating aesthetic lighting into a product’s design.
How to Achieve Aesthetic Lighting
There are several ways to incorporate aesthetic lighting into product design; the most common are color (temperature and spectrum) and brightness.
When it comes to the color of a lighting application, there are two aspects to consider: the color temperature of white light and the actual spectrum of the color. Color temperature commonly ranges from warm to cool; the scale of color temperature is pictured below in Figure 1. Color temperature is independent of brightness, and the application plays an influential role in choosing the correct light. Warm light, which has a yellow hue, is the ideal choice for interior and residential settings to create a relaxing atmosphere (Zagan and Kowalska 2017). Conversely, cool light, which has a blue hue, is used when high detail is required.
Figure 1: Correlated Color Temperature with Respective Kelvin Values. (Source: Shutterstock)
The other aspect of color is the actual spectrum of color the light emits. The color of light is highly dependent on the specific application, and there are as many ways to customize it as there are colors. Color is a powerful tool, one that can invoke specific feelings or emotions depending on how it is used. For example, yellow, orange, and blue are accepted as “happy” colors as opposed to red, black, and brown, which are considered “sad” colors. One of the most well-known impacts of color is the calming effect of the color blue. As seen in Figure 2, the blue light used in airplanes is meant to calm passengers.
Figure 2: Blue Skies - The Choice of Colors in Your Airliner is No Accident.(Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com)
The brightness of a light is one of its most noticeable characteristics. Light brightness can be measured in lumens, lux, or candela; each has its own meaning. Lumens is the measure of the luminous flux, which is the total light output in all directions. Lumens can give a promising idea of how bright a light is, but more information can be needed to paint the whole picture. The next unit is lux, which is the amount of luminous flux received over a specific area. The actual units of measure for a lux are lumens per square meter. The final option is candela, which is the intensity of a beam of light. For example, if a one-lumen light is shined onto a square meter surface, giving a lux value of one, the beam of light would be one candela. Figure 3 below shows how all three relate to each other.
Figure 3: Lumen vs. Candela vs. Lux (Source: Any-Lamp.co.uk)
The most obvious way to use brightness in a design is to highlight an object or feature. By giving additional brightness to a certain area or object, attention can be drawn or averted. The primary purpose of factoring in brightness is typically to support the function of the device (e.g., a keypad backlight); it can also be used to improve the appearance of a device, such as a unique geometry.
Another aspect of lighting is uniformity. Uniformity is the measure of how similar light is across the illuminated area. When incorporating light into product design, the goal is to have the same amount of light showing consistently across the entire surface area where illumination is desired. If there are weak spots with less light output, this can negatively impact the user experience.
Why Aesthetic Lighting?
There are many advantages of applying aesthetic light to a product. As found by Kurosu and Kashimura, users perceive a more aesthetically pleasing product to be more functional than an unlit product with the same inherent functionality. This phenomenon is sometimes called the halo effect, where positive impressions of something positively affect other areas. What this means for a new product being designed is that by making it aesthetic, it can give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If this is tied to how a company incorporates its branding into a product, it can support improving brand recognition.
From a profitability standpoint, aesthetic lighting can give that extra touch to the product without incurring an inflated cost.
Additionally, the aesthetic touch does not have to be large or extravagant – sometimes, all it needs to be is a minor design aspect. This minor addition can be the difference in overall product success.
Lastly, aesthetic lighting can also help with the intuitiveness of the product. Adding that extra lighting feature may allow the users to better understand your product's features and how it works for improved functionality, making it easier to use overall.
Lighting is all around us and is a valuable tool in the medical industry. Finding new and innovative ways to incorporate light is one of the next challenges in today’s market. By taking aesthetic lighting into account in your product’s design, you can be better equipped to provide unique solutions that your customers will enjoy, which will benefit you overall.
Adam Haseley is an engineer who works with both the design and manufacturing engineering groups. Originally hired as a co-op while earning his degree in mechanical engineering from Cleveland State University, Adam joined as a full-time engineer after graduation and continues to innovate on lighting projects.
Matt Clements is an Engineering Manager, working at Lumitex for nearly 4 years. At Lumitex, Matt manages the project portfolio and runs some of the major projects in the NPD process. Matt graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in Biomedical Engineering and a minor in business.