Business 2.0 & Frog Design Present the 2nd Annual Bottom Line Design Awards
(Business 2.0) – Ask most people what qualifies as good design and they're likely to name a line of couture, a groundbreaking skyscraper, or a sleek piece of modern furniture. But why not a pill bottle, a bag of M&Ms, or a really cool-looking coffin? In the second annual Bottom Line Design Awards--a collaboration between Business 2.0 and the venerable Silicon Valley consulting firm Frog Design--we look beyond the surface to take a more holistic approach. The following 10 winners don't just look great; they've revolutionized old categories or engendered new ones, while also making a positive impact on the bottom lines of the companies that created them. In fact, design aesthetic was but one of 10 metrics we used to rate each product. We also considered user experience, brand strategy, sustainability, innovation, risk taking, corporate strategy, business impact, cultural impact, and the element of surprise. Our jury of nine experts from various industries chose from the nearly 100 submissions and nominations that came in this year. Here are their picks for the most noteworthy designs of 2005.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Uono Cocoon Coffin
Yes, it's a coffin. But once you get past that notion, Andreas Spiegel wants you to gaze at the container and think, "Wow, that's beautiful. I want one." The sole offering of German startup Uono, the sleek oval casket was launched last spring with a business plan as unique as its aesthetic. "My strategy is to convince people to buy the Cocoon before they get to the funeral home," says Uono founder Spiegel.
A fundamental problem in the funeral industry is that mourning families will buy just about any casket on the spot, making for an extremely stable but stale market. Uono addresses that issue by branding the $3,500 Cocoon as a premium product, marketing it both to funeral directors and to consumers. "It's a piece of furniture with a high design standard--the last piece of furniture they'll ever buy," Spiegel says. In fact, he came up with the idea after having to bury his design-loving father in a tacky brass-handled box. To broaden its appeal, he also made the Cocoon biodegradable: It's molded from an inexpensive plant fiber called jute and coated with a water-based varnish. "People who shop at Whole Foods would buy this coffin," says juror Harley Manning, VP for customer experience at Forrester Research. Spiegel hopes to introduce the coffin in the United States by year's end.
BOTTOM LINE: Demand is keeping pace with Uono's manufacturing capacity of one coffin per day, and Spiegel expects three distribution deals he just inked to translate into 300 additional unit sales in the next year. The startup should break even by 2007. -- M.K.
My M&Ms Website
Few things in life are as much fun as candy, and few candies are as iconic as M&Ms. So when Masterfoods in early 2005 unveiled its new My M&Ms website (www.shop.mms.com)--letting consumers order M&Ms printed with customized messages--it was pure brand magic. Shoppers can select from 21 colors or choose designated palettes organized by occasion, such as weddings and baby showers. Each candy holds two lines of text at eight characters each, with the iconic "M" printed on the flip side. The website itself is fun and easy to use, allowing customers to preview candies at various stages. My M&Ms was so inundated before Valentine's Day, it warned customers that new orders would not arrive until March. That, despite the fact that a minimum order of four 9-ounce bags comes to about $40, before shipping and sales tax. "It's a lot of money per M&M," says juror Don Norman, professor of computer science and psychology at Northwestern University. "This is a price-insensitive market."
BOTTOM LINE: Total online M&Ms revenues have increased more than 400 percent since the custom-printing service was launched. -- G.F.
Sling Media Slingbox
You have 500 channels and 300 hours of TiVo. You can watch anything you want--until you leave home. Then it's a hotel TV with 20 random choices. It can make even the most itinerant traveler homesick.
That's why Sling Media's Blake Krikorian brought forth the Slingbox last June. The souped-up set-top box transmits shows from your TV to your laptop, with air vents on its top spelling out what the device offers: "My cable TV my DVD my radio anywhere."
Already pay for MLB's Extra Innings package on DirecTV? Now you don't have to pay again to watch games on the Web--just hook the Slingbox up to your home broadband network and link up to it via the Internet. The SlingPlayer software on your laptop gradually (but unnoticeably) slows down playback, creating a six-second buffer to compensate for glitches. You can even change channels with a virtual remote control that looks exactly like the one back home.
BOTTOM LINE: The Slingbox can now be found in 3,000 stores nationwide, and sales in the first seven months outpaced those of TiVo following the latter's launch in 1999. -- O.T.
What began as a simple mapping application has since turned into one of the most versatile tools on the Web. Google Maps is inspiring developers to create customized maps of just about everything, from taco trucks in Seattle to scuba sites around the world.
Google Maps debuted in beta form in February 2005, and in October was integrated into Google Local search, allowing users to plot businesses on grids and later on 3-D satellite images of cities. More significantly, the application programming interface, or API, went public in June 2005, inspiring developers to use the free tool kit to create innovative mashups. One of those, HousingMaps.com, impressed Google so much that it hired the site's creator. "Finding high-quality developers has made the API worthwhile for us," says Google product manager Thai Tran. Google also reserves the right to advertise on any maps that use the API. After all, notes judge Norman, who is also co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, "Google isn't just a search engine; it's an advertising company."
BOTTOM LINE: Since Google Maps was integrated into Google Local, the number of unique monthly visitors has increased 38 percent to 17.9 million. -- R.W.
Let's face it: French cars aren't known for their functionality, aesthetics, or safety. But with the C4, French automaker Citroën set out to shatter the stereotype. Available in Europe and parts of Asia, the C4 nods to the brand's avant-garde heritage with a fluid design that sets it apart in the hypercompetitive European hatchback market. "There's no angle from which it looks bad," says Richard Homan, online editor at car website Edmunds.com. The interior is downright Zen, with a dashboard that diffuses sunlight and an air-freshening system whose scents were developed by a French perfumery.
