Geoffrey W. Brown
Human Centered Designer

Case study

Life Technologies

IDEO helped design a more transparent genomic sequencer.

Design consultant
Research, client engagement, interaction design, interface design

My work at IDEO crossed a lot of different domains. One month I’d be working on designing future user interfaces for large Taiwanese consumer electronics companies, and the next I’d be working on educating young adults about student loans with the federal government of the United States. As a designer, this type of variety was as incredible as it was challenging; I was constantly on my toes, and pushing my skill set in new directions. One particularly compelling domain that I had the opportunity to dive into was medical technology.

Life Technologies, a biotech firm based in Carlsbad, California had a long-term relationship with IDEO before it was acquired (and later retired) by Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2014. In 2010, Life Tech approached IDEO to help them design for recent technological breakthroughs that dramatically increased the level of transparency that a sequencing technician receives when performing a run, while simultaneously significantly lowering the cost of sequencing. I had the chance to help design the interface for what would ultimately become the Solid PI 5500 sequencer. I had the chance to work with an absolutely incredible team of IDEO designers over the course of 5+ months in a project room in San Francisco. We began the process by conducting significant research that took us to DNA sequencing labs all across the USA, and wrapped by working with Life Technologies engineers to shepherd the design to implementation.

Video walk through

Wrap up

The screens that you see above are representative samples of the interface that shipped with the Solid PI 5500. The main advances revolved around transparency in run monitoring. Technicians now had more insight into what was happening during their run, and had the ability to fix and resolve issues without the need for aborting the run entirely. Scientists could quickly see problem areas, and investigate the issues in real-time. This ability sped up run procedures, and drastically lowered costs. The Solid PI 5500 also provided technicians with more insight into machine performance and uptime, which streamlined the servicing process.

I learned an incredible amount during this project. A human-centered approach allowed me and the rest of the design team to quickly get up to speed with the aspects of the science that we needed to understand in order to design a system that helps support such important and complicated work. I’m proud that this work ultimately shipped, and afterwords, I became somewhat addicted to the feeling of working on ambitious, challenging design systems.

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