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PDD launches new initiative to put medics at the heart of innovation

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Dr Jim Roberts, consultant anaesthetist and medical innovator at University College London Hospitals (UCLH), as an independent advisor in healthcare innovation. This initiative seeks to transform how medical technology is developed and used in hospital settings by putting medics at the heart of the process.

Jim leads The Royal National Ear, Nose & Throat Anaesthetics Department at UCLH, one of the world’s leading research hospitals, where he oversees medical innovation programmes and has been directly involved in the creation of new medical devices to improve safety and effectiveness in anaesthetics. One example is the Epidrum, developed in collaboration with Dr Maan Hasan – a device with improved ergonomics to facilitate epidural access. Dr Roberts and Dr Hassan were awarded the Cutlers’ Gold Medal for Innovation from the Royal College of Surgeons for this work in 2007. He is also a member of The Exovent Charity which has developed, in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, a revolutionary, non-invasive Negative Pressure Ventilation System that seeks to provide safe, affordable, reliable and effective treatment for a broad range of acute and chronic respiratory illness around the world.

Dr David Enderby and Dr Jim Roberts with the Boyle's machine.
Dr David Enderby and Dr Jim Roberts with the Boyle apparatus, which revolutionised the use of anaesthesia in 1930s. Picture was taken at Dr Enderby’s home near Harley Street.

Jim graduated from St Mary’s Hospital in London in 1993. He spent the next five years working as a junior doctor, building experience across multiple hospital departments, from orthopaedics to infectious diseases via accident and emergency and intensive care. In 1998, he turned his focus to anaesthesia. After completing the seven-year training programme and gaining Fellowship to The Royal College of Anaesthetists, he was appointed to a substantive consultant position at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in 2006.  He has spent the last 15 years delivering specialist ENT and Head and Neck anaesthetic care as well as maintaining a strong interest in training and innovation. In 2017 he was appointed Clinical Lead for Anaesthesia and in the last year has led his team through the Covid pandemic and the transfer of service from The Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital on Gray’s Inn Rd to its new home in The Grafton Way Building at UCLH.

Putting ,medics at the heart of innovation

Dr Roberts says,

“As a kid, I was always taking radios to pieces and building bikes, so it is no surprise that when I became an anaesthetist – a career that focuses heavily on the interaction between clinical care and equipment – I instantly began to explore how things could be improved. When you look at how medical technology is designed and how it finds its way into a hospital, you will find a process that is often highly fragmented. It is not uncommon for a new device to be brought in based on its enhanced features and commercial value, only to find some minor and occasionally major flaws when using it in a real-world clinical context. That disconnect between a product’s aspiration and the clinical reality ultimately undermines trust, delaying the adoption of advanced technologies in healthcare and hindering our efforts to provide best care.

When you are an anaesthetist in an operating theatre and you are struggling to secure a patient’s airway, having a touchscreen that does not respond when you are wearing blood-stained gloves can mark the difference between life and death. This is why the needs of both patients and medics have to be truly represented in the design of medical devices. And why healthcare professionals, designers, medical device manufacturers, engineers and hospitals need to work in closer collaboration throughout the entire development process. At PDD, we are piloting new ways to achieve that goal, with an approach that is simple and transparent, and gives medics the tools, capabilities and access they need to put new ideas into practice.”

Chris Vincent, Principal, Sector Lead Healthcare at PDD, explains,

“At PDD, our work in healthcare often sits at the intersection of design and science. With this initiative, we take that idea further to improve how medical devices and products are created, evaluated and adopted in the context of hospital environments.

Medics are often the pioneers of new solutions – they have the knowledge and the ambition to make things better for patients. By putting medics at the heart of innovation and combining the rigour and predictive power of medical and scientific research with the experimental nature of the design process, we have a unique opportunity to accelerate healthcare innovations in meaningful, relevant ways.”

Vassilios Kanellopoulos, Global Business Development Director at PDD, adds,

“We are extremely happy to have this great opportunity to collaborate with Dr Jim Roberts and his valuable network. This initiative will continue to drive our innovative work in healthcare, from concepts to product reality, in the context of an everchanging clinical environment.”

We are delighted to announce that Olav’s Chefmesser has won the prestigious Red Dot Design Award as an outstanding example of Product Design. Red Dot recognises designs of outstanding quality, which are aesthetically appealing, functional, smart and innovative.

Das Chefmesser, an innovative Chef Knife, is the latest in a series of collaborations between PDD and Olav – a visionary German startup that is transforming the market for cookware in Europe and beyond.

When it comes to cooking, there is hardly a more crucial product than a Chef’s knife – a tool that gives chefs immediate feedback and becomes a conduit for creative expression. The PDD team worked closely with Olav to translate their ambition for the category into an award-winning product.

From the carefully selected steel alloy and a choice of fine woods, to the shape and finishing of the blade, the Olav’s Chefmesser reflects the brands commitment to providing a high-quality experience.

Working across our studios in Europe and Asia, PDD created the design concept, the visual brand language and ergonomics, and oversaw the production in collaboration with some of the world’s leading knife manufacturers in Solingen, Germany. The result is a perfectly balanced tool that delights chefs and cooks all over the world.

OLAV Chefmesser founders Christina and Tili
OLAV founders Christina and Till

Congratulations to founders Christina and Till, the entire team at Olav and our team at PDD for this well-deserved win!

Take a look at some of the other award winning projects PDD has worked on in the consumer sector.

OLAV wins German Design Award

We are delighted to announce that our work with OLAV, the German-Austrian cookware startup, has been recognized by the German Design Award committee for outstanding design.

The German Design Award honours innovative, pioneering products in international design. OLAV, with a vision to rethink cooking by putting people first and their commitment to develop durable products, is a worthy winner.

When OLAV’s co-founders Christina Neworal and Till von Buttlar first approached PDD with the idea to launch a pan through their e-commerce platform, we saw an opportunity to do things differently. Although launching a new brand in an already saturated market is always a risky endeavor, we thrived at the possibility to reset the standards in cookware through design.

Working closely with the founders PDD helped to transform their vision into a tangible, high-quality product. Through a series of iterations, technical feasibility studies and ergonomic refinements, our team evolved the original design intent into a product that fitted the market and was ready for production. Tapping into PDD’s deep knowledge and extensive network of manufacturing partners, we worked hand-in-hand with OLAV to ensure that the brand’s ethical and environmental standards were reflected through the entire supply chain.

