Helping researchers to become
immersed in their workIX83 Inverted Research Microscope
FLUOVIEW FV3000 Confocal Laser Scanning Microscope

Confocal laser scanning microscopes are widely used in life sciences for drug development, exploring biological phenomena and many other purposes. The microscopes that are deployed in cutting-edge research laboratories must operate at peak levels of performance as well as be easy to use - requirements that are fully satisfied by the IX83 inverted research microscope and the FLUOVIEW FV3000 confocal laser scanning microscope. We are pleased to present the story behind the development of these state-of-the-art research tools, including the objectives and processes used to achieve their remarkable designs.

* The FLUOVIEW FV3000 was awarded the 2017 iF Design Award, one of the world's most prestigious design awards.

Visiting labs to learn about design needs

Olympus microscopes have a history spanning nearly 100 years. Since releasing the "Asahi" microscope in 1920, Olympus has introduced a broad range of microscopes, including laser scanning microscopes over the past three decades.
Over time, users have formed many notions of what microscopes are and what they should do. By carefully considering customer opinions communicated to the Olympus Customer Center, we produce designs that meet with great customer satisfaction. This also has the added economical benefit of allowing us to use past models as springboards leading to new designs.
But this was not true in the case of the IX83 and the FLUOVIEW FV3000 because the targeted designs differentiated so greatly from previous models. This is why it was so important for our designers and development and marketing team members to visit labs and learn all they could about design-related needs, especially problems that had not been apparent in the past. This same policy had been yielding positive results in the development of Olympus medical devices, but this was first time we fully employed it for microscope development.


Asahi launched in 1920


IX83 launched in 2012

Experiencing the Enthusiasm of Researchers

By visiting labs in Japan where cutting-edge research is conducted, our developers identified a number of design-related needs that they had never realized.
For example, researchers seek various kinds of images depending on their research, so they often must fit their microscopes with various attachments from Olympus, third parties, or even self-designed devices. In the case of confocal laser scanning microscopes, not only are numerous cables are required to connect the system, additional cables must be added to accommodate additional attachments. Consequently, our development team was surprised to learn about the genuine concern regarding tripping over cables in labs.


Cables make for precarious footing

Another discovery concerned ambient light. To observe proteins, researchers use confocal laser scanning microscopes to hit the protein with fluorescent light of a specific frequency and then observe the resulting light. Because a weak light is used, the observations must be performed in dark rooms, requiring researchers to do things like drape black matted cloth over their microscopes to block out unwanted light from adjacent monitors.
Observing such lab conditions enabled our team to identify important issues like these. In addition, seeing how researchers must resort to all kinds of ways to obtain their desired images also left a strong impression. Finally, the team recognized the importance of offering designs that allow researchers to immerse themselves in their work without having to spend time manipulating their equipment.

Expressing the Design Concept with Words

Before working on the actual design, the Olympus team endeavored to express the design concept in words. By clearly defining the design concept before sharing it with the development and marketing staff, it became possible to logically determine the most suitable designs from among numerous proposals.
The design was narrowed down to three concepts: 1) design as a tool that can be used easily, 2) design as a refined system, and 3) design as a new-generation Olympus product. Thereafter, specific goals for realizing these concepts were set.
Next, the design proposal was developed by a three-member team that included a young employee, a midlevel employee, and a veteran. Each member first came up with their own proposal and then the best proposal was selected and refined with others' ideas.
When multiple people work on a design proposal, it's common is to hold a competition and then adopt the best proposal. This time, however, the same issues were shared with all three team members, after which each one developed their own preliminary proposal and then bounced ideas off of each other before they developed a final joint proposal. This process helped to expand the breadth of the concept as well as incorporate others' ideas to produce the very best outcome.

Design Focused on Rigidity and Functionality

One of the key features of the new design is high rigidity. Since microscopes are designed for the observation of minute details, not even the slightest vibration is tolerable. Whereas the space under a microscope normally is recessed, like a desk, to accommodate the viewer's legs, the Olympus design features a solid, square shape (and other structural features) to ensure ample rigidity. In addition to design performance, the team also wanted the design to impart a visual image of rigidity to give researchers confidence and peace of mind. When a full-size styrene foam mockup was first created, the microscope looked delicate compared to the boxy unit installed behind it. Therefore, the frame was fitted with a covering to make the microscope look more solid and the corners of the rear unit were rounded off to make it look smaller and less imposing.


