Designing Dream Machines — A Look at the Engineering Process
The X-factor — it’s not just aesthetics but also understanding your market and who will buy your product. From kettles to cars, it’s essential to place technology and design on the same level. Don’t forget about your environment, either. Under what conditions will your design be put to the test? What may appeal to someone in Berlin’s busy city streets may not appeal to someone in Stockholm navigating the many canals and ferries.
What is the X-Factor? It’s the one thing that makes your product stand out from its competitors.
Without the X-factor, your product will blend in with the competition. If it doesn't catch the consumer's eye, it is likely to be passed over — resulting in little to no sales.
In the video, Designing Dream Machines and Seymour & Powell share their tricks-of-the-trade and how they create the X-Factor. They show you their design process and how it all comes together to make a new product with that flair that sets their products apart from the competition.
In this article, we take a look at how they do just that by following them through the steps as they design a new Bantam Motorcycle for BSA and a revolutionary kitchen appliance that is a game-changer for T-fal.
Designing and Manufacturing the BSA Bantam Motorcycle
BSA went out of business in 1973. At their peak, they were the largest motorcycle producer in the world. In 1994 Seymour & Powell were brought in to try and revamp the BSA name. They needed to design a new motorcycle that would appeal to new consumers and maintain credibility with the old BSA Bantam fans.
A significant part of engineering is the design process. Engineers have to work together and create something that features a combination of things the consumer wants. When they sat down with their team to discuss ideas for engineering the Bantam, they brought some key features to the table for consideration.
The bike needs to be lightweight, simple to use for first-time users, inexpensive, and have good utility quality. It has to have a look that appeals to the BSA Bantam fans and a sportier, sleeker look that would appeal to a new generation of younger consumers.
First, they needed to consider the original bike, so they discussed the BSA Bantam name, what the bike was, and how it could relate to the current market. As part of the engineering process, it’s important to keep both history and what consumers expect in mind when designing a product revival.
Seymour heads to the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham to see what kind of look was iconic for the BSA Bantam Motorcycle. The first thing he notices is the slender, lightweight construction. He also notices the triangular side panels and a rack on the back wheel for carrying items.
Ideally, they needed to incorporate these nostalgic features into their design and, at the same time, make it more sleek and modern.
The Final Product
Unlike most motorcycles at that time, the Bantam's engine would be made from scratch by BSA in Britain, which means the engine itself would be strong enough to provide the structural link between the front and rear ends. Triangular load-bearing side panels mounted directly on the engine would support the motorcycle's top parts.
They met with the BSA company owners and showed them several different designs for the new Bantam motorcycle. The company owners chose one design with all the features they wanted to incorporate into the new BSA Bantam. They chose a sleek design with features such as the triangular side panels, distinctive tank shape, and a color that distinguished it as a Bantam, but with a more modern, sexy look that would appeal to new, younger consumers.
Next, they put together a foam model on a scrap chassis. Once Seymour trimmed the foam to the desired shape, they remodeled it in clay and added a bit of hardware. They expected to show this model to BSA's managing director for approval, but that meeting got canceled. The clock was ticking, so they moved on to the next stage.
They built a fiberglass version and painted it. This fiberglass appearance model looked exactly like how the motorcycle would look after production. After seeing this model, the managing director from BSA approved the design.
Following approval, they went on to build a fully working prototype to test the bike’s dynamics. The road test was a success, and the Bantam was scheduled to go into production in 1997. It is unclear why, but unfortunately, this never happened.
Designing a Revolutionary Kitchen Appliance for T-fal
Unlike BSA, who provided a clear brief for the Bantam motorcycle design, T-fal wasn't as explicit about the appliance they wanted to design. Due to the lack of information and direction, Seymour & Powell hosted what they call a “creative event.”
For their creative events, they get their entire team together with a single idea in mind to brainstorm concepts associated with a theme. In this case, their theme was an appliance. In this creative event, they wanted to brainstorm ideas for an appliance that they wish they had or how one could be improved to make users more interested in buying a product from T-fal over other appliance manufacturers.
Typically engineers and technicians produce new technology and try to wrap a product around it. At Seymour & Powell, they try to step into the future to understand what the consumer will be interested in and create a product concept based on that. Then the engineers, technicians, and designers work together to make that product come to life.
The problem with producing new appliances is that most of them look the same to consumers when shopping for a new one. Powell had to come up with a design or feature to make their appliance stand out from the rest and grab the consumer’s attention.
After their brainstorming session, Powell decided to design a modular power base that was usable with multiple appliances, including a food processor and a kettle. This idea set their appliance design apart from the others on the market.
He wanted to create an eye-catching cordless electric kettle designed to work with the power base. But Powell's most ground-breaking design was a new kind of food processor that would be much easier to use.
Food processor bowls are all pretty much the same. When tasked with designing a food processor, the bowl doesn’t change much. However, the bowl is where most of the problems arise. They are difficult to clean, they are hard to put on the base, and it’s difficult to put the lid on correctly as there is only one way to assemble it. By design, they are safe, but difficult to operate quickly and efficiently.
The Final Product
The design of the entire product line was focused around a circular charging base with a retractable cord and a 360 connector common to every appliance within that same line.
The kettle design was visually very different from other kettles. Electric kettles typically use a coil on the bottom to heat the water. The engineer used a flat plate within the kettle to make sure it would work with the power base.
The bottom of the double-insulated kettle was flat, allowing it to be removed from the power base and used elsewhere, such as the dining table. The extra insulation made it possible for the kettle to maintain heat for an extended period of time while off the base.
These features set the kettle apart from its competitors. They also chose a distinctly different color to make the appliance line stand out even further from its mostly white competitors.
The kettle and charging base was just the beginning. Powell wanted to design an entirely new kind of food processor, so they focused their attention on developing one that would be the star of the product lineup and grab consumers' attention everywhere.
Food processors are one of the hardest appliances to use. They only go together one way. There is an endless amount of parts with sharp edges that are difficult to clean around. They are often difficult to put together.
They created a new bowl that operated a lot like a blender. The new bowl looked similar to a kettle in shape. It was rounded and had a slightly elevated center for the middle that housed the blades, which came down to the lower sides.
They made the processor housing that held the bowl elongated in shape, and it included a storage compartment in the back for accessories. The lid was easy to open with a single touch of a button.
Tefal loved the product line and said they could imagine many other applications for the powerbase. To see if their design really had the X-Factor, they stopped by a department store and placed their prototype on the shelf. The X-Factor was definitely present. The appliances they designed for Tefal stood out dramatically against the competition.
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