Inspiration can be a tricky beast in industrial design. It can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that most design innovation has already happened, particularly when the project is a redesign of a pre-existing product. Most projects won't end up being a category game changer like the iPod or the Tesla. Oftentimes what we do as designers is evolution, not revolution. Experience working on many ID redesign projects has taught there is always room for improvement. The road to long-term product success is an ongoing journey of refinement. The designer's job is to discover those improvements which add value for both the client and the end user. It doesn't matter how big or small the project or product, the process is identical: focus on the projects in front of you and apply the same care, attention and human-centered collaborative approach - because that's where inspiration will reveal itself. The process is where the magic happens…
When Smart Design was asked to redesign OXO's Good Grips Expandable On-the-Wall Organizer, I was acutely aware that we were potentially messing with a winning formula. The On-the-Wall Organizer is a handy hook-based storage unit with, on the face of it, very little room for improvement. It's designed to disappear. This brief didn't require me to start from scratch - my job was to reimagine the On-the-Wall Organizer, whilst honoring the design/ers that came before me. OXO's Good Grips range has been a best-selling, award-winning member of the Smart Design family for over 30 years.
No pressure, then...
A product's journey from design brief to users' homes is a long, labor-intensive process - typically 2-3 years from project kick-off to launch. It's inherently risky with considerable up-front costs set against the hoped-for future return. There's a lot riding on getting it right the first time around, especially when getting it wrong can be fatal, as Toyota and Samsung both know to their (multi-million $) cost.
So, apart from trying not to set anybody on fire, how do you approach a brief when you're asked to redesign an already successful product? Firstly, you need to understand the motivations behind the redesign request:
- Have competitors started to eat into their market share?
- Are there performance improvements that can be made?
- Have consumers' tastes changed? Where does the product now sit within current trends?
- Are there opportunities for cost reduction?
Is there a more sustainable/repairable iteration that chimes with the movement away from disposable products? With the US now following the EU in considering Right to Repair legislation, can the ability to prolong the life of the product be designed in?
In the case of the Expandable On-the-Wall Organizer, the makeover had a more prosaic reason: the current stock in the warehouse was running out and OXO wanted to move manufacturing to a different factory. The product would need to be retooled, so it was a perfect opportunity to take another look. Upgrades in industrial design can be found in materials and manufacturing processes - but it's crucial to at least maintain, or better yet, improve UX. There's a long and ignominious history of customers rejecting relaunched favourites (something the Apple Podcast App is currently white knuckling through).
All design decisions at Smart stem from the fundamental principle: 'If we can't make something we think is better, we won't make it' - useful to bear in mind whilst navigating between the various stakeholders in the development process. The designer is the intermediary between the client and end user - and between those two points are many conversations and crucial collaborations with researchers, engineers, materials suppliers, product managers, marketing and finance departments.
Research - the R in R&D - is a key element in any redesign. With digital product development, feedback and iteration upgrades are built in via A/B testing and data tracking. For industrial designers, along with traditional consumer research, Amazon is a useful crowdsourcing tool. As a seller, you have access to purchase data, whilst public product reviews contain lots of insights (providing you avoid the fakes). You can quickly ascertain what are the common pain points that come up and what are the features that people really love. We soon discovered some people were having trouble getting the On-the-Wall Organizer on the, err, wall. The DIY aspect of the installation process was a challenge for a number of end users.
"At OXO, product performance is paramount; second to that is the durable, inclusive design that people across the globe can hold onto for years to come. Our work with Smart Design has helped to set the tone of our design approach - identifying pain points and anticipating consumer needs - all of which came to life in the redesign of the Expandable On-the-Wall Organizer."
— Troy Phipps, Category Director at OXO
Although installation issues weren't the initial reason for the redesign, it always came up in conversation during the R&D phase, along with potential cost savings. These savings considerations soon became part of the sustainability conversation. Could designing in sustainability be a chance to do better UX? How can we design a product that people won't want (or worse - need) to throw away? CPG companies have been reducing materials for a while now with products like the super flimsy water bottles, while some cosmetics brands are moving into 100% recyclable aluminum casings. Where do OXO's brand values sit on the cost reduction vs durability axis? (clue: not with the flimsy materials)
OXO's Expandable On-the-Wall Organizer - the final product
The wall-mounted organizer consists of an aluminum rail that attaches to the wall. Plastic cleats and hooks slide along the rail, which you hang brushes, mops and dustpans (or backpacks and dog leads) on. We decided to mount the cleats within an internal channel (instead of having the cleats clip over the top of the aluminum, as with the original design). By exposing the aluminum rail, and providing a small spirit level, we made the product feel more premium and therefore less disposable. In the end, we managed to solve the UX feedback issue and simultaneously cut costs by simplifying the mounting process.
There are many different metrics to success that designers need to be aware of, from sales numbers to the environment, and the needs of the end user. The best thing that you can do as a designer is to seek to understand what is important to who and why. By starting off thinking about improving the core functionality of the On-the-Wall organizer we ended up winning a Product Award from the IF World Design Guide. It was incredibly satisfying to know our innovation had solved a deeply basic human problem - as basic as being able to customize the amount of space between the dustpan and the mop. Looking back, this project turned out to be a prime example of how our human-centered process generates inspiration - and innovation.
No doubt, there will be further iterations of this product. I look forward to seeing what the next designer does with it—who knows, maybe it could be you?
Over the last decade Will has worked as strategic industrial designer for internationally renowned design consultancies in London and New York City.
His broad skill set has allowed him to explore many diverse facets of the discipline, and he’s applied his knowledge to a broad range of clients in CPG, Housewares, Consumer Electronics, Mobility and footwear. Most recently he featured on BBC2 design docuseries, The Big Life Fix.