Bodypoint wanted to develop a new Push-Button Buckle, a product which would:
– Replace one or more of their existing off-the-shelf buckles from their OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture) supplier.
– Differentiate Bodypoint from the rest of the ubiquitous style on the market, and avoid erosion of sales due to increasing number of competitors offering similar-looking products.
– Be of higher quality and have a more desirable appearance and increased function (thinner, smaller, lighter,more reliable, etc)
– Reduce manufacturing costs. This could include a reduction in material or part costs, as well as the time required to handle products and to ensure customers do not receive faulty buckles.
– The design should visually fit into their existing line of products (Cinch-Mount™ Fitting and Rehab Latch™ Buckle) and brand (professional, high quality and innovative).
– To design a product that is visually appealing to the target market. It was important to discern in the research phase if a unique or new aesthetic would be appealing, or if the existing aesthetic look is so ingrained that only an evolutionary change would be accepted.
– Ease of use is a critical element. Given the range of users, determining the usability needs was one of the key focuses in the research.
– The design needs to be cost effective to fabricate.
Bodypoint was open to suggestions on material. From past experience they provided the following input:
– Plastic: the housing material is typically plastic because of the integral color. When Bodypoint explored materials like anodized aluminum, the wear began to show quickly.
– Stainless Steel: It is essential that the base frame and tongue be made of stainless steel or plated steel. This is to comply with the legal requirements in certain markets, as well as the perception of ‘strength’.
Features & Functions
– Push Button: Tongue to be released by activating push button. Requirements include:
– Buckle release force (or other method) must be adjustable to allow for:
1) Easy release by independent users and weak caregivers (low release force)
2) Harder to release for users with spasticity to prevent accidental release (higher release force)
– For optimal security, an optional safety feature must be able to be added/incorporated which requires a small pen tip to release (cannot be released by a finger).
– Button must be recessed for safety, so it cannot be accidentally pressed.
– The size of the opening also affects safety and accidental activations. This should be an element in the research.
– Spring Eject: The ejection spring should automatically eject the tongue when button is pressed. Malfunctioning or breaking ejection springs is a key problem in existing and past products. If this part was not needed or a more reliable solution could be identified, cost and failure rate could be reduced.
This was a key element in the research phase.
– Lightweight and low profile, more compact and lighter than current popular automotive-style push-button buckles. Target is 20 – 30%.
– Webbing slot must be full width to preclude need for pleating.
– Building on existing parts (like using tongue for the Rehab Latch™) would be beneficial and simplify development and inventory.
Research was the biggest aspect of the project. Bodypoint wanted to have an unbiased team that had research experience with user groups, and could provide insightful and unbiased assessments and recommendations.
As always, the goal of our discovery phase is to become intimate with the user and empathetic to their feelings, needs, situation and desires. What are the challenges they face each day, what are their biggest burdens, what features or functions are most important to them, what excites them, and what would make the product or process easier for them? From this intimate and personal perspective, we gained their input and insight that enables the design team to innovate and develop products/experiences that will enhance the users’ lives.
Good user research is not a questionnaire that asks the customers what the solution is – that is the designer’s job. It’s a tool and process for developing empathy. It is about immersing the design team in their world, and becoming them. You come out of the research feeling like a different person, with new insights on their world. Without this insight, we are only working from our own limited perspectives – and we are typically not the target audience.
Who should participate in the research? All the stakeholders – anyone involved in using, assisting, buying, specifying, installing and maintaining these products. This included:
1. Distributors: They stock and resell the product
2. Wheelchair Manufacturers: They might specify the belt for OEM purchases
3. Therapists: They know the type of product they need to solve a problem and sometimes even the brand and model number
4. Technicians/Dealers: They have the shops that stock and install the products
5. Caregivers: They assist users and are not typically knowledgeable about product details nor are directly involved in choosing the product. They want whatever makes their lives easier.
