The soul of consumer product design

A finished product looks easy to make but the process to get there is much more complex.

A schoolgirl checks out the Web (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A schoolgirl checks out the Web
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Let’s say you’re an inventor and have just come up with a great idea – say, for example, a “robotic lawn mower,” a device that will automatically do the work of cutting and clearing grass, all by itself. Your technology works just fine, and you know there’s a big market for it. But if you’re going to make any money off this idea, you need to package it and get it onto store shelves.
Which brings you to the question: What should a “robotic lawn mower” look like? Should it look like a mini-R2D2 with a cutting mechanism instead of feet? How about a centipede design, with an elongated body and a big “mouth” to take in grass and cuttings? That could work as a design, too.
In the end, the makers of the robotic lawn mower went with a design that looks like a beetle – short and fat, with the cutting mechanism and wheels on the bottom of the mower. Why? Because after much research and study, the product designer that manufacturer Robomow worked with – Tiko Design of Tel Aviv – discovered that the beetle format would be the easiest and cheapest to manufacture, and the most popular with consumers.
We look at a product – say, a body hair remover (in this case, the Silk’n, by Yokne’am company Home Skinovations) – and say, of course! What else would such a product look like? But it’s not so simple, says Yoav Tikochinsky, founder of Tiko.
“You have to understand the DNA – the ‘soul,’ so to speak – of a product before you come up with a design; how it is going to be used, by whom, when and where,” he says. “Then you have to take into account costs of manufacturing, government regulations, and the vision of the manufacturer.
You put all that together and you get a design for a product – one that will hopefully sell and make money for its manufacturers.”
During his 19 years running Tiko, Tikochinsky and his team have designed a wide variety of products, from the aforementioned lawnmower to motorcycle helmets to medical devices, to the Tavor Assault Rifle, which the IDF is gradually adopting as the weapon of choice for all infantry personnel.
The Tavor was actually an early design by Tikochinsky and several associates; the team came up with the initial plans when they were studying at Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem.
After refining the design, he and his team got the opportunity to present it to executives at Israel Military Industries, which manufactures the weapon.
“While still in Bezalel, I worked with a company that manufactured night vision equipment, so I knew people who could help us present the design to the right people,” he says, adding that many soldiers find the Tavor much easier to handle than the current weapons they are required to tote.
But he is much more interested in designing “butter” – consumer products – instead of guns, and the company’s website is full of examples of successful designs that consumers around the world have come to know and love. Tiko, for example, is the exclusive designer for Cardo, which makes radios and communication headsets for motorcycle helmets. In its latest triumph, Cardo came out with a system that allows two bike riders to communicate with each other at a distance of up to a mile. Other similar products have a much smaller range. Motorcycle riders like this because it allows them to maintain contact when riding in groups, ensuring that each can warn the other of problems on the road and that neither gets lost.
What they didn’t like, Cardo discovered, was the antenna that needed to be installed on the rider’s helmet to allow the Bluetooth system to pick up communications from hundreds of meters away.
“We tried different approaches, but the bottom line was that riders thought it wasn’t cool to wear a helmet with an antenna,” says Tikochinsky. “After more research and a redesign, we came up with the idea of a pop-up antenna contoured to the side of the helmets, which riders could activate when they needed to talk, but could push back easily when they wanted to.”
It sounds like a simple thing – but hundreds of thousands of dollars and dozens of hours of research and design went into making that decision.
“The key is finding something that not only works, but that is feasible from a manufacturing point of view and complies with regulations when needed – and will sell, which is the point of all that work.”
Navigating those waters is what Tiko does, with companies coming to Tikochinsky for his expertise in manufacturing methods, feasibility, and experience in consumer designs.
“The right design can give a product the right user interface and the right market placement, and can impact all sorts of decisions, from patents to investments,” he says.
In one case, he recalls, “we were working with a startup that had an idea for a medical device, and they asked us to develop a design for their idea based on a rough design they had. We felt that the design they had in mind was wrong – we felt the device would work better as a hand-held meter – and we were able to convince them of our ideas. In the end, they ended up changing almost everything except the core idea – the user interface, the target market, even the patents.”
That experience is not at all uncommon, he adds.
“We work with big companies, like Olympus and Qualcomm, but also with many smaller startups, who have great ideas but need guidance,” Tikochinsky says, adding that more often than not, it is Tiko’s ideas that make the difference between a “lemon” and a winner.