Protein Lab Product Ecosystem 

Thermo Fisher Scientific:
Various Projects

Developing new tools to speed up and simplify protein science.

The Challenge

Successfully launch products within an organization new to both physical or digital products before.

Improve a 50-year old lab experiment that demanded far too much valuable time from scientists and lab technicians. 

My Role

I was a client facing design consultant for PDT, working with various levels of stakeholders and subject matter experts.

For the development projects, I led experience design as a UX team of one. I collaborated with industrial designers, mechanical and electrical engineers. I worked with my Ukrainian development team.

For the discovery effort, I co-lead the US research and lead the synthesis and concepting work.

Thermo Fisher Scientific is a massive science tech organization. Their core business supports protein science, focusing on general experiments that protein labs run frequently. I worked with them for several years to develop products supporting the Western Blot—the most common protein science experiment that determines the molecular weight, and quantity of proteins, in a compound.

The customer experience was a knotty problem. The experiment in question hadn’t changed in decades. It bears a likeness to darkroom photography, being a long, laborious process of finicky steps. A robust solution to this problem would require some deep thinking, and was investigated during a 6-week field discovery effort which I describe below.

We needed to expand the definition of product for the client. Formerly, their business focused primarily on experiment chemicals and other consumables. They were dominant in this area, but their brand was exposed to competitors developing physical and digital products.

First, we focused on what we could improve, not disrupt. We aimed to launch some “starter” products to make specific procedures easier and more connected. We identified three areas where a better product could help. There are numerous significant steps in the Western Blot process; We focused on three where we felt improvements would have an impact. We began work on the following:

Pierce Power Station: A small device that transfers a wet experiment gel to film. This replaced another container device while removed the need for a separate power supply product.

myECL Imager: A countertop kiosk that captures an image of the film from the previous step. Both of these physical products were designed to be used as communal devices within the lab, while still allowing lab workers the ability to save and customize their work and methods.

myImageAnalsis: PC software that converts the image into data for analysis. The white blots in this image are the actual experiment data. The software allowed for the “art” of manual analysis, while also providing “easy” computer vision by algorithm.

I worked iteratively on the screens for these products. Since I was learning how the science worked while I was exploring designs, I made heavy use of the client subject matter experts. When I had a new version of a design, I talked it through with the client. I corrected my work until it was accurate and usable, then worked with developers to see the vision implemented.

Screen architecture of the power station.

With these projects underway, it was time to rethink the lab. We kicked off a full discovery project. Stepping away from projects allowed us to understand the space better. It helped improve the product in development and provided the ability to explore longer-term strategy.

Discovery took the team far and wide. We conducted a great deal of field research in protein science labs across the US, in addition to time working in the client’s test lab in Rockford and partner labs in Chicago. These visits provided opportunities to see lab work done in the real world, and to observe the environmental and cultural factors that make labs different from each other.

A product conceptualization phase followed the field efforts. We were using generative research to plot a course for the future. The design team (chiefly the industrial designer and myself) worked in a war room, generating numerous ideas to navigating the problem space and competitive products. These sketches coalesced into themes, each an area for future product exploration.

Product concept sketches: all-in-one devices and consumable experiments. I designed the content of the screens, while collaborating with and loosely directing an industrial designer.

A concept that replaces a complex screen interaction with a simpler one that would connect directly to an experiment vessel.

The discovery effort helped Thermo see the lab science market through their customer’s eyes. There were two main lessons: First, they validated the need to support the low-end market with good product. Secondly, they took notice of large high-end labs who were making capital investments in innovative new products that abandoned the standard experiment model.

This engagement resulted in the successful launch of the two physical products and analysis software.

The product of the research and conceptualization effort was shared with the client’s leadership; Thermo has since initiated an aggressive strategy to acquire any relevant competitors while developing its own product organization.

all work © will capellaro and clients