Innovation story: The Making of H500, from Idea to Design Awards

Innovation story: The Making of H500, from Idea to Design Awards

Honeywell sits down with soft goods designer Jana Bacinska to talk about the H500 Fall Protection Safety Harness Range and the creative process behind the Red Dot and iF Design awards winner. 

For decades, Honeywell has been at the forefront of innovation across a range of Personal Protective Equipment, and the H500 harness range is a good example of its Honeywell User Experience (HUE) initiative at work. 

Jana Bacinska shared her experience in helping develop the innovative harness series, taking us through the entire process, from Design Language Strategy (DLS), how that applies to the user experience, and finally, to the multi-awarded finished product.

What were you asked to design?

The task was to design a harness for a construction worker. The construction industry is one of the most hazardous in the world, and it has the highest number of annual fatalities.

So imagine a construction worker, an industrial athlete, who day-after-day, shift-after-shift needs to perform his/her job that requires not only skills and knowledge but extraordinary physical strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Not only are construction workers at risk of fall, but long hours spent in a restrictive, non-ergonomic heavy harness can lead to overexertion and muscular fatigue due to restricted freedom of movement, repetitive tasks, sweat, and heat build-up.

Many harnesses may protect workers from serious injury at the expense of their long-term well-being, whereas our ultimate goal for H500 was to go beyond safety compliance. 

How do you start a project of this magnitude?

Before the H500 project started, we as designers were asked to help revitalize and simplify the legacy Honeywell Miller fall protection harness portfolio that included lots of styles and sub-brands, which made the choice very confusing for our customers. 

A large team of designers got involved in the project, including a user experience, industrial and graphic designer as well myself – a clothing and textile designer.

I would like to highlight that this was a great multi-functional team effort. Nothing would be possible without extraordinary visionary guidance of marketing and relentless R&D support.

What we have done is, that we have adopted a platform approach, to realistically reduce the redundant parts. With this approach, there has been a 75% to 80% reduction in the number of harnesses within the category. There are four core models in the range for North America and Europe, each meeting area safety requirements.

During the kick-off workshop lasting one whole week, we defined a specific design strategy for a new fall protection harness portfolio, that included the design guidelines for all the price points within the range – from low to premium harness.

Our focus was to convey the DLS as a clear differentiator in the marketplace and driving consistency across the entire portfolio.  We looked at the core Honeywell values and those we translated into the harness values. Safety and comfort are of the greatest importance to us. The design reflects this, giving the user the confidence and reassurance to focus on the job.

How did you balance functionality and innovative design?

We have heard the companies saying that workers often must carry up to 20 - 25 pounds of additional weight, which includes harness, SRL, and tools. So, it's quite a significant load for a construction worker working on scaffolding or building maintenance. The harness is often perceived as a mandatory and unwanted piece of equipment that workers must wear. It often restricts them because they wear it on top of their clothes. 

And they usually find it heavy and uncomfortable, hurting their back and neck, making them even more tired.

However, it is very critical that construction workers are compliant, it means that they wear their harness and that they wear it properly since, in case of a fall, it can save their lives.

So, we were trying to make H500 the most weightless as possible by balancing its primary safety function with the extraordinary performance of the harness to be very comfortable, flexible, and breathable. We improved comfort around the waist, back, and shoulder area, and significantly reduced heat and sweat build up. Our goal was to design a harness that workers will almost not feel wearing, which would greatly contribute to worker`s compliance and safety.

What was the thought process behind the choices in terms of function and form?

For the paddings, we have selected perforated foam material in combination with a mesh for cushioning that provide three times more breathability than the next best alternative paddings (as per the Satra Technology technical report), which means less water vapor resistance, that keep workers drier and cooler. 

In terms of the padding construction, we wanted to eliminate pressure on the neck, shoulders, and back as much as possible. It is ergonomically shaped, with patented crossed channels debossed in the shoulder area that allow the padding to break in and accommodate the movement of the shoulders. Thanks to these features, the padding is not as stiff as usual, and it allows flexibility as well as pressure relief to minimize overhead muscular fatigue.

The stretch webbing also contributes greatly to overall harness comfort since it flexes to accommodate movement and body contour when performing work tasks. It had to be carefully formulated to make sure that the stretch is well balanced with webbing strength. It feels much softer than regular webbing and it adds a lot of ease around the legs and shoulders area.

Usually, it's difficult for the worker to place the harness on because it takes time to find the right part when the webbings are tangled. The anti-tangle back support allows the harness to hold its shape and, together with color differentiation of the upper and bottom part, we made the donning much easier and more intuitive. 

The harness color scheme is used across the range designed to balance safety and style. The high-visibility webbings ensure the harness is visible in all light conditions and provide a contrast against clothing. The contrasting color stitching is designed for quick and effective safety inspections. The geometric stitch designs compliment the padding form and other harness features. The trademarked dual-color webbing establishes a unique color in the industry to differentiate Honeywell from its competitors while being a high-visibility safety color. 

Another interesting feature is a fall indicator that indicates when the harness was subjected to a fall. If somebody fell with the harness, the red stitching gets broken. The fall indicator needs to be checked before each harness use. We wanted to make it more visible and identifiable at the very first sight, so we came up with a bold red warning label that is revealed only after the fall, saying that the harness cannot be used again.

What makes H500 different and relevant for a global audience at the same time?

Here at Honeywell, we want to be trusted, we want to create a seamless and integrated experience based on a clear purpose, we want to empower our customers, and we want to be reliable and approachable. We transferred these values to the design so that our products are perceived this way. So, it means, that we are not just making random product design, but the harness design language strategy I helped to create reflects the values of our company and the promise we gave to our customers. 

And this paid off: The entire H500 range was designated iF Design and Red Dot winner.

At the same time, there are some differences between how the US and European styles of the H500 look like. There are some specific regional safety requirements and also a distinction in harness architecture, which is a consequence of users’ preference and perception. 

One of the examples is the traditional tongue buckle that is perceived as more reliable by users in the US market in contrast to the Europeans preferring innovative quick-release buckles. Of course, both versions are fully compliant with the regulations, so it is just a matter of preference.

But overall, styles for both markets are built based on a modular approach that allows the flexibility to reflect various customer's needs.

What do you hope will be the impact of your product?

I am proud that we created the H500 to be a super comfortable, lightweight, and ergonomic harness range. It helps highlight the Honeywell design that truly goes beyond safety compliance. Hopefully, it will help bring workers home safely.

We also thought about the environmental impact, by eliminating redundant parts and optimization. We also applied regional manufacturing, to reduce the logistical impact of having to ship materials from overseas. We tried to source materials locally, in Europe and the US respectively, which also benefits the regional economy.

The H500 series was selected as winner in the world renowned 2021 iF Design and Red Dot product design competitions. For more information on the innovative design, explore the entire H500 family.


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