Clean Design for Cleaner Air

Steven Fyke
May 29, 2017 · 5 min read
Peter Whitby and Rich Szasz from O2 Canada

Lots of people visit China and are dismayed at its pollution. Not many leave with a compulsion to do something to improve people’s lives. Little did Peter Whitby know that tagging along on a friend’s business trip to Asia would result in a life-changing experience — for him, and, soon, so many others.

Coming from Canada, Peter was surprised at China’s pollution and the inefficient masks that people wore, hoping to reduce their chances of suffering from the pollution’s harmful effects.[1] After he got home, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. He knew that there had to be a way to create an air filtration mask that performed better and allowed users to breathe healthier, cleaner air. Along with his business partner, Rich Szasz, Peter formed O2 Canada, with a goal of creating a customizable, comfortable mask that was the most efficient of its kind.

The O2 Canada Curve

The company’s initial design drew enough interest to generate a round of investment funding. It was after they secured a spot at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Ontario, That I first met them as the AC’s Design Strategy mentor. We all knew knew immediately that they had a viable idea — but we also knew that it could be better. The first few discussions were tough for O2; they had a great idea, but loved what they had without questioning their story.

“Steve isn’t the type to hold back when delivering feedback”

In time, O2 recognized that they needed SnapPea’s expertise and hired us to help with all aspects of product design and development, from ideation to user experience to strategy to manufacturing. After they came on board, everything was up for review.

First, we dove into the design of the mask. We were tasked with creating the most effective mask on the market, while creating a product that fit with high fashion brands. Every detail was debated until we could come up with something that both looked great and preformed incredibly. The hole pattern is designed to allow the optimal amount of airflow, but also to have an interesting aesthetic, one targeted at the intended market. Through this iterative process we created a patentable idea to better distribute airflow through the filter, and even redesigned the vents to prevent the wearer’s glasses from fogging up. We revised the mask’s shell to make it easer for users to customize it, and sparred over the strap design, until O2 was satisfied with how easily users could adjust and comfortably wear the mask.

Then, we focused on the product’s story, crafting a narrative for what it was all about, and the market it serves. From there, we defined the branding and the company aesthetic.

As part of the branding definition, we had to convince O2 to change their company logo. It was hard to manufacture and visually complicated. As an outside consultant, we’re not emotionally involved in any aspect of the product or the company, which can give us the unbiased insights into details that would be better changed. Sometimes we need to convince a company that by killing the thing they loved, we’re making a stronger story or product. We’re always trying to help you build what you need, not just what you want. With O2, we proposed a new logo based on their criteria of unique, timeless, intelligent, and visually said Canada. As soon as they saw the design, they were convinced.

O2 Air

Next, we turned our attention to the smartphone app, finding a way to integrate it into the product solution. Using O2’s vision and working within their budget, we narrowed its purpose and created a visually-enticing, user-friendly way to track the Air Quality Index for the user’s current location, and a way to notify the user to change the filter. The new O2 logo became an icon in the app to associate it with breathing clean air.

Along with expertise in industrial design, graphic design, mechanical engineering, brand strategy, and user experience, we also provided connections to manufacturing and a crash course on the manufacturing process. “Before working with SnapPea, we had something that we couldn’t manufacture” said Peter. With our extensive history of designing products for manufacturing, we refined their product to ensure it could be manufactured at a reasonable price at volume, and we were happy to teach O2 everything we knew along the way.

O2 Canada Curve Packaging

O2 has created an elegant, wearable, and effective air filtration mask and we were happy to be a part of it. In the end we worked with O2 Canada to build their branding, product, application and helped to refine the product story. Reflecting on working with us, Peter shared the logo anecdote as indicative of our working relationship.

“With SnapPea, you get more than you ask for, but everything you need. Their deliverables are out of this world.”

Learn more about SnapPea Design’s thoughts on design strategy, product development, innovation and our client stories at

O2 Canada is a respiratory performance company specializing in air-purification and maximal oxygen uptake technologies for the health, wellness, and sports performance markets.

SnapPea Design offers Product Development Services, working with you and your team to design, build, problem solve, engineer, and create. They design beautiful things that can scale, be manufactured, and align with your business values — focusing on how people interact with your product, services, and the environment around them.

[1] In October 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified air pollution and particulate matter as level Group 1 human carcinogen — the same level as tobacco. In Shanghai alone, the Air Quality Index (AQI), is often listed between hazardous and unhealthy during the winter months, contributing to decreased life expectancy, and may be the cause of neurodegenerative disease .

SnapPea Design

The teams thoughts on product design, user experience…

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