This work is an example of how we can collaborate with founders to turn their vision into tangible, high-quality products that are appealing, profitable, sustainable and durable.

Check out some of our award-winning products in the consumer industry here.

Despite its many advantages, FEA is little known within parts of the design world and even less understood outside the industry.  A quick dive into the subject is worthwhile for anyone with an interest in product design.

FEA, What is it?

FEA stands for Finite Element Analysis and is a tool commonly used by engineers to simulate and evaluate the key properties and functions of the products they develop.  FEA splits complex parts into many simple bricks or tetrahedrals called elements that can be analysed using computerised numerical methods. A model is meshed into elements before applying external conditions. In the case of a structural analysis, these will typically be in the form of supports, loads, displacements (or movements) and heat. The software then calculates how the product responds under these conditions by analysing points in each element and it neighbouring elements until the whole picture is resolved, or in the technical language, the ‘stiffness matrix is converged’. Once the software has finished its calculations, it returns results such as stresses, energies and deformations. These can be interpreted by engineers using animations and coloured contour plots such as shown below.

Physical vs virtual testing

The physical testing of complex products can be an expensive, time-consuming activity and although widely accessible 3D printing significantly shortens prototyping timelines, its use for structural purposes remains limited: The 3D printing materials are not entirely representative of production grades, test equipment and fixtures can be expensive and testing can still take considerable time. It can also be difficult to interrogate the results of physical testing. Which part is failing first? Where and how is it failing and what is happening internally?

This is where FEA can be used as a virtual testing platform to accelerate the design process. Before any prototyping is done, it can model the structural behaviour of complex systems and geometries and lower the development risks of product features and functions. It allows exploration of adventurous ideas to be de-risked and enables potential failures to be detected early in the process so that design changes can be made when they are still inexpensive. In later stages it becomes a powerful optimisation tool and often goes hand-in-hand with prototyping and testing. It can also be used to test worst case scenarios that you probably don’t have physically available.

…Be wary of ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’!

FEA is a simplification of reality and many factors influence the fidelity of the model and accuracy of the results.  These typically include:

  • The material data, often only partially available
  • The loads applied and assumptions about appropriate safety factor
  • The material friction values, which we frequently test to establish
  • The mesh density and element type
  • The 3D CAD model might differ or be simpler than final products
  • The supports and constraints, which have to be correct in all directions and rotations

These sound like many pitfalls to be avoided, and they are.  As in computer science, FEA practitioners talk – and warn – about the GIGO syndrome: Garbage In, Garbage Out.  In other words, the result is only as good as the data, assumptions  and model you use.

Experience, engineering expertise and critical interpretation of the results are the best cure for GIGO. Bench-marking the FEA results is so important and can take the form of a classical calculation or a test of existing parts. It can also be another FEA, performed and validated earlier in the project or created using a different setup. Even when this is done, analysts have to examine results carefully in conjunction with the setup to understand and report any misalignment or simplification from reality.

At PDD we understand the power of FEA as well as its pitfalls. Most importantly we know how to avoid the latter through experience of structural design as well as an intuition of the expected results and the meaning of underlying numbers. Used rigorously, FEA is an incredibly effective tool. It has enabled the rapid development of new solutions that push materials and geometries to their full potential, leading to better user experience, patient safety and cost reductions.


PDD has used FEA for over 20 years on several platforms. The applications of analysis have been expanded and refined over the years and today form an integral part of our product development process; from early conceptual stages, through engineering and the verification of design ahead of transfer to manufacture.

PDD engineers and designers use ANSYS Enterprise, considered by many as an industry leading application for structural analysis.  We also use Solidworks Flow Simulation for additional fluid and thermal analysis. The technical team is always applying this to new challenges and more recently, free-fall impact simulations have been performed on rugged equipment and medical device projects. This has proven a valuable use of the tool, where we can assess the internal behaviour of a device both during and following an impact. On a recent sterile device project this allowed us to identify potential failure modes, address them in design and reconfirm satisfactory performance in both FEA and physical tests.

Other notable applications of FEA at PDD include:

  • Optimising resistance to wind-loading during the development of a rapidly-deployable canopy used for mobile windscreen repair.
  • Enabling polymer valves to be used for the innovative new generation of digital showers.
  • Analysing weather and flying debris impacts on the new generation of graphical motorway signage systems. 
  • Ensuring the performance of a spring-loaded, patient-use, drug delivery systems following free-fall impact.

If you need your product innovations to be better performing, more efficient or use less material, then why not challenge us to see what we can do to help you?

In order to ensure a smooth product identification in an overly-saturated and highly-competitive market, it is crucial to offer customers an outstanding brand experience. Building a brand will systematically integrate and convey complex corporate concepts and successfully make your business stand out, creating therefore a higher value and career benefits. Here at PDD, we always start with product design and identification then introduce the whole process from product development to commercialisation and find the best balance between creativity and feasibility.

PDD Shanghai in collaboration with Process Group will host the Brand Innovation and Evolution event on 11th September 2018 from 1:30 p.m. at Xingguo Hotel B, No.78 Xingguo Road, Shanghai. Charles Ingrey-Senn 孙卓然 Principal – Design Innovation at PDD Asia will be present to cover the topic of Industrial Design and Innovation. Charles’ speech will be followed by a Q&A session.

For more information on registration please follow this link 


Vassilios Kanellopoulos, Business Development Director talks to New Design magazine about PDD enjoying another successful year creating innovative products, services and experiences for clients the world over.

In the article Vassilios reveals how PDD’s growth in its three predominant sectors – medical, consumer, and industrial – combine to deliver a creatively successful and profitable year.

“Our strength is in understanding the framing of conception and development,” reflects Vassilios. “Insight and creativity have always been in the PDD DNA and will continue to be so.”

To read the full article click here.

Vassilios Kanellopoulos
t. +44 (0)20 8735 1111

Karsten Fischer – CEO at PDD, along with leading figures from across the industrial design industry offer their response to the result of June’s referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

Karsten Fischer, chief executive of design consultancy PDD

“To put it simply, we are disappointed. As a creative consultancy founded in London more than 35 years ago, we have greatly benefited from access to the single market and freedom of movement. Many of our consultants come from the EU and a large share of our revenue is generated from EU customers. Therefore the outcome of the referendum is creating a lot of socio-economic uncertainty for us.

