How experience-led design informed a revolutionary new barbecue called Ferno

Last September, global design and innovation consultancy Fjord and its parent firm Accenture acquired Matter. A fast-growing product design consultancy based in San Francisco, Matter focused on the design of connected physical products including the PlayBase for Sonos and the Carnival Medallion for the Carnival Cruise Company. Fjord made the strategic decision to bring Matter into the fold based on the direction they see industry heading.

Digital’s role in our physical world

Fjord understands that software and technology is being increasingly blended into our physical world. That’s because technology is becoming distributed — a term used to describe intelligent systems made up of multiple parts (as opposed to a centralized computer). Think products like the Nest thermostat or connected people and spaces like the Disney Park and the MagicBand. Distributed technology allows us to connect people to spaces and smart connected products, and it enables entirely new types of products, systems, and interactions that are far more seamless and friction-free than we’ve ever had before.

By bringing Matter into the fold, Fjord has strengthened its capability in physical product design and creation, and taken a big step towards becoming the world’s foremost authority in the field of connected products and distributed technology. By adding a Connected Products capability, Fjord can now design and develop products that fuse physical with digital — while also being able to conceive, design and deliver end-to-end solutions for their clients.

How experience should influence design

Product design and innovation is evolving. In many ways, the opportunity ahead is less about making new products and more about focusing on designing seamless experiences. As an industrial designer by training, I’ve always emphasized that the experience of a physical object, or how you use it, will define its form. With distributed technology, that doesn’t change. We’re still creating experiences, but we’re just doing it with different mediums and on a grander scale. I would argue that as designers, whatever medium we work with — physical, digital or a merged version of the two — we ought to employ an “experience-driven” design process so that the result will be simple, intuitive and enjoyable, leading to increased customer satisfaction and retention.

Of course, experience design or user-centered design are not new concepts in the design world. What’s different is the fact that design profession has matured with the introduction of digital technology. Now, designers have developed tools and processes — such as Customer Journey Maps and Service Blueprints — that we use to design products and services.

Sometimes it’s okay to pull the plug

It’s worth pointing out that not all new products have to include digital technology to be successful. In fact, I would argue that we need experience-driven solutions for products that are unplugged, disconnected and not digital. When designing the Ferno Grill recently, we used an experience-driven and user-centered approach.

The founder and inventor of The Ferno Grills, Inc, Peck Euwer, conceived a new method for controlling the gas-powered burners on a barbecue. Unlike conventional grills where cooks need to raise and lower the cooking surface — a cumbersome experience — Peck reversed the mechanism so that the gas burners could be raised and lowered using a wheel. This put a higher level of control directly in the hands of the cook, and it also meant that the cooking surface remained completely flat.

The experience-driven design process

As Peck’s creative partner, we explored how cooks currently use barbeques, the social dynamics around outdoor cooking and the process of preparing, cooking and serving food. Through the research, we discovered pain points and opportunities for innovation.

Current BBQ’s require constant manipulation of the grill height. By reversing the mechanism, so that the height of the burners goes up and down with a control wheel, the cook has a higher level of control of the flame. For example, the cook can sear food by raising the burners close to the grill by turning the wheel clockwise, and then quickly reduce the flame by turning the wheel counterclockwise.

Using Peck’s patented wheel as a starting point, we did multiple ergonomic studies to discover how the Ferno could become more comfortable and more useful. An early recommendation was to reorient the wheel to the front of the grill to make it more accessible and convenient. This would also pay off from a branding perspective. By highlighting the unique feature of the wheel, we could create a “signature element” that distinguishes it in the market.

There were other benefits as well. By not having to constantly raise and lower the grills, we discovered that the surface for cooking could remain flat, so that when paired with the two accompanying side wings, an outdoor cook could have a continuous surface for prepping, cooking and serving. We also installed a light in the top handle of the grill to illuminate the cooking surface, made the gas tank easier to change, and added an easy-to-clean grill surface.

Reinventing BBQ to be more user friendly is no small task. To quote Peck Euwer: “It took us 4 years, 8 prototypes, 1 patent, and over 750 lbs of meat, fish, and veggies to design, test, and build the ultimate grilling machine. At last, the standalone Ferno Grill has the technological innovation and design inspiration to make you and your food proud.”

In fact, if you’re in San Francisco and want to experience the simple, intuitive design for yourself, we will be showcasing it at the Fjord Studio on July 12, 22 Shotwell Street, from 7–9pm. Please RSVP here.

What success looks like

In conclusion, great design is more than beauty, it’s about making a product intuitive and delightful to use. Achieving simplicity and beauty together is incredibility difficult and requires tremendous effort sweating the details through to the end. The challenge for design is to never expose the effort to create “ultimate simplicity” to the user. Really, true success is watching someone use the product you designed — with a smile on their face.