6. Users: Use the product but have little, or no direct say in the product that is chosen for them.
The first step is to develop the Research Interview Guide (RIG). This document is like a questionnaire, but it is not given to the participants to fill out. This is a document that is only used by the team to guide them through the process and provide a good template for recording information and observations. It ensures all the key issues are covered in the “observational interview” process. Ideally, all the interviews are done in person and in situ. This allows the team to not only hear what the users are saying, but also to observe and understand the entire use-cycle and the greater environment the product is in. By being involved in this process, the design team becomes intimate, engaged, and is able to see nuances, as well as gain a passion for the problem that could never be obtained with a verbal briefing, or by reading a report.
An analysis process starts after the first interview and carries on throughout the entire research phase during which the designers are constantly looking for insights, patterns and ideas. Key information and observations from the research, as well as a proposed strategy for moving forward are visually presented on a concise, single-page Summary Board. This would include a recommended list of proposed Features and Functions, a proposed Visual Language Strategy (what the product should visually look like to appeal to the target audience), common and key comments on existing products, the stakeholders’ top priorities, and possible ideas the stakeholders have thought of or actually implemented to improve their existing products.
Good research reduces the concept exploration phase by providing a clear insight and direction. One of the key ideas that came from the research was the idea of using different size button openings to address the use requirements. This was accomplished by creating a modular buckle, having a common metal base frame which accepts a range of different plastic snap-fit covers (pat. pending). This included:
– Standard Cover has a large opening (22mm): Used for easy release by independent users and weak caregivers (typically achieved by low release force)
– Reduced Access Cover has a smaller opening (14mm): For users with spasticity to prevent accidental release (typically achieved by high release force)
– Security Cover has an extra small opening (6mm for release by pen tip): For situations where you need to ensure there are no accidental release.
This option builds on their existing buckle security cover feature while integrating it more into the product. This multi-size hole approach solution replaced the typical approach of having multiple spring forces, and therefore multiple buckles. It enables a simplification of the product – different buckles and different mechanical springs could be replaced by one mechanism with interchangeable covers. This solution also allows for a reduction in inventory and these covers can be easily changed by installer to meet users’ needs.
Visually, the buckles need to build on the company’s existing Visual Brand Language that we started when we designed the Cinch-Mount™ fitting which has been carried through on the Rehab Latch™ Buckle developed by Bodypoint.
Working closely with Bodypoint, the visual design was a collaborative process. Concepts, illustrations and engineering files were passed back and forth and discussed. The key goals were:
– Small and low profile, not like the big, bulky and chunky seat belt buckles that Bodypoint and the rest of the industry were using.
– Friendly and simple – integrating the length adjustment feature and mechanism into the buckle.
Working collaboratively with Bodypoint, they took the lead in the development process – taking our ideas on function and form, exploring an innovative mechanism, assembly and materials. Bodypoint developed a final design that:
1. Minimized Parts:
– A single mechanism was developed that could be used for both the 1.5″ and 2″ webbing and buckles
– The three different hole sizes were accomplished by having a common metal base mechanism with three covers that could be easily changed by the dealers and installer with a tool (but not easily by the user)
2. The mechanism replaced the flimsy ejection spring, that typically caused the most failure issues, with a more robust solution.
Once we had prototypes of the proposed design, we went out to stakeholders again for additional feedback on the proposed design. Feedback was very positive on the smaller size, lower profile and the non-automotive look.
“White Box Design collaborated with Bodypoint on the Push-Button Buckle, both in research and development to ensure that the final design met or exceeded the expectations of our customers around the world. White Box’s involvement in the project enabled a thorough assessment of our client’s needs, as well as the opinions of our customers and partners in the marketplace. White Box was instrumental in helping us evaluate design directions for various buckles, especially as we honed in on the final user details and the appearance of the plastic housing.
One year after it’s release, I can safely say that we not only met our design and cost goals, the new patented design has been universally accepted by our customers: no complaints, no failures…nothing but praise for making their lives easier. It has been a huge success.”
– Matthew Kosh, Co-Founder & Vice-President