development of life sciences
Cell analyzers are widely used in research fields such as immunology, oncology and regenerative medicine for purposes that include drug development and investigating the causes of disease. The ID7000 is a spectral cell analyzer that incorporates Sony’s novel spectral technology to achieve state-of-the-art streamlined multicolor cell analysis with over 44 colors, helping to accelerate the development of life sciences. The members of the ID7000 development team discuss the ideas and design history that went into delivering Sony's cutting-edge technologies to researchers all around the world.
Sony Creative Center
Project Manager &
Sony Imaging Products & Solutions Inc.
Sony Creative Center
Sony Creative Center
Satisfying the life science researchers
who tackle the unknown
Cell analyzers use lasers and fluorochromes to analyze the special characteristics of cells at high speed. What is the background behind the development of the ID7000, which features 7 laser units and is capable of streamlined multicolor cell analysis with over 44 colors?
FutamuraCell analyzers are indispensable devices for research in fields like regenerative medicine and cancer treatment. In recent years, however, research has started on a possible new cancer treatment known as cancer immunotherapy, and in order to understand the role the immune system plays in cancer and its complex mechanisms, more and more people are seeking ways to study immune cells and cancer cells in an all-encompassing way with even higher levels of precision. The ID7000 was designed to satisfy these desires with world-class cell analysis functionality. On one hand, we incorporated technological development capable of obtaining more comprehensive cell information. At the same time, we involved designers in the project right from the start and tasked them with creating a design that possessed the flair expected of a flagship while also being user-friendly for researchers.
TakahashiWhen it comes to designs for cell analyzers and other devices in the fields of life sciences and medical care, our first thought is delivering tools for professional use. These fields play an immense role in society that often involves human lives, and because of that we prioritize certainty above all else. However, since these devices are highly specialized and we cannot fully place ourselves in the user's position in these fields, it is essential for us to study the workplace where they are used and understand them thoroughly. We must carefully observe who uses the devices, where and how, and constantly aim to produce designs that are reliable and easy to use and have no unnecessary functions.
We also paid attention to establishing a design identity for Sony's collection of life science products. We wanted to make Sony's products immediately distinguishable in laboratories filled with a wide variety of devices. To do that, we chose a basic underlying tone of black and silver throughout the lineup, symbolizing what Sony stands for and combining manufacturability with rationality. When designing the ID7000, we carried that design identity over while also applying lessons learned from research laboratories. Furthermore, we also tried a new design approach aimed at creating the ultimate model that would stimulate the spirit of challenge in researchers.
Doing everything possible to
help research progress
One of the core technologies that make the ID7000's streamlined multicolor cell analysis possible is the laser unit that can handle up to 7 lasers. The key point behind the product design was making this cutting-edge technology visible.
Hakoda"What kind of design would stimulate a researcher's spirit of challenge?" As we pondered answers to that question, we came up with the idea of visualizing the 7 laser units that form the cornerstone of the ID7000's performance. These laser units can be increased or decreased depending on the subject of research. The higher the number of lasers, the greater the sophistication of the cell analysis possible. The number of laser units can be said to represent the difficulty of the research, and thus we thought that vizualizing this number would help show that leading edge research was being carried out.
The issue was how to visualize it. We considered a variety of methods such as having a simulated digital display on the front of the machine, but none of these ideas satisfied us. After much deliberation, we decided that the most persuasive kind of design would be a straightforward approach that simply showed that there were laser units inside the machine. We came up with the design idea of applying colored stickers to each laser unit that matched the colors of their wavelengths and then created a slit window at the corresponding section of the exterior that would allow users to see the colors inside. Additionally, by putting a diagonal cut on the left side of the machine, we made it possible to see the colors from the front as well. Applying this method to the laser units inside the machine was quite challenging for the engineers, but they were able to achieve it somehow in response to our request.
TakahashiThis design that visualizes the laser units brilliantly fulfilled the tough task we had of stirring up a spirit of challenge. It also conveyed the desire of the development team to leverage Sony's technology to support the researchers bravely exploring the tiny worlds of cells. Telling a story through a product in this way is what Sony design is all about.
HakodaAdditionally, we collected information from laboratories and seriously applied the comments and opinions of the researchers to arrive at the overall design. Since the ID7000 aims to be a world-class cell analyzer, it contains a maximum of 7 laser units and 186 detectors as well as the large power supply needed to make them work, all of which make a large body unavoidable. In addition to ensuring that the device could be placed in the limited space available in a laboratory, we also used 3mm thick aluminum material to give the exterior the consistency needed to support a large machine and to give the machine disinfectability capable of withstanding the powerful sterilization carried out in laboratories. We also discovered that many laboratories place devices on the left side and the PCs that show analysis information on the right side, so we arranged the control section to make the machine easy to use in such conditions. Moreover, we made the operation and display sections black and made the rest silver, bringing out the natural feel of the aluminum material. This allowed us to follow the design identity while simultaneously making the machine easy for even first-time installers to use.
The part of this design process that gave us the most trouble was the layout of the ventilation flow line to prevent the device from reaching high temperatures. Past models had exhaust vents on the back of the machine, but since the ID7000 is large, we were requested to design a device capable of being installed with its back against a wall, meaning it needed to be designed without rear vents. We created a flow line whereby the machine would take in air from the front and right side and then vent it out from the left. This way, it would not interfere with the work of researchers, which tends to take place on the right side of the device. The issue with this design was that it meant that the front of the machine—the face of the ID7000—would have intake ports on it. That being the case, we decided to incorporate those ports into the design. While paying attention to the size of the intake openings, we created sharp slits from aluminum which served to accent the model. In this way, we managed to increase the level of perfection of the design while taking the requirements of the laboratories into account.
