Designing a product to replace a much-used analogue device with a modern digital equivalent is one thing. Designing it for a group of people with limited IT skills, who don’t want, but have, to make the change, requires a whole new approach.
Top five points
1. Stoneridge Electronics undertook a product design project
2. The company did some customer profiling to identify what sort of person would use the new product
3. It needed to show people who were used to a manual device that digital could make their jobs easier
4. Ergonomics were as important as good graphics
5. The final product was cheaper to manufacture and sold more than expected
The rest of the story
Stoneridge Electronics, a commercial vehicle products supplier, had a product design project to complete within a very tight frame and for a set of customers who were reluctant to change from using the analogue tachographs they were used to. Bob MacKinlay, Engineering Manager at the Dundee-based firm was tasked with overseeing the design of an aesthetically pleasing yet functional handheld device that would help haulage companies to comply with new legislation.
Under the new rules, traditional analogue tachographs (which use paper discs to record vehicle data) on all new vehicles of over 3.5 tons needed to be replaced by digital tachographs, from which data could be downloaded and stored on a computer. The market was crying out for a mass produced, easy-to-use, transportable digital data download device that could perform this function and Stoneridge wanted to fill this gap.
The company had never used an external design firm before as it had its own in-house design team, but MacKinlay knew that they lacked the expertise to see this particular product through to fruition. So he sought outside help.
He’d worked with design agency London Associates before when he was employed by a different company, so he knew they had a strong product design track record and, importantly for both sides, the foundations of a good working relationship were already in place. ‘If you get a call from people you’ve worked with before, you’re starting off on a good footing because you don’t have to start from scratch and build a relationship,’ explains Leslie Stokes, Partner at London Associates.
The good news for Stokes’ team was that Stoneridge had undertaken a significant amount of market research with its target audience of truck drivers before the briefing stage so it knew exactly what its potential customers wanted from a digital tachograph device. ‘We knew that it needed to be a certain size and weight and that it had to be able to perform certain functions,’ says MacKinlay. ‘So we transferred all of this information into the design brief, which was a pretty good brief because we had the essence of what we needed right upfront.’
What is a tachograph?
A tachograph displays vehicle speed data and makes a record of how fast a commercial vehicle is travelling during an entire trip. Analogue units record the driver’s hours of duty on a waxed paper disc – a tachograph chart. This disc is removed on a regular basis and maintained by the fleet owner for government records.
In Europe, the use of tachographs has been compulsory for all trucks of more than 3.5 tons since 1970. Most countries have limits on the working hours of drivers of commercial vehicles, so tachographs are used to monitor drivers’ working hours and ensure that appropriate breaks are taken.
As of 1st May 2006, analogue tachographs are being phased out in favour of digital versions which record data on a smart card. Now, approximately 400,000 digital tachographs are sold each year in the EU and Stoneridge has a market share of around 20%, with Siemens leading the way on 70% and ACTIA (10%) bringing up the rear.