A comprehensive national debate must now take place as to how we will implement our departure from the EU. The Brexit campaigners failed to set out any policy details for leaving, so we still have an opportunity to influence the precise nature of the future relationship with our fellow European neighbours.

We are passionate about our home base London remaining a global design hotspot and the UK as a whole continuing to provide world-class academic training in creative disciplines. Retaining freedom of movement would ensure talented students and creative industry practitioners alike can continue to come freely to Britain and enrich our international design credentials.

The innovative products and experiences we create at PDD often transform the business models of our customers. Most of our clients operate across multiple geographies and require our teams to have a deep understanding of local cultures. We can only retain our highly-skilled, culturally diverse workforce if Britain remains an open society in a post-Brexit era.”

To read the full article from newdesign magazine, click here.

This year the Product Design and Innovation Conference reached its fifth year. It provides a place for designers and manufacturers to meet and discuss innovation and the product design industry. This year there were talks from; Design Partners, TEAMS Design, Chauhan Studio, BAC Mono, McLaren Technology Centre, Lenovo, Bacardi Global Brands, Kinneir Dufort, Speedo Aqualab, Whipsaw Ltd. to name a few of the 33 companies that the speakers were representing.

I was also asked to speak on panel of graduates and students discussing the topic of ‘Employment for Graduates’. Speaking with me on the panel was Craig Tomkins MA Service Design student from Imperial College London who spoke on service design and Elena Dieckmann, Designer & Operations Manager at BRUISE  who spoke about her product and the insight that lead to the innovation.

My background
I began my talk by discussing my background, experience and the reason I was speaking at the conference. My journey into the industry was not very orthodox as I received a placement through a student design competition which led to a full time position. But there were some tips that I could offer for students trying to get into the industry.

The second half of the talk looked at the difficulties that I encountered when applying for jobs and how prepared for the industry I was. From these difficulties and my industry experience I tried to offer a few insights to the companies that were at the conference.

Get a good work placement
One of the areas that I highlighted was for students to get a good placement. A good placement goes a long way to closing the gap in knowledge between what is taught at universities and the applicable skills for industry. It helps to develop the areas that are really needed on live briefs, such as; rapid idea generation and informed design through knowledge of materials, manufacturing techniques and design for manufacture. Not only do placements help with design related skills but also interpersonal skills, working with clients and understanding quality systems.

Enter competitions
To put this into action I encouraged companies to offer short and long term placements and to sponsor student design competitions with placements being the prize. This benefits the student in gaining the required skills, it allows the student to have a platform to impress employers and facilitates employers in discovering talent that they wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Students should be encouraged to enter as many design competitions as possible as these can increase their chances of being seen by employers which is often the hardest part of employment, it is also a great accolade to have on their CVs and sets them apart.

Get companies and universities to work together
Another area that I focussed on was for companies to have a greater input in the university syllabus. This would help to align the students’ projects with the work that is being expected by the industry. To do this I suggested the companies should open up a constant dialogue with universities. Whether that means universities getting final year product briefs from companies, getting employers to review the marking criteria or running workshops for students to run their ideas past companies. This would mean that the graduates that employers are approaching at degree shows and sending in their portfolios to have the skills that employers are after.


Be persistent

Hearing the feedback from members of the audience was great and getting a conversation started between companies and graduates was really interesting. Merle Hall (Client Services Director at Kinneir Dufort) had a very interesting point and advice for graduates looking for work; that persistence when applying for a position goes a long way and following up on your application shows you really want the job especially if you haven’t received feedback on your application for a few weeks.

Look outside the UK
The panel also helped to raise questions from industry professionals such as Dan Harden (President at Whipsaw Inc.). He asked why students from the UK weren’t applying for placements and positions in Silicon Valley, California?  As he rarely receives applications from the UK despite huge opportunities becoming available over there every day, in a rapidly growing area for design and technical advances.


Key insights from PD+I 2015

There were some great insights into the work done and the methods of companies within the design industry. Some of the most valuable insights were;

Dan Hardens (President/CEO/Principal Designer at Whipsaw Inc.) rule-busting principles for design companies to innovate and flourish. Which were;
1. Find the gem of meaning – Discover that key insight.
2. Contemplate on the non-figurative ideas.
3. Think less, see more – Be inspired by non-figurative ideas.
4. Adore the medium and its method – Materials alone can carry a product.
5. Shake up the process – It fosters happy accidents.
6. Listen only to the end user – Listen, observe, be sympathetic, feel their problem.
7. Be creatively audacious – If the wind doesn’t blow the grass doesn’t stir.
8. Get out of your mind – The wider the perspective the deeper the concept, step outside your own cranial box.
9. Let content lead technology – Let your solution be an outcome of utility.
10. Get strange – Try something edgy and strange not just something you know.

Brian Stevens (Co-Founder and Managing Director at Design Partners) spoke about the ‘new’ type of client. One that is informed, that leads the design process and how companies should deal with this. The key for him was to understand client ambition, spend time to understand that ambition and see where it is leading. In doing this companies should also design for the core group but expand the market. He summarised by saying that companies should build the ambition of the client and develop it through intent.

Paola Lorini is an independent consultant and advisor in design strategy, management and communication. He spoke on the topic of designers moving from inventors to entrepreneurs.

He began by quoting Michael Marks (CEO of Flextronics) “In today’s crowded consumer markets, where low price and increased functionality is the rule, industrial design is a key competitive differentiator”. He went onto discuss how designers are becoming integral to companies that aren’t necessarily within the design industry with some making it into high positions due to their innovative thinking and problem solving abilities. He predicted that we would start seeing designers in the boardrooms and key decision making positions. He finished by listing his views on the changing traits of good designers;
1. Good designers will love the unknown.
2. Good designers will know that quality is nothing without speed.
3. Good designers will give more than they will take.
4. Good designers will speak other languages – Cultural mediators, speak the language of other stakeholders, emotional intelligence.
5. Good designers will think holistically but control even the smallest details.
6. Good designers will never forget that beauty should be at the heart of value creation – Beauty is universal.
7. Good designers need to become irreplaceable.

Vassilios Kanellopoulos, Business Development Director, and Vicky Hong, Business Development Manager, talk to New Design about our growing presence in Asia.

