Kelly Umstead, IDSA

Kelly Umstead, IDSA
Assistant Professor of Industrial Design, North Carolina State University
2020 IDSA Young Educator Award Recipient 

In September 2017, Kelly Umstead, IDSA, assumed the position of chair of IDSA’s Medical Special Interest Section. The assistant professor of industrial design at North Carolina State University (NC State) has a vision. "I hope to continue building on the Medical Section's successes we've been seeing in the last few years with (IDSA Board of Directors Section Director and former Medical Section Chair) Sean Hägen," says Umstead. "It's also exciting to see the Medical Design Conference growing and becoming more dynamic. The next one, in spring 2018 in Boston, directly follows the HFES International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care—a topic interdependent with industrial design in the medical space." 

Umstead says design is a huge determinant in multiple aspects of medical devices from user and patient safety to compliance and improved outcomes. She says the IDSA Medical Section will continue to foster relationships in and out of IDSA—as medical design is an extremely interdisciplinary industry. "I look forward to being part of the Medical Section as we work to network across the complex healthcare ecosystems, create communities and share learnings."

Umstead’s professional experience is rooted in research. She began her career as an engineer with a focus on biomechanics and human movement with applications ranging from gait analysis and rehabilitation to sports science and aquatics. During the last 10 years, she worked as an industrial designer specializing in medical device design and product usability.

She offers three suggestions to aspiring medical designers:

  • Get familiar with the landscape: "Knowing the regulatory space and the path to market is critical to the success of medical design. It's important to understand how you are expected to conduct user testing and how your device may be reimbursable by insurance companies. As a designer, you may not be directly responsible for each of these aspects, but thoughtful consideration and planning may prevent future roadblocks."
  • Keep an open mind: Talking to the stakeholders within the space is always illuminating—from highly skilled surgeons to family caretakers who may have no medical training. "All perspectives are relevant and understanding them within the context of the user leads to well-informed and rich designs," says Umstead. "Get into the clinic or hospital whenever you can—to experience firsthand the various users and environments in which your design solutions will ultimately reside."
  • Remember the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is your friend: "The FDA may seem like an intimidating body to some. However, just like designers, they want their work to improve quality of life by ensuring the safety and efficacy of medical devices. Working with them along the way can help facilitate the process and pave the path to medical device success." 

Umstead earned her MID from NC State and her MS in biomedical engineering from Marquette University. At NC State, her research interests include healthcare, medical device development, user-centered design and design research methodologies. Umstead also serves as the faculty advisor to the NC State IDSA Student Chapter and is on the planning committee for IDSA's South District Design Conference 2018 to be held from March 23 to 24 at NC State in Raleigh.