Innovation Story: Taking the HUE Approach to Create Honeywell BW Solo

Innovation Story: Taking the HUE Approach to Create Honeywell BW Solo

Honeywell sits down with Director of User Experience Design Pete Holdcroft to discuss how Honeywell approaches product design using HUE (Honeywell User Experience).

Honeywell has been at the forefront of innovation across a whole range of hazardous environment sensing technology, and the Honeywell BW™ Solo is an example of its HUE initiative at work. 

The HUE approach represents the ultimate focus on the end-user experience, enabling an efficient cycle time from design idea through prototyping and, finally, launch. 

Pete Holdcroft believes that, for Honeywell BW™ Solo, HUE was a pivotal moment, culminating in the Red Dot award for Design in 2019. It created a new platform that set the foundation for innovating in portable gas at Honeywell and was followed by the Honeywell BW™ Icon, which won Red Dot in 2020, and the Honeywell BW™ Flex, which has won the iF Design Award in 2021. 

How does HUE start?

Like everything in life, it starts with a great planning stage. The HUE plan encapsulates the whole design process and is used from the very first discussion on how much time to spend on a project, what are the priorities, and the budget. In the case of Honeywell’s BW™ Solo, there were two options, either to create a new single gas detector platform or to update the current product to reflect the DLS (Design Language Strategy) of Honeywell. 

“It was conflicting”, admits Holdcroft, as “the business wanted innovation, but with the cost and timeline of a minor change”. In the end, they decided to go for a brand-new platform, which would reduce the existing portfolio of 6-7 products into a new single gas detector. 

“Before we started sketching or researching, we were clearly defining what we're going to achieve, what it will likely take, and what success would look like. We wanted to make sure that the foundations are set up properly. Yes, you have to move expeditiously but you've also got to do some deep thinking, you've got to allow space for proper consideration if you're going to create something that's going to make a difference”, says Pete Holdcroft. 

At the front end of the project, where the innovation space needs to be grasped, the cross-functional team started by dreaming and questioning what the future product could look like and how it would perform in terms of:

- Connectivity – Since the product will be connected to Honeywell software in the Cloud, we needed to understand the ecosystem of software, hardware, and sensors. 

- Detecting gas – Honeywell has great sensors that can sense gas, ultrasonic technology that can hear gas leaks, and thermal technologies that can see gas. What technologies would the new product use?

- Platform upgradability – What are the differentiating features and value laddering opportunities, and how could we price them? 

 - Modularity - How can we better build it into a single platform?

- Wearability - Because it's part of PPE it's going to be worn in different ways. Some people may clip it to a hardhat, some may clip it on the pocket or belt. Is there a new way in which the detector can be attached to clothing? 

Archetype of the product - What is the format, should this be a traditional-looking gas detector, or could this be another archetype, could we build the components into clothing, or does the gas sensor fit into other PPE such as a hard hat? 

- Interaction - Where should the buttons and the functions of the display go, what are the key features? Should we be thinking about physiological monitoring, can we use the gas detector to gather intelligence from other workers?

What comes next after all this dreaming?

The next steps include competitive analysis and benchmarking to understand the current state of single gas detectors on the market. We also research trends and study adjacent markets in this case, sports wearables. “Analogies are a very powerful tool for innovation. There are some interesting things that we learned and used”, says Holdcroft. “We asked questions like does the worker need to see a display or could visual or audible alarms be enough. And maybe we could integrate the sensors into clothing and treat the user interface differently and enhance visibility for the worker.” 

Moving into user research tools, the team does a customer journey map, trying to understand the critical things that need to be addressed. “We don't just want to understand the product requirements, we want to understand the people, putting ourselves in their shoes, understanding what they need from us. Sometimes as designers we can get carried away, we want to design something beautiful, elegant, and a dream to use, but maybe for our customers that just isn't their biggest issue. Maybe it’s the fact that they must wait 12 weeks from order to delivery of the new product. Even if we can give them a beautiful product, and it's the best product on the market, if they’re not going to get it for 12 weeks they'll just go and buy something else”, explains the product designer.

Time to frame ideas and test them!

This is the stage when designers “come up with interesting ideas, that range from incremental steps to ideas that are more of a stretch or leap”, starting from scenarios inspired by our research, such as sports wearables that use scrolling screens and icons rather than large static LCDs to inform the user. “We ended up releasing a later product with just icons, the Honeywell BW™ Icon, which is great, it's not as expensive and can work in very low temperatures”, says Holdcroft.

Another innovation that made it through to the final product was the pop-out front cover for direct access to the filter and sensor, making maintenance easy and fast. The same for the battery, which can be changed as easily as in standard consumer goods. “Revolutionary in terms of what anybody else can do when it comes to maintenance”.

This is the stage when, Holdcroft added, “a lot of ideas generated are new to the field and need to be validated with customers, so they have to be protected. To move fast we get provisional patent protection to cover a set of ideas. We had 25 or so ideas that were novel and needed provisional protection at the very early stage. We came out with several global patents for the finished product”.

Designing for real

Left with three prototypes and a clear idea of what was needed, the team started basic evaluations. The prototypes, one with the “large color display”, another with an “angled display”, and the “any way up” design (which could be rotated if you wanted to take a look at the display while clipped to your clothes) were tested with users to find out:

market differentiation – The “any way up” design was looking like nothing on the market and users liked the rounded shape, they could hold it in their hand and liked to clip it on. 

market adoption - Will it be adopted, is it good for usability, is it delightful, attractive?

-feasibility – is it technically and commercially viable, can we make it? 

After the HUE process and subsequent safety and performance testing, the team ended up with a completely novel gas detector. “It was highly differentiated in terms of the way it looks, the way you maintain it and access the sensor, the way you can charge the battery, even the black in-mold decoration on the front had never been done before on any of our products. With a lighting ‘halo’ around the perimeter of the device we updated the illumination of the visual alarm”, says Pete Holdcroft.

Through the HUE design process, the team explored what was initially a plan to update the shape of an existing product and came up with a novel device, with plenty of market intelligence to back up every innovation it features. Honeywell BW™ Solo was an important stepping stone to further innovation and design awards for our portable gas detectors.

Interested to know more? Take a look at the entire family of Honeywell portable gas detectors


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