In the article they reveal plans to double the size of PDD’s team in Shanghai as opportunities in the Chinese market grow. Vicky explains how the growing purchasing power of an expanding middle class has changed the way brands position themselves in the market.

“Take the home appliance industry for example…previously, international brands (like Bosch and Siemens) positioned themselves in the premium market, now they need to look at other tiers too…because the gap between international and higher-end Chinese brands is no longer so massive.”

As a designer I have always found the most rewarding products to develop are those that improve the quality of people’s lives: whether it’s medical equipment for new therapies, easier to use pharma devices, protective equipment for industry and defence or safety products for the rugged outdoors. Improving lives for me means delivering better and safer experiences and wellbeing, preferably also in a more efficient or sustainable way. There is a clear value attached to improving the quality of lives of users, so at the same time the endeavour is more likely to be a worthwhile to the producer also. At PDD we call this objective where parties win-win ‘Meaningful Innovation’.

The recent announcement that the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) has licensed VOKE, believed to be the world’s first cigarette-shaped nicotine inhaler, is welcome news and a wonderful example of life-improving innovation.

This product has the potential to deliver such significant health benefits to existing smokers to be worthy of registration as a medicinal product. This announcement and wider news coverage in the BBC, Telegraph and elsewhere helps to clarify what registration means to the wider public.

When it was announced in the summer of 2012 that e-cigarettes would be classed as medicines, the news was misreported by some as though regulators had already considered them to be safe and beneficial. This was an alarming and incorrect assumption.

E-cigarettes, as a new category of product, fall between the established regulatory controls for food, drugs, medical devices and tobacco in almost all countries. Without any regulation, users are at the mercy of whatever the producer includes and practices vary widely. In the worst cases, e-cigarettes have produced known carcinogens or to have exploded in use (Sources: TIME, BBC).

Introducing regulation as medicines does not mean the category as a whole is safe and beneficial. It means each product will be assessed according to stringent requirements. Eventually, only those that are safe, offer proven health benefits and are tightly quality-controlled will be legal and available in our markets.

VOKE, as a cigarette-replacement nicotine inhaler, is the first such product to be licensed in the UK as a medicinal product. We look forward to its launch, to the positive effect it will have on people’s lives and are delighted to have contributed to its innovation.

Heart failure, Stroke, Cancer, Dementia, Malaria, Bird Flu or even Ebola – take your pick from the latest challenges in world health. Each account of these relative pandemics sweeping societies across the globe allude to being your next arch enemy, ‘the one you need to watch out for’. At the time of writing this blog, five of the major newspapers featured health related headlines including ‘Dementia patients cut loose’, ‘500,000 denied cancer drug’, ‘Statins health risk’, and ‘Superbugs will send us to the dark ages’ – it is clear that health is high on the public radar.

There are a few however which always top the list. They say one in three of us will contract cancer in our lifetime, and as one of the Western world’s greatest fears it has accrued the funding and governmental support of upwards of £600m per year (2010 report, BBC news Dec 2013). Dementia on the other hand is increasing rapidly with more than 800,000 people in the UK alone developing the condition; and as the population becomes older, various reports cry of a future crisis considering the budgets devoted to research lie at a comparatively measly £50m per year.

Image credit: Action for Ageing. Feature image credit: SPES

With these distinctly ‘first world problems’ we can scarcely compare them to those affected in developing nations; staggering figures for malaria suggest that over 300m people per year are infected, nearly 3m of these die – most of which are children (Wellcome trust malaria statistics) and it costs Africa upwards of £12billion per year. For those of a more business related mindset surely this is a prospective goldmine?

From a design and engineering approach unfortunately many of these conditions are far out of reach and lie in the hands of the geneticists and biochemists at the forefront of medical research, so where can we help the most? Strokes are not the most publicised of conditions, nor are they commonly discussed or publicised; often being attributed to poor lifestyle such as smoking and diet. However, they might be one of few conditions where technology can assist recovery and aid a return to a normal life. Prevention is of course the preferred route; we are told to eat kale, or drink less fizz, or even take specific vitamins to prevent such illnesses. A recent article in the New Scientist even documented the benefits of learning a new language to combat Alzheimer’s – with staggering results (read it here) .

These things are cheap and easy – so we might as well try, but I’m sure there are more varieties of Omega-3 products on the shelves than toothpastes! Try we must and we hope that our life choices improve our quality of life and reduce risk – but these things often happen without prior cause or warning and rehabilitation is high on the agenda for those affected. If money talks, then the cost of over £2.8billion to the NHS from strokes alone should ruffle some feathers! (Statistic from National Audit Office).

Image credit: Omega3 Innovations

You might question my choice of topic focus, and you would be right to – my hidden agenda lies in my past experience in researching assertive aids for stroke victims from a mechanical design perspective, culminating in virtual dynamic simulations of centrifugal braking systems for walking frames. Very mechanically orientated (and quite a mouthful!), but hey if it helps people and there is a market for it then surely that is a win-win for any design engineer? I have lost count of the so called ‘save the world’ design projects for yet another diabetic aid, third world lighting, or water conservation; sensational and easy to publicise – yes, but do they ever come to fruition? …I’ll leave that to you to judge.

The brain is a staggering piece of engineering, almost none of which we actually understand fully – sort of like quantum physics, “if you think you understand it, you don’t understand it” or so goes the saying. Not a week goes by without an article in the New Scientist about either the mysteries of the brain or the universe – usually one or the other. Strokes are caused by either a clot of a bleed in the brain which leads to excessive internal pressure or blood deprivation to areas of the brain, which can die as a result. The ramifications of which can range from minor temporary loss of speech or sensory faculties, all the way to partial & full paralysis. Those survivors who suffer the long term effects are often left with limited movement on one side and difficulty communicating – but the magic of the brain is still plastic enough, even in old age, to reprogram its-self to re-purpose other areas to fill the gaps lost by the event. I recall watching a documentary recently showing a young boy who had almost 50% of his brain tissue removed due to severe epilepsy – the result after a few years was nothing more than a minor loss of sensation on one side, the remaining brain had entirely reprogrammed itself to function as normally as possible – utterly fascinating!