Full size mockup made with styrene foam


Rounded corners of rear unit

Another design feature is the use of vertical highlight lines for a simple, refined look when the unit is viewed from any direction, even when various attachments are connected.
Another key feature is the strategic positioning of specific functions on either the right or left side of the microscope body. During the lab visits, the Olympus team found that researchers spend surprisingly little time sitting in front of the microscope. First they place the item for observation in the microscope and then search for the specific location to be observed. Afterwards, however, they usually sit in front of the monitor to the right of the microscope. Accordingly, the right side of the microscope has a very clean design that is free of unnecessary objects to allow researchers to focus on their work, while cables and attachments are all concentrated on the left side.
The coloring is also tailored for labs. Black, the basic color, suppresses the diffused reflection of light when the room is dark. Black also makes the cables appear less conspicuous, which helps to reduce the conventionally messy image of such devices. A white scheme is adopted for portions operated by the researcher so that they are more noticeable in darkness.


Clean design on right side helps researchers focus on their work


Cables and attachments are all located on the left side

GUI Brightness Adjusted for Dark Rooms

The graphical user interface (GUI) of the software was updated, most notably in terms of screen brightness. When visiting labs, the team discovered that rooms are made darker than imagined, so to help researchers clearly see their target image, it became apparent that other parts of the screen had to be made significantly less bright compared to previous GUI designs.
The GUI includes a significant amount of onscreen text, so the screen was optimized by adjusting the brightness of the text, as well as the background, buttons, etc. When viewed in an ordinary room, the screen appears rather dark, but when viewed in a darkened room the brightness level is ideal.
Another GUI upgrade was the development of a harmonized and highly practical color scheme that can be easily used by a wide range of people. In the development process, for example, several people who were slightly color blind were asked to help test the system, which helped the team to select the most widely acceptable color scheme.

Software Graphical User Interface

Layout that is Easily Remembered

The functional layout of the GUI required the most trial and error. The FV3000 system uses a large 30-inch monitor, so initially the emphasis was placed on a layout that minimized the distance of mouse movements. Researchers demonstrated typical procedures that are used in research, based on which the team developed a layout for minimized mouse work.
When the proposed layout was tested, however, operations were not executed as smoothly as intended. It was learned that onscreen operations generally involve capturing images or applying imaging conditions. If the user cannot remember where these key operations are located in the GUI layout, their work cannot proceed smoothly no matter how closely buttons are arranged next to each other.
So rather than emphasizing shorter mouse movements, the final layout's organization is based on intuitively grouped operations.


Initial layout that emphasized short mouse movements


Final layout that emphasizes intuitive grouping of onscreen operations

Designs for a Better Future

Microscopes are used for diverse kinds of research, including, for example, searching for the cause of Alzheimer's disease and examining the mechanisms of cancer, efforts that are hoped to lead to the development of more effective drugs someday. As such, microscopes are valuable tools being used to advance society, so logically speaking their designs should project the image of a better future. But what is important is that the designs enable researchers to become more immersed in their work. Going forward, a key aim will be to design microscopes and software that are so easy to use that they appear to be seamless, and almost as if they were a direct extension of the researcher.
The goal of Olympus is to develop and refine such designs for the betterment of human society.

Microscopes are used for diverse kinds of research, including, for example, searching for the cause of Alzheimerfs disease and examining the mechanisms of cancer, efforts that are hoped to lead to the development of more effective drugs someday. As such, microscopes are valuable tools being used to advance society, so logically speaking their designs should project the image of a better future. But what is important is that the designs enable researchers to become more immersed in their work. Going forward, a key aim will be to design microscopes and software that are so easy to use that they appear to be seamless, and almost as if they were a direct extension of the researcher.<br> 
The goal of Olympus is to develop and refine such designs for the betterment of human society.