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Industrial design: having an effect

Strategic design can have a positive impact on profitability and the company’s bottom line, according to the Norwegian Design Council. It has even created a new award called Design Effect – modelled after the British one – to recognize projects for their financial impact, part of the government’s Design Driven Innovation Program launched in 2009.

The Norwegian Design Council established a partnership with the Design Business Association in the UK, which has presented the Design Effectiveness Award for the past 20 years. The award is unique in that it measures the actual impact of a project’s design, measured in areas such as profitability, turnover, cost reduction, market share, attitudes and behaviour.

More than Just Shape & Colour
One of the 18 winners, Norwegian furniture company HÅG, won for its Conventio Wing chair designed by Peter Opsvik. The company was struggling to increase its sales of meeting room chairs and was meeting stiff competition in the European market for office furniture. The solution: it redesigned the HÅG Conventio chair with a winged back and seat and boosted its marginal income ratio and doubled sales.

“There is more to design than just shape and colour,” said Sylvia Brustad, then Norwegian Trade and Industry Minister at the launch of Design Effect. “It is about providing practical, user-friendly solutions which are adapted to the customer’s needs, making companies more competitive and increasing their opportunities for generating greater revenues.”

Design Effect is part of the Norwegian government’s Design Driven Innovation Program (DIP), whose purpose is to increase the degree of innovation in Norwegian firms. DIP focuses on capacity building and investments in the idea phase, based on user studies and design methodology.

DIP also includes two other projects: Design Pilot, which gives financial support to pilot projects, and Design Diagnosis, a national industry survey. According to Design Diagnosis 09 survey of 515 companies and organizations, two out three businesses that focused on design developed new products or services over the past three years.

“The study quantifies something we’ve said for years, namely that the more important role design plays in a company, the greater the chance that it develops new products and services, that profitability is increasing, and that new markets open up,” said Jan R. Stavik, Norwegian Design Council President, at the presentation of the Design Diagnosis 09 results.

© Lapskill Medical

Focusing on the User
There are many examples of Norwegian industrial designers who have been successful in strategic innovation through user studies and design methodology.

One example is 360 Grader Produktdesign, an Oslo-based industrial design firm. A few years back, doctors from Buskerud Hospital in Drammen came to them with a simple steel box and the idea for training medical students and surgeons on a small, hands-on device rather than expensive computer simulators, said Torgeir Hamsund, 360 Grader Chief Executive. The doctors wanted them to industrialize their idea so that it could be used for different purposes, such as threading through an obstacle course of holes or suturing together pieces of foam with laparoscopic tools.

Designers at 360 Grader spent nine months talking with doctors, and even viewing surgery procedures, to help design the perfect desktop training box for laparoscopic surgery. They were very dependent on getting the right feedback from doctors in order to make the right prototype. Together, they created a small, plastic laparoscopic training device for Lapskill Medical called D-Box. It can now be found in more than 20 hospitals throughout Norway and in hospitals and commercial health companies in more than 30 countries, including the US and Australia, according to Arild Hermansen, Lapskill Medical Managing Director.

“Today if you want to be competitive, you need leading industrial designers,” said Hamsund. “We’re not just shape. It’s ergonomics. Very often we do very early prototypes for field testing.”

“We are very market driven,” he added. “When we are designing, we are designing for the actual user. If (clients) are not selling their product, then someone is not doing their job properly. You have to be in tune with the market.”

Another example is K8 Industridesign. In 2009, the company won the Norwegian Design Council’s Award for Design Excellence in industrial design for ISIFLO Sprint, the first fully plastic pipe connection in the world based on a push-in principle.

Marius Andresen, K8 managing director, said Raufoss Water and Gas had been working on the push-in patent for 15 years. Suddenly there was a window of opportunity. The material strength had come far enough and the market for pipes had changed from brass to plastic. K8 worked with Raufoss for close to six months and came up with a basic exterior platform for the ISIFLO Sprint so that it would look trustworthy and solid, but also noteworthy. During the process, K8 analyzed the competition and oriented themselves about the ultimate users.

“What’s important here is who is the user,” said Andresen. “Ninety-nine percent are men. Is it going to be put in a box or in bulk on a shelf? It can’t be too feminine. We discussed these elements a lot. It has a roughness to it, but still looks very German and organized.”

The assembly components of the ISIFLO Sprint pipe connection were made so that they are easy to grip, even when wearing large gloves, and don’t require special tools. It can be assembled in seconds compared to other usual mechanical connections. Plus, it is made out a glass fibre composite that is stronger than ordinary plastic. This groundbreaking design has had a positive business impact for Raufoss, which plans to launch the new product toward the French and British markets.

K8 Industridesign won Award for Design Excellence 2009 in Industrial Design for its ISIFLO Sprint pipe connection.
© K8

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