In very young toddlers this is generally more successful, but what if you are elderly – can you still teach an old brain new tricks? Yes, but with the help of intense physiotherapy, interaction and specialist equipment – surely an open market for intense design research and user centric assistive products? Well this one is tricky as they are not really classed as consumer products so don’t have the same level of PR push for sales, and government or NHS funds are often higher for the more immediate threats (as touched on in the introduction). So how can these products be funded? How can they gain traction?

It appears that current solutions exist in two distinct categories: the ‘basics’ range (functional, cheap, unattractive, simple), and ‘engineered’ (mechanical, expensive, complex, and also unattractive!).

L-R image Credit: NRS-UK, Saebo

Why should a generally older population be denied the dignity of having access to stylish AND functional rehabilitation aids? Many would argue that there simply isn’t the demand or funding to support supposedly frivolous design exercises, and this is very unfortunate. Kingpins of business in Silicon Valley preach of success attributed to creating products that people want, but I would like to see more of a drive for the creation of products that people need! Maybe a pipe dream of my naïve younger-self looking to create products for the greater good – after all, who fanaticises about creating high volume-short lifespan ‘land-fill fodder’ for a living? Certainly not me – and if this area is as beneficial and lucrative as the figures suggest then there should be nothing stopping us.

Wonderful developments in deep brain stimulation, and mind controlled robotics have led to innovation marvels such as the robotic prosthetic arm, created by the inventor of the Segway to aid veterans of the Iraq war.

Image credit: Extreme Tech

FDA approved, heavily publicised, incredible to look at and fascinating engineering all wrap this up in a neat ball of wonder, and I hope it prospers for those who it might benefit. Government reports show recent conflicts have given rise to 198 amputees returning from service, and whilst a terrible injury to live with and fully deserved of the aid – why can this technology not also branch out to the wider population?

So what are the opportunities you might ask? Rehabilitation and support is a major cost factor – the majority occurring during extended hospital stays or under close supervision of occupational therapists, all at vast expense. What if people could rehabilitate themselves, in their own home, with dignity and empowerment over their treatment? Tasks such as this revolve mainly around posture, balance, and movement re-training which can be dangerous to attempt unsupervised. We all know of the risks of having a fall at old age and safety is of utmost priority! Companies such as Able-X (in partnership with the Stroke Association) offer modern alternatives to traditional rehabilitation aids using computers as a base to turn exercises into enjoyable games. With many elderly people using tablet computers perhaps there is more to be done along these lines:

Image credit: AbleX

Other examples of more advanced wearable technology come in the form of electronic muscle stimulation devices, often controlled by a detachable hub like this great hand-paralysis ‘re-education’ system from Bioness:

Image credit: Bioness

If you ever thought of a classic opportunity for highly technical design coupled with a potentially lucrative return of investment then I cannot think of a better niche. Aging populations, advances in technology, lower cost manufacturing, and international support for health improvement could all help causes such as this. So do I have the answer? Well that would be telling; I like to think that we can contribute to worthy causes such as this which benefit both humanity and the economy.

As a human factors and usability consultant I talk about usability a lot, unfortunately – but also understandably – most people do not share my enthusiasm; that is, until I apply it to something they find absolutely infuriating. This can range from tin openers to a local council website, whatever it may be it puts the problem in context. There’s one particular product that I find most people have a problem with, a product that irritates me so much that I will join in any conversation involving it. Admittedly there aren’t very many of these conversations, but they’re almost always focused on the criticism of usability; let’s see if you agree.

Here at PDD we are equipped with a robust Human-Centred and risk managed Human Factors & Usability capability. The reason for this is that we are compliant with the regulatory rigours of the Medical/Pharma sector; one of the world’s most regulated. We’d say that puts us at the forefront in human factors & usability, but not all sectors are as rigorous and usability is often an oversight or afterthought. This is surprising given the value it can add; in fact many sectors have the potential for improved usability which could put products and services well ahead of their competitors.

Usability engineering process overview. Image credit: PDD. Featured image:

The beauty of our human factors & usability process is that it can be stripped back to its core – the bare usability bones if you will – then built back up to tailor to individual sectors that may vary with respect to regulatory compliance. The word ‘process’ here is key, human factors isn’t something you can whack in at the end then tick a box, it should be considered right from the beginning of a project and applied interactively throughout.

It’s frustrating to see products and services that could be improved vastly by focusing on the user or users throughout the design process. From fiddly food packaging to car park flows to medical gas compressors, the examples are endless. However, there is one product that springs to mind when I think of awkward and nonsensical; the vending machine.

Vending machines are a great example of a product with usability potential and the need for human factors to be considered early in the design process. By and large the vending machines I see on a day to day basis look something like these:

Traditional vending machines. Image credit L-R: PDD,

The example on the right is a typical design I have had my fair share of frustration with. My experiences can be roughly summed up in this flow chart :

* Vending machines kill four times more people each year than sharks do. Ref: Image credit: PDD

Of course snacks are not the only output of a vending machine, and the example I’ve provided is by no means the only type, merely an illustration for my point. There is a large variety that can dispense hot food and drinks, sanitary and contraceptive products, umbrellas and even live crabs, but none appear to have really addressed the lack of usability that seems so apparent. That is, until I turned to Tokyo.

Japan boasts the highest number of vending machines per capita in the world, in 2011 it had one vending machine for every 25 people; bear in mind that the population had almost reached 128 million, that’s a lot of vending machines. That’s also a lot of competition, so it seems only natural that vending manufacturers began investing time and money for their machines to stand out from the crowd. One manufacturer in particular – JR East Water – came up with this:

The ‘acure’ vending machine. Image credit:

The ‘acure’ was designed by Japanese industrial designer Fumie Shibata who clearly considered both usability and the user experience. This digital vending machine features a whopping 47” touch screen display, camera, 4 different payment methods, and the ability to serve both hot and cold drinks. Initially installed in August 2010 at Shinagawa Station (Tokyo), in a 6 month period it reported to sell around twice the amount of the surrounding vending machines. Why?

Simply, the overall experience seems to be preferred by users. The ‘acure’ has an interactive and friendly user interface; all drinks that are available are presented clearly and visually on the screen (those that are sold out aren’t shown). They can then be selected for further information and purchased using cash or card, the Japanese metro card, or using NFC technology available on most Japanese smartphones. The collection bin is located higher than on most machines negating the need for the ‘vending stoop’ pictured below, and the large screen replaces those letter-number panels with tiny digital displays.

