Designing safety products

Why innovation is a subjective concept


Senior Experience Designer @ Honeywell, delivering industrial safety and productivity solutions. My opinions are my own.


Driven dizzy by demand

In a world where consumers demand the ‘future’ annually, the pressure for companies such as Google and Apple to constantly innovate is huge. The irony is, in many recent cases, consumers don’t know what they want from innovation, but they most definitely expect it. Whether it be software, or hardware, over recent years advancements in technology have plateaued. I would also suggest that many emerging ‘features’ are not decided by the needs of customers, but because there is very little else accessible/affordable technologies will currently allow.

Whether it be software, or hardware, over recent years advancements in technology have plateaued

Industrial seat belt

This mentality doesn’t exist when designing and developing industrial safety products. The main objective is to keep employees, contractors and freelancers as safe as they possibly can be. That goal outweighs any advancements in technology, unless there are tangible benefits, whilst retaining (or advancing) safety objectives.

Imagine a world where experience and design are controlled by the following restrictions, conditions and requirements (to list a few):

  • Blind interaction
  • TFT screen — no touch capability
  • Physical single-button interaction
  • Long battery life (months/years, not days)
  • No connectivity due to environment (underground, sewers…)
  • No connected mobile device unless intrinsically safe (explosive, nuclear…)
  • 128x64px monochrome screen due to restriction in voltage
  • Food industry requires blue product
  • Easy-to-service on-site
  • 5+ years operational life
  • Designed for gloved use
  • Robust and rugged, yet lightweight
  • Meet global/regional safety certification
  • Army and police require black product

As you can see, the variety of requirements is a challenge across all facets of the design process. Whether it be ID, UxD, IxD, or UI, the need for collaboration with engineering and marketing is essential.

Meeting demand

Imagine waiting five years for the next iPhone! In fact, that’s exactly how Apple used to launch desktop products, they waited until hardware/software was available that rendered purchases a ‘must’, rather than a ‘skip’. Their model completely changed after the birth of iMac and iPod because consumers began to demand ‘more’ with shorter intervals. Once the precedent is set, it’s extremely hard to rollback.

The main objective is to keep employees and individual workers as safe as they possibly can be

The industrial sector also have their demands, but very rarely concentrate on the aesthetics. Waterproofing to IP67 has been a requirement for almost a decade, whilst regional certification stipulates attention-to-detail throughout the engineering and design process. The ability to ‘wow’ is a much tougher gig when there isn’t an expectation, nor an end-user need. If a product does the job it’s supposed to do and keeps its user safe, why change it?

So, how do we innovate?

‘Innovation’ is a subjective concept, it could be physical, functional or technical. ‘Step’ changes can make a huge difference, with a ‘leap’ potentially alienating the target market.

The key is qualitative OVOC data — ‘Observational’ being the objective. Getting under the skin of stakeholders’ daily activities (Six-Sigma Gemba walk and user journey mapping) presents the opportunity to question and validate action and emotion. In many industrial sectors the environment dictates how an end-user performs their daily tasks which, from a UX perspective, is enlightening and harvests empathy.

‘Step’ changes can make a huge difference, with a ‘leap’ potentially alienating the target market

Customer needs drive expectations, and expectations drive innovation. If we fail to meet core customer needs, the success of a product will be affected, as there will be a competitor that can fill this void. Customer delighters and market-leading advancements still remain imperative to the success of a product, especially with a long operational life. For example, a need for easier replacement of parts, can have a domino affect that provides business advantages, such as:

  • Less downtime
  • Streamlined inventory
  • Less parts to order

From the end-users perspective there could be advantages such as;

  • Less frustration when replacing parts
  • Less parts, reducing product weight
  • Easier to clean

Better connected with the IIoT

Expectations are beginning to shift in the industrial sector, as an understanding of how connectivity and real-time monitoring can benefit productivity, aspects of safety and worker health in live and pre/post-activity scenarios. Yes, this is quite a way behind the expectations of the consumer market, but the potential for these technologies, in the industrial workplace, provides many more distinct and beneficial advantages, that show a tangible return on investment.

It still holds true that required investment, versus product lifecycle (multiple), versus safety requirements, highlight the difficulty in rolling out a connected platform. But, as expectations develop, and new products are launched, the industrial workforce will slowly, but surely, start to mirror consumer behaviours.

Check out the latest Honeywell solutions and concepts here to provide understanding and context to how being connected can benefit safety and productivity.

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