Matt Marber

From Tufts to Product Design

Matt Marber, who recently completed an M.S. in Human Factors, researches medical device design.

By Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite
For Matt Marber, who graduated in 2017 with an M.S. in Human Factors from Tufts School of Engineering, working while completing a graduate degree was the perfect marriage of real-world and research experience.
The expanding field of human factors engineering centers on the interactions between humans and the world around them. Interdisciplinary researchers use computer science, kinesiology, psychology, and other fields to inform their studies of product design, human-computer interaction, and effective ergonomics. With a focus on safety and ease of use, human factors research plays a vital role in our changing relationships with our environments.
Marber’s interest in the ways humans interact with everyday objects started during his undergraduate studies at Tufts. “What drew me in most was that there are so many opportunities for improvement in this world, to make people’s lives easier through better design,” he says. 
After taking a Computer Interface Design course with Professor of the Practice Michael Wiklund, Marber was hooked; he got an internship with Wiklund’s consulting firm, UL-Wiklund, and has been working for the company as a Human Factors Specialist since completing his B.S. in Engineering Psychology in 2016.
Combining his practical experience at UL-Wiklund with his coursework in the M.S. program was a natural fit for Marber, who credits his academic education with helping him improve his skills on the job. “I was able to learn so much more about what my job is, through class,” he says. 
For his M.S. degree, Marber researched use-related errors in home health care devices, like inhalers, pumps, and injection devices. Working with his colleagues at UL-Wiklund, he was able to evaluate the use-related risk of using these home healthcare devices. 

Learn more about the Tufts M.S. program in Human Factors.


Understanding through education

To best approximate real-world situations that would influence device use, the researchers and their colleagues evaluated the home health care devices using realistic scenarios for study participants in a safe environment. 
“In every case, we wanted to know: what might have led the user to commit the error?” says Marber. The most common errors occurred when users were preparing the devices for use. For example, many people didn’t inspect injection devices for fluid clarity, cracks, or damage. Some did not follow guidelines for filling a pump or experienced difficulty with self-injections. Errors also occurred in proper disposal after using a device. 
Once the devices were tested with participants, Marber could better understand the root causes of the errors, such as unclear wording on a package or a user relying on previous experience with a similar device. “The process is about finding areas for improvement in the device, not blaming the user for their error,” he says. 
Possible solutions to mitigate design shortcomings range from making numbers bigger on a pen-injector’s dose counter, to creating an autoinjector that is easier to grip. In all cases, it’s important for researchers to keep users at the forefront when developing products. “We should try to better understand where our patients are coming from and how they might apply their knowledge to a new injection device,” Marber says.
Learning how to develop products and test them in real-life situations is imperative to designing safe and effective tools for home health care and beyond. For Marber, iteratively working with people and prototypes in tandem is part of the process of creating the most effective designs. Even something as simple as an instruction manual can be improved based on testing and analysis of human factors.  
Marber presented his project in March at the International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care in New Orleans and is looking forward to taking his work forward. He’s hoping medical manufacturers will take notice of the findings in his presentation. 
“Human factors tends to understand the majority of users, but forget there are people with different abilities who will interact with product differently,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for future research.”