Image credit:

The ‘acure’ has technology to recognise gender and estimate age which leads it to recommend certain beverages to the customer. Lastly, once a transaction is complete it says ‘Thank You’ – a simple but human gesture. Even when not in use, it displays advertising depending on the time of day, temperature and season; for example it may show a steaming hot coffee on a cold winter morning.

From an overall usability perspective it takes into account maintenance and restocking, the ‘acure’ is linked to a central server which is updated in real-time so daily stock deliveries are optimised. This purchasing data (combined with sex and estimated age) is fed back and used to provide valuable user insights for the company which can fine-tune design modifications or marketing strategies. Also, it can be instructed to provide free beverages in emergency situations. What a machine!

With products such as these focusing on user needs and completely changing the game with respect to the vending user interface, other designs are no longer cutting the mustard. Vending needs to be brought up to date; the technology, materials and manufacturing methods are there, but the design is not. A fresh, iterative, user-centred approach, using a human factors & usability process is needed to create machines which are appealing, provide a great experience and are easy to use. Check out our website for more details on how we approach Human Factors & Usability at PDD.

It’s not often artists are allowed to experiment with expensive processes, probably because artists play, and playing doesn’t give a good a return on investment as say rapid prototyping for mass production would. But a research and development consultancy based in Cardiff have shown that allowing people to ‘play’ with these technologies can help open up new processes even for designers who have been using these tools for years.

Roger Moss, a sculptor based in Cardiff for over 40 years, has always followed the traditional way of making his art. There is sometimes a stigma attached, he says, to new technologies; a detachment of ‘soul’ related to the work. He found however, after being allowed time on machines like 3D printers, he managed to engage with the tool rather than feel detached. This is down to the fact that these tools are intimidating, especially from Roger’s perspective, having mainly worked with clay by hand in the past. The emergence of these technologies beyond an industrialised use is something we can all get excited about. As long as artists and designers have a tendency to experiment, more branches of capabilities will spread to achieve as much as possible.

Image credit:

The application of having robots make ‘art’ doesn’t provide us with solutions to problems, nor does it offer us a more efficient way of working. But what it does, is inspire the people working in the right sort of industries to be more liberal when it comes to experimenting with what is usually a very structured and linear approach to solving these problems.

So, apart from maybe the odd consultancy offering an artist freedom on their rapid prototyping machines, how will we make new technology more available to the masses? Let’s take an example which caught my eye recently.

Featured and above image credits: DO THE MUTATION

Collagene is an art project that uses many technologies not conventionally associated with art. To begin with a 3D scanner was used (“that must have been expensive” was my initial response too), well not if the technology has been made open source. In fact the 3D ‘scanner’ was an Xbox Kinect, opened up recently by Microsoft inviting anyone to tinker and hack its capabilities. The next part of the process involves using algorithmic data to map out the shape relative to the contours on a face. Complicated? Probably, but still free to learn and achieve through computer programming that can be found at And finally, in order to physically make this art piece? An SLS rapid prototyping machine was used, a form of 3D printing, which again is an open(ing) source technology thanks to companies like MakerBot. All these processes have been made open source which gives absolute freedom to hack, play and experiment with them. So, I think hats off to those out there who have allowed such technologies to become available to the masses. I urge you to take a look at the beautiful video of the whole process for this piece, available here.
In allowing an element of ‘play’ to take a role in the design process we can create room for massively varied results. ‘Playing’ isn’t the most profitably efficient way of using new technologies, I do find it to be the most interesting though. Designer Tim Brown gives a fantastic TED talk where he argues ‘we aren’t allowing play to occur in our creative processes’, and this is damaging to innovation. The problem is that technology such as 3D scanning and 3D printing doesn’t become a playful ‘toy’ until it is cheap; by this time we have bypassed all the problem solving that could have happened, and designed in a traditional sense. I believe we should incorporate and explore new methods of working during the design stages, it opens your mind and a whole world of solutions.
For full information on the project ‘Taking Shape’ with Roger Moss click here.

According to a survey by Mintel, 92% of internet users in the UK have shopped online. This has increased by 16% in the last year and since the recession in 2008 high street retailers have had a tough time competing with cheaper and more convenient online shopping. As a result, 1 in 7 shops on the UK high-street are now empty. In this blog post I will be talking about how online shopping could become more dominant and what will replace these retail spaces.

The benefits of shopping online are obvious. You can easily get trusted, third-party advice, compare products and prices to make sure you make the most informed decision, and do it all from your living room. Of course, going into a store allows you to touch and feel the product before buying it and try it on to get a gist of sizing. However, technology is emerging that turns this problem on its head.
Upcload is a piece of software that allows you to create an avatar based on your own measurements taken via a picture on your webcam. Using this software you can try on clothes (at participating websites) online and make sure you get the best fit.

Sayduck is an app that uses augmented reality to allow you to see a product in situ. You can even take a picture of it and share it with your friends on Twitter or Facebook to see if they like it.

In a near future where your house can be fully digitised you could easily visualise custom fitted furniture in situ. This is also great for the retailer, providing them an opportunity for more customised ‘upselling’; “we see you’re buying the brown leather twin sofa, we think this coffee table looks a treat alongside it, and would fit perfectly in your lounge. Why don’t you see what it would look like, or share this with your friends to see what they think?” This would also provide companies with a plethora of data on their customer which means they could design products more suited to their lifestyles and needs.
You could even take this a step further. Using your sizing information, companies could recommend a sofa that would be most ergonomic. Designers spend a long time looking through anthropometric data to make sure they have a product that suits their target market. This is a great opportunity for retailers to add value by giving yet another option for customisation making each consumer feel like an ‘individual’.
Image credit: Ergotron

There are still a lot of creative opportunities for retailers to explore in terms of adding value to their service. A good example of this is high-end American clothing retailer Nieman Marcus. Nieman Marcus launched an app last year which allows customers to find out who is working in a store, message them, and even book appointments. It also allows Sales Associates to see which pieces of clothing customers have been looking at. Using in-store sensors that pick up when a customer walks around the shop with the app open, the app delivers personalised content on all the new arrivals, the designer and the fabric. This type of information adds more worth to the products. And if you would like help from a member of staff, you’re able to just ‘check in’ and they will automatically know where you are, and what you may want help with.

