Earlier this year Bluefrog Design were extremely proud to win an award at the British Engineering Excellence Awards 2019, alongside our partner, EarthSense. These awards are celebrating their 10th anniversary, and have become recognised globally as the benchmark for British engineering design.
Such a prestigious award would in itself be enough to make 2019 a fabulous year. Even more so, for us, is that we won in a criteria that we consider to be crucial for achieving design excellence, and is at the very essence of the Bluefrog Design business ethos – the importance of teamwork. The award – Design Team of the Year.
How does teamwork create a successful product?
The simplest way to expand on the value teamwork plays in a successful design is to look back at the project with EarthSense as a whole. We first met the team at EarthSense at a local exhibition in Leicester in 2016. They had been developing technology to measure and record air quality since 2002, testing early prototypes with rockets and balloons.
By 2015 they had produced the innovative technology needed to measure harmful levels of ambient air pollution, but required the expertise of an external design team to take the sensor, named Zephyr, to the next stage.
A meeting was arranged, and a brief outlined that identified the key requirements and specifications required to achieve the aim – a commercially viable product ready for launch in July 2018.
Teamwork requires clear objectives and communication
Two essential elements of working as a team are trust and communication. If the client is open about the project and the aims, we can use our experience to identify potential pitfalls. The better the communication, the less likely there will be misunderstandings, and any potential issues can be picked up earlier on.
At Bluefrog Design we believe that a product has the best chance of achieving its potential when everyone involved works collaboratively. With that in mind, we developed a clear programme of work that both parties could stick to, with discrete stages, milestones and measurable deliverables.
Both partners also assigned a project manager to track the progress and communicate weekly. In doing so, and by the fact both Bluefrog Design and EarthSense are based close by each other, meant that a genuine relationship built up, another contributing factor to the success of this project.
Recognising the strengths of the team
Our strengths in this project came not just from our design experience, but also the knowledge of funding gained from working with organisations such as Innovate UK, understanding of the manufacturing process and our expertise in bringing products to the market.
At the point of our first meeting, the Zephyr was a university project with very little in available finance. Our first stage was to develop 10 units as prototypes, which EarthSense could then test in the real world, using the results as a basis to apply for additional funding.
This in turn led to further design and development of the electronics by EarthSense, and the hardware by ourselves. As development continued, we were able to manufacture prototypes and parts in-house , liaise with suppliers and consider future manufacturing. We identified a number of local suppliers, all SMEs – an element that was important to both EarthSense and ourselves in a project that is completely focused on environmental improvement.
An environmental outlook
The Zephyr uses cartridges to capture gases and particulates, which the user would need to access and maintain easily. It was clear that over time the technology or the applications may change, and we felt it important to create a design that was future proof as well.
The solution – the materials are easily identifiable for recycling, and the body itself is made of extruded aluminium. This means it can be adjusted in size without expensive retooling, making it sustainable, suitable for repurposing and appropriate to the circular economy. The Zephyr is truly an environmental product in design, manufacture and purpose.
Bringing a successful product to market
Every project will encounter some bumps – but with the framework of a good team and open communication they can be addressed swiftly. During this project we did experience some delays, but working together helped us bring the project back on to track and finish on schedule.
It also meant that we were able to exceed the original brief. The aim was to deliver an air quality sensor that could survive for 5 years in challenging environments, maintain a highly controlled air flow around the sensing elements, and be easy and cost-effective to maintain.
Working collaboratively, we not only met the objectives, we have produced a stylish ‘design icon’ that is aesthetically pleasing without being a tempting target to vandalism – essential when placed on the outside of public buildings.
In August 2018 manufacturing of the EarthSense Zephyr began. As of this year it is sold across multiple countries, and used in a variety of ways by local councils and businesses to monitor air quality and improve the lives of humans around the world on this important environmental issue.
As an example of product design, this has been a fabulous demonstration of how teamwork across two separate companies and the local supply chain can bring a successful project to fruition.