Role: Product Designer
In September 2016, JMDA Design were awarded a Red Dot Design Award: Concept, for their innovative child restraint system, SMART CRS.
‘SMART CRS reflects current automotive styling language. The use of a carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) panel gives visual and impact strength to the seat. The use of Safe Seat Technology allows communication through a mobile phone to inform that the child in the car seat is safe’
Identifying today’s issues with child restraint systems (CRS).
The very first stage of this project was to set up a focus group with a set of parents who could help us to identify what pain points they entailed in relation to CRS. It was very easy to establish that there are a lot of issues surrounding correct installation but there were also some valuable insights provided, regarding the appearance of the physical product too. To gather further significant information, the focus group was opened up further to indirect users of the seat (regulatory test engineers) to gather invaluable observations which would help define the scope of the design work.
What I learnt from this was that it can often be very effective to open up the channels of communication and allow input from sources who would not necessarily be considered as a primary stakeholder in the product.
The conclusion of this study was that three key insights and personas were generated which would help to form part of the design scope for the rest of the project.
Setting the landscape for the design aesthetic.
One of the key insights related to the visual appearance of how the products look. This particular user (Kalvin), identified that he feels the products lack any stand out appearance when lined up against each other. Although this insight does not affect the user’s physical interaction with the product, it certainly helps them to connect with the product emotionally. This insight helped to steer the next stage of the project where by an inspiration board was created.
By carefully analysing emerging design trends, we were quickly able to select which design direction to proceed with.
Child restraint systems are synonymous with the vehicles in which they are used in. Using design language from high performing automobiles provides a streamlined appearance and the expectation of a superior performing product. Sleek, carefully selected materials and colour help to create the feeling of a premium product.
Translating the inspiration into a design concept.
Taking inspiration from the emerging trends identified, a clear design concept was created in response to one of the user insights. This aided the progression towards an aesthetic which is totally new and unique amongst the existing products within this market. The sketches below show a progression from a quick thumbnail sketch to a refined final concept which was well received in its attempt to disrupt and excite the car seat market. Even at this very early stage of the project, they were keen to push the boundaries further.
It was during this stage that the team were able to generate a range of innovative features to include in the concept. Some of these features were developed further and patents were granted to protect the intellectual property of the ideas.
Consolidating the design features.
The following pages showcase the key design features which were chosen to address the key user insights relating to the difficulties parents face in installing child car seats safely. By providing the user with visual feedback when the seat is installed correctly, it allows the parent to travel with peace of mind that their child is in the correct configuration. The features also enhance the experience for the child by combining an air vent feature as well as thermochromic fabric.
The ‘carbon fibre reinforcement panel’ helps to answer two of the user insights by providing a strong design language but also yield better test results when in an impact.
Advancing the design into a physical object.
Following a phase of 3D development, a prototype model was made to align any visual cues that may need modification and to also test how the users experience would be when utilising the product. This is a vital stage as this is where the design becomes a tangible object and allows all stakeholders to interact with the product and refine touch points.
Due to some cost saving initiatives put in place by the manufacturer there were some limitations to a number of the innovative features. However, the product still maintained its strong design aesthetic.
What did I learn from the project?
1. Cultural differences in style
The project was created for a Chinese based manufacturer of baby/child safety products. Although never speaking directly to the client, with the help of a colleague we were able to communicate the design intention and work together to achieve our goal. This was not without its challenges as it was clear from the beginning that different parts of the world have different design cultures and expectations. However despite this we managed to always find a compromise that worked well for all the parties involved.
1. Award winning design
The design was awarded a prestigious Red Dot Design award for its unique approach to child restraint system design as well as incorporating innovative technology to enhance the user’s experience.
2. A next generation product
Following on from completion of this project, 8 months later, YKO returned and commissioned a next generation design to add to their product range.
3. Global reach
The product was launched on a crowdfunding platform by a brand called QBORN which is financially backed by Chinese based corporation, Xiaomi (also known as mi). The product was launched to the market in 2018 and is still achieving strong sales to date.