Another good example of innovation in the retail space is Audi City London. They have designed a car showroom on a much smaller scale. Using giant screens you can take the base model A3, for example, and add on all the features you want. The specific; wheels, interior, colour and then have the car digitally rendered in 3D life-size. This frees up a lot of showroom space without the need for all the different configuration Audi models and colours.

Where will these interactive stores be?

Shopping malls. While typically seen as an outdated shopping environment, latest trends show otherwise. With rent increasing by 5-6% per year and 3 megamalls set to open in the UK in the next 5-10 years, the increasing popularity of these locations for retailers looks set to continue. Shopping is becoming, once again, a day out filled with recreational activities that malls can offer such as; cinemas, galleries, restaurants, Laser Quest, etc. Okay, maybe not the last one.

Trinity Leeds. Image credit: EG Focus, via Flickr 

I’ve only really scratched the surface of the possibilities for the future of shopping. With stores on the high street up for grabs there is a gap open for innovative companies to create something new, just like Audi have done. Unfortunately the need for so many retail stores will continue to decrease. However, if companies embrace the paradigm shift and work to collaborate with online shopping rather than oppose it, then there is an opportunity to make the ‘showrooming’ (viewing products in store and buying online) more customised. People may still make their transaction online but could be persuaded to buy from the same store they have seen the product if they are incentivised by value adding services

The numbers are telling; patent applications filed in the United States have risen every year since 1978 – and rising quickly. Submissions have doubled since 1998 to over a staggering half a million applications. In this blog, I’ll discuss this and other valuable insights into what inventors and designers need to know about the world of patents.

The phenomenal growth in patent applications can be attributed to many factors – a healthy R&D sector, fierce commercial competition and globalisation to name a few. Fundamentally, we can also extract from these numbers that the patent system is still solidly viewed by inventors and business as a means to protect income made from ideas.

It’s very easy to find anecdotes that reinforce this notion – such as the recent news of patent wars fought out between smartphone manufacturers, resulting in huge compensation claims and banning product from certain geographical areas. Likewise, a 2012 PriceWaterHouse Coopers (PwC) study on patent litigation showed that between 2006 and 2011, the average pay-out when a patent owner successfully sues an infringer in a US court is a healthy $4 million dollars.
As with any legal framework, it’s also easy to find anecdotes on issues and deficiencies with the patent system. Apart from the high cost for patent applications and maintenance, some corporations blatantly infringe patents of “small-time” owners without permission simply by knowing that the latter cannot afford to defend it in court. Even if it does go to court, according to the PcW study, it would take on average two and a half years to see a trial, with the patent owner likely to win only 35% of the time.
When I think about the treasure and toil that may be required to exercise one’s granted legal rights – especially for sole-trading inventors, the UK’s Mandy Haberman usually comes to my mind. A mother whose frustrations with infant drinking cups led her to invent, to the gratitude of millions of parents, a simple and brilliant design that prevents spills when the cup is tipped. So popular was her solution that it also attracted opportunists, requiring her to spend substantial sums of money to fend them off in order to protect her future income. Fortunately, for Mandy, the patent system protected her.
Image credit: Infant AnywayupTM

On balance, despite the many challenges that can arise when pursuing and upholding a patent, inventors, engineers, R&D managers and company directors typically covet this potentially lucrative and powerful prize.
Application Failure
The first thing for those having expectations that their innovative solution might be patentable should consider that the failure rate of patent applications in the US is approximately 50%.
This is understandable due to the ever-expanding “State of the Art” – defined as the pool of knowledge and evidence (prior art) within an area of expertise that can include a patent, scientific paper, a picture of a machine from a 70s magazine, Leonards Da Vinci’s drawings and so forth. In other words, as time goes on, some say it’s harder to be novel – which your idea must be.
The other main rules are that the idea needs to be non-obvious (you want to solicit a “That’s interesting!” comment from a person ordinarily trained in the relevant field of expertise) and that the idea needs to clearly explain how it works and is made – (but not necessarily “is it useful ?”).
Therefore, as you would expect, some granted patents might raise some questions regarding marketability; such as “an apparatus to facilitate childbirth using centrifugal force”:
Image credit: US Patent 3,216,423

Or a muffler for not disturbing others when screaming out pent-up frustrations:

Image credit: US Patent 4,834,212

Patent: The Must-Have?
When a company commissions a development team to solve a problem, it often prefers concepts that are likely candidates for patent protection – understandably. Setting this criterion to judge ideas does need to be carefully managed.
On the positive side, this evaluation method can be a great catalyst for engineers to go beyond conventional thinking and practices if the conditions are right – and many would relish the challenge despite the high application failure rate.
However, the team has to be careful to not build-in complexity, risk and cost where it’s not needed, i.e. cracking the proverbial nut with a sledgehammer.
Assuming that inventiveness is balanced with commercial thinking and pragmatism, there will be instances where, despite many attempts of approaching the problem differently, the best solution might be one that seems supposedly obvious or is similar to existing prior art. This might result in the patent application being rejected.
What next?
One approach is to add more features or increase the performance requirements. This might work, however you need to make sure that you are still representing the true market need you identified. Likewise, with this approach, depending on your patent, potentially your competitor can legally copy the idea by just removing or changing one of the features.
Another approach is to select an idea that is patentable from your brainstorming effort but has scored less in terms of value. This can be a valid approach – only if you have not sacrificed too much cost, risk or effectiveness and that you are sure that your competitor would not come up with the same simple, un-patentable solution.
And another option is that you can enter the market without a patent.
Dragons’ Patent Lair
Those who have watched several episodes of Dragons’ Den would have likely seen the expression of disappointment from a celebrity investor when a product designer has shown something that has no patent protection. This is often followed by a Dragon declaring that they are not investing as anybody can do what they are proposing.
Image credit: BBC

They are probably correct to reject some of those ideas on other grounds, however the irony is not lost on me; most of the wealth that each UK Dragon amassed was from business models and products that could have been copied in one form or another: elderly nursing, hospitality, office supply and lingerie retail, mobile phone distributorship and shipping.
They made their wealth knowing that there are plenty of opportunities to create protection beyond having a “utility” patent: the skills and enthusiasm of the people behind a service, the “design” of their services that support a product, branding, product aesthetics and usability, manufacturing quality and so on.
Likewise, as a company director once told me and seen in practice, having a head start in the market can be a great advantage, even when your competitor is bigger with a penchant for copying.
Yes, we should push ourselves to innovate. However if an engineer has managed to used his or her expertise to crystallise a simple solution for an unmet need, knowing that the product would sell – is the lack of patent-protection really the end of the road for the opportunity?