FutamuraWhen I saw Hakoda's proposed product design, I realized that even the fine details had been carefully considered and that it truly had the air of a flagship model. What I personally liked the most were the slit intake ports in front. Due to its specifications, the ID7000 is long horizontally, but the slits combine practicality with design flair and manage to moderate that long look. The thorough pursuit of simplicity in the modeling with functional meaning built into the details is highly appropriate for the ID7000, in my opinion.
(Left photo) The ventilation flow line that does not affect the researchers' work
(Right photo) The slit intake ports in the middle of the front which serve as an accent for the model
(Photo above) The ventilation flow line that does not affect the researchers' work
(Photo below) The slit intake ports in the middle of the front which serve as an accent for the model
How to convey a vast amount of cell information in
an easily-understood manner
The cell information analyzed by the ID7000 is displayed on a dedicated PC application. This project needed a user interface (UI) design that would organize and display vast amounts of information in a way that researchers could easily understand.
TateishiThe most important thing in Sony’s cell analyzer UI design is for researchers to be able to use it more efficiently and more reliably. That is why we design the UI screen based on researchers' work flow. In practice, this means that we place the necessary functions in tabs to match the actual work flow processes of Quality Control, Preparation, Acquisition and Analysis so that users are able to use the machine naturally just by operating the tabs in sequential order. Although the ID7000 carried over this UI, we studied the original elements closely and found points that needed improvement.
The appearance of the Quality Control and other tabs was one such example. Until now, it looked as if the tabs were under the menu at the top of the screen, but in practice the tabs were actually above them. So we considered creating a UI where the menu switches out to match the tabs. We also revised the icons in the menu. In the past, icons were added whenever functions increased, so they began to lack consistency. To fix that, we created rules for creation and recreated them with a consistency that applied not only to their appearance but also to their meanings. We made several such small improvements from a usability perspective.
FutamuraTo tell the truth, the members of the team, including those in charge of marketing, held many debates over Tateishi's proposed changes to the tabs. Many words of caution were raised, making it hard to come to a final decision. At that time, Tateishi spoke up from her point of view as a UI professional, saying that this was the right move to make to improve user-friendliness. That proved to be the final push we needed, and in the end I believe we were able to evolve the UI into something even easier to understand.
(Left photo) Improved tab navigation that makes it easier to understand their relationship to the menu
(Right photo) Easily-comparable graphical display of the 7 lasers created after repeated discussion
ID7000 icons improved with new creation rules
TateishiWith the ID7000, the biggest issue was how to display the information obtained by the 7 lasers, the newest feature. Researchers told us they wanted to be able to accurately compare the data obtained by the 7 lasers, so we tried to find a way to display the new ribbon plot (graph). Instead of simply lining up 7 graphs, we simulated a variety of patterns such as placing graphs side by side with thick lines or leaving spaces between them. We also carefully considered where to place the title of each graph, getting team members who were familiar with research laboratories to check prototypes until we were sure we had arrived at a graph display method that made comparisons easy.
In addition, we tried to improve the efficiency of research work by, for example, carefully updating the placement of gradations from an academic standpoint so that graphs could be used as-is in academic papers. For this project, as we worked on all the designs, we endeavored not only to familiarize ourselves with laboratories but also to listen to what researchers had to say, and then to go beyond that to try and grasp latent, unseen needs as well. In order to discover various possibilities, we created UI prototypes to serve as topics of discussion. We showed them to experienced members of the development team to get their feedback, which we incorporated into the project. By repeating that process, we sought to create the kind of UI that would let researchers focus on their work.
TakahashiWhen designing UI for general consumer products, we tend to emphasize intuitive controls. In the life sciences, however, we focus on certainty. While following the design theory for that field, Tateishi also used her experience in consumer product UI design, which is all about increasing user-friendliness, to offer a variety of proposals. I believe her ideas will make it easy for even first-time users of cell analyzers to use the ID7000.
Continuously learning from
laboratories to help develop life sciences
ID7000 was exhibited at the 34th Congress of the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry (CYTO 2019) in June 2019. How was it received? And what views do the team members have of the life science market in the future?
FutamuraWe held a demonstration with a prototype of the ID7000 at CYTO 2019 and received many reactions, inquiries and orders from a large number of researchers so I am keenly aware that there are a lot of expectations for the ID7000. Right now, there is a rapidly growing amount of collaborative research being carried out on a global scale, so in the future I predict greater demand for cell analyzers that have more advanced analytical functions as well as ease of use for people all around the world. When that happens, Sony will play a big role thanks to one of the strengths it has cultivated in consumer-oriented fields, namely knowhow and technology about user-friendliness and convenience. Furthermore, my personal goal is to continue being an existence that supports researchers. While keeping a constant grasp of cutting-edge information from sources such as academic papers published around the world, it is important for me to draw out what researchers want through direct conversations and then work together with engineers and designers to turn them into our future products.
TakahashiRight now, Sony has set "getting closer to people" as its management approach, and under that umbrella, it aims to "contribute to society through the delivery of safety, health and reliability" in the fields of life science and medical care. For our part, we would like to use the power of design to contribute as much as possible to the fulfillment of these goals. In order to do that, I believe it is important for us to remain professionals in the field of design even as we continue to study situations where our devices are used. I say that because I think that blending the different viewpoints of product planners, engineers and designers is what serves as the trigger for new creation. Going forward, I want to include researchers outside the company in order to create social value through diversity-driven development. With that, I am confident that Sony's life science businesses will be able to meet and exceed expectations in the coming years.
The ID7000 cell analyzer features state-of-the-art streamlined multicolor cell analysis with over 44 colors.
Sony Creative Center will continue to turn the desires of
researchers into reality through design and support the further development of the life sciences.