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Atticus Finch knew that the key to understanding people was building empathy for them. In this post we explore the role of empathy in innovation and our experiences with rapid empathy-building exercises.
So, what is the role of empathy in design and innovation?
Imagine that your job is to generate ideas for a device that helps people with arthritis open bottles easier. Which of the following scenarios would result in the most useful, usable and desirable concepts?
  • Scenario 1: You brainstorm ideas for the device.
  • Scenario 2: You read about a woman with arthritis and the struggles she faces. Then you generate ideas for the device.
  • Scenario 3: You observe people with arthritis as they go about their daily lives and talk with them about the challenges they face. Then you brainstorm ideas for the device.
  • Scenario 4: You observe and interview people with arthritis AND you put on gloves that mimic the effects of arthritis and try to open some bottles. Then you brainstorm ideas.
Looking at Scenario 1, unless you already know something about arthritis, your chances of generating something that people will actually want and be able to use are pretty slim. As your understanding of the audience increases, so does your chance of generating concepts that answer real problems in real contexts-of-use.
Empathy-building exercise with the attendees of the Hong Kong HCD Taster session.

Empathy is not just a nice-to-have when it comes to innovation, it’s essential. We’ve been teaching this as part of our Human-Centred Design (HCD) workshops, where we work with participants for two or three days, using a number of different empathy-building methods, such as contextual inquiry, fly-on-the-wall observation, and walk-a-mile immersion. From pre-recorded interviews of people using their blood glucose meter and discussing what it’s like to live with diabetes, to having participants complete a number of tasks in a shopping mall whilst on a mobility scooter, we’ve been experimenting with different empathy-building exercises, trying to find the ones that a) actually build empathy and b) can be done in a relatively short time-frame.
As if that weren’t challenging enough, we’ve also been trying to integrate such exercises into our shorter HCD taster sessions, where we have one hour to introduce the design challenge, help participants develop an understanding and build empathy for the people they’re designing for, and then give them a framework for generating ideas, collaborating with others, and communicating the final concept.
Generating ideas after understanding more about whom they’re designing for, made brainstorming easier for the attendees.

In fact, we recently trialled a rapid empathy-building exercise using Walk-a-Mile Immersion during a taster HCD session in Hong Kong (coinciding with the launch of our HK studio). The attendees (without prompting) talked about how valuable it was to understand more about the people they were designing for, which is great news and shows that even with limited time (15 minutes!), you can design exercises that give people a glimpse of some of the challenges their audiences face.
Obviously, the more empathy you can build the better. No one would expect to establish a deep understanding of what it’s like to live with diabetes, or arthritis, in 15 minutes. But, if people leave the sessions wanting to know more about ethnographic methods and empathy-building exercises, or with a renewed commitment to using such methods, then that’s a great start.
Of course, a taster session wouldn’t be complete without a party…

Our Managing Director of Asia, Oliver, building empathy with the DJ by wearing the honorary gold chain!

If you’re still reading…
The title of this post “Rapid Empathy” is a nod to Millen’s great article on Rapid Ethnography: Time-deepening strategies for HCI field research.
Anthrostrategist has tackled the sticky topic of “Doing Rapid Ethnography and whether it (or “Corporate Ethnography”) really qualifies as ethnography: “Does corporate ethnography suck? A cultural analysis of academic critiques of private-sector ethnography“.
And for some nifty examples of empathy-building exercises you can do in half a day, or even just a few hours, see Dev Patnaik’s article, “Innovation Starts with Empathy: The importance of developing deep connections with the people you serve.

Our Principal of Design Insight, Maeve Keane, was approached by Second Sight magazine to write about the key trends that she thinks we’ll be seeing in 2013. Here’s what she wrote.

Surrealism, the new Escapism

Surrealist visual expressions and experiences will provide a welcome diversion from austerity in 2013. After years of economic woes, people are growing tired of spending cuts and pared-back aesthetics. While we won’t see a return to traditional luxury, people are looking for affordable forms of escapism that offer a touch of luxury and exclusivity, if only for an evening. We are already starting to see this emerge in some high-end restaurants that offer up a strange cocktail of whimsical interiors and high-end dining to divert people from their everyday lives to make them feel special.

Joey Ho’s restaurant design provides an escape from the busy streets of Hong-Kong into an M.C. Escher inspired interior that uses playful, optical illusions to encourage diners to contemplate another world. Even furniture design is taking more risks, displaying unusual materials, colours, form-factors and finishes than we saw before the economic crash.

Image credit: designboom

Surrealism takes on science in furniture designer Maarten De Ceulaer’s Mutation Series. We’re also seeing hopeful expressions appear in the form of brushed, brightly coloured metallics and muted glitters, which hint at the light at the end of the tunnel.

Image credit: Ameblo

From Provenance to Personality

This year the narratives told around ‘local’ products will shift from being about provenance (where something was made or where the raw materials originated from) to being about the ‘local’ person behind the product. The need to differentiate from other local products as well as the popularity of storytelling platforms such as TED, that celebrate individual ingenuity on a global scale, will drive brands to focus more on the stories of the ‘local people’. Big brands will lead the way, showing their ‘everyman, down-to-earth’ image in the face of the growing anti-corporate movement among some consumers. Gucci’s recent campaign in Japan celebrates the nation’s master craftsmen while Jack Daniel’s use unknown local artisans to market the brand’s sense of American heritage and originality.

Image credit: Infoniac

Beyond Monitoring

On the technology-side, the year will bring monitoring products that will be more sophisticated in their functionality. As people become more comfortable with using technology to manage their health, innovation in this space will focus on health and beauty.

In 2013 and beyond, we’ll see products that don’t just listen to and report on issues, but also predict outcomes, offer advice and even treat symptoms. Products that are already indicative of this change include Color Frame, from Fujitsu Laboratories in Japan, a smartphone app that tracks a skin condition over time, detecting the areas on which wrinkles and blemishes are likely to appear. This allows for preventative treatment before they materialise.