Juror Lisa Iwamoto, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, posed a crucial question: "Is this a good French car, or a good car?" The answer, it seems, is both. One major innovation is the fixed-center steering wheel, whose middle remains static so the airbag is always released at the correct angle. Other safety details, such as seat cushions that vibrate if the vehicle drifts into another lane, helped earn the C4 a perfect five-star crash rating.
BOTTOM LINE: Citroën has sold nearly 300,000 C4s since late 2004, upping its total market share by 6.7 percent. -- S.H.
Pure Digital Single-Use Video Camcorder
Film is on the way out, but nonintimidating technology isn't. Hence the appeal of Pure Digital's new single-use camcorder, which marries the convenience of a disposable camera with the excitement of digital video.
The device is the natural evolution of the San Francisco startup's first product, a single-use digital still camera launched in 2003. Unveiled at CVS drugstores in July 2005, the camcorder targets simplicity seekers, from gadgetphobes to parents and kids. "When it came out, I brought it home to my 5-year-old, and he just started using it," says judge Anne Zehren, president of sales and marketing at Current TV.
With just four buttons, it retains only the most essential features; you can delete clips, for example, but you can't zoom. For about $40, customers buy the camcorder, capture as much as 20 minutes of video, and return the device for processing. In an hour, they get a disc of clips that can be viewed on a DVD player or computer. The disc also includes software for uploading video to Pure Digital's servers and e-mailing links to friends. When the "one-time-use" camcorders are returned, they're sent off to be refurbished. In fact, Pure Digital realizes no profit until the second use.
BOTTOM LINE: In stores where it's sold, the camcorder has captured a 15 percent dollar share of the single-use camera category. -- R.W.
Nemo Hypno Tent
If necessity is the mother of invention, then it's clear how Cam Brensinger managed to design the best new tent of 2005. Seven years ago, overcome by altitude sickness while attempting to scale Alaska's fearsome Denali peak, Brensinger was forced to take refuge in a small, flimsy tent for three days while he waited out a storm alone.
Unimpressed by the quality of his equipment, which was difficult to set up and maintain, Brensinger founded New Hampshire-based Nemo Equipment in 2002 to design a better shelter. Last May the startup introduced the world's first inflatable backcountry tent, the Nemo Hypno. An innovative pump and a series of air ducts inflate the lightweight but sturdy structure in just 30 seconds. At 3.7 pounds, the $455 Hypno is highly portable, requiring none of the usual tent poles. Brensinger's invention has attracted the attention of camping-crazed angel investors, with whom he is currently negotiating a round of funding.
BOTTOM LINE: After nearly selling out his entire inventory in 2005, Brensinger plans to triple production next year. Previously available only through Nemo's site, the Hypno will soon be stocked by retail stores across the country, including the Eastern Mountain Sports chain. -- B.F.
Dyson DC-15: The Ball
When Dyson introduced its Cyclone vacuum cleaner to the United States in 2003, it revolutionized a century-old category. Using an air-filled canister in place of a bag, the product was innovative in that it never lost suction. Later releases were less impressive, adding only minor tweaks. But with the DC-15, a.k.a. the Ball, released in the States last May, the British firm has reinvented the vacuum again. Instead of relying on the usual two wheels, the designers created a volleyball-size orb to make the vacuum easier to maneuver. "When you see one for the first time, there's really an 'Aha!' moment," says judge Landis Smithers, VP for creative at Old Navy.
BOTTOM LINE: In less than two months, the DC-15 became one of the top 10 upright vacuums in the U.S. market. -- S.H.
Apple iPod Nano
If the original iPod design was truly revolutionary, then the iPod Nano is simply the next logical step. Its technological innovations aren't exactly groundbreaking. The slim, sleek Nano has a color screen, it's a little bit lighter and smaller than the Mini, and like the Shuffle, it uses flash memory instead of a hard drive. But from a pure business perspective, the Nano is truly ingenious. Released in September, the device persuaded legions of consumers to pay $249 for 4 gigabytes of storage (or $199 for 2GB) when they could have paid just $50 more for an iPod with over seven times the capacity. Why? "The other ones are just too heavy," says juror Hartmut Esslinger, founder and co-CEO of Frog Design. But even he admits that the Nano doesn't deserve to win based on portability alone: "These awards are about the bottom line."
BOTTOM LINE: Apple sold 14 million iPods during the quarter that ended in December, up from 4.5 million a year earlier. Execs attribute the increase in large part to the Nano. -- N.E.
Target ClearRX Bottle
It's a stunning--and troubling--statistic: Nearly 60 percent of prescription drugs are taken improperly, according to a study commissioned by Target. To tackle that problem, the retailer last May introduced a redesign of the decades-old amber prescription pill bottle. Dubbed ClearRX, it's the handiwork of designer Deborah Adler, who came up with the idea when her grandmother accidentally ingested her grandfather's medicine. After months spent developing a prototype, Adler sold her design to Target. Now sporting the retailer's trademark red, the bottle eliminates many pitfalls of the earlier version, using large type and six color-coded rings to help family members distinguish between containers in a medicine cabinet. To our judges, the design immediately made sense. "The competition came down to a battle between life and death--the pill bottle and the coffin," says Satjiv Chahil, SVP for marketing at Hewlett-Packard.
BOTTOM LINE: Target's prescription drug sales increased an estimated 14 percent last year, from $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion, according to research group Chain Store Guide Information Services. -- B.F.
Director of marketing, Frog Design; chairman, Bottom Line Design Awards
SVP for marketing, Hewlett-Packard
Founder and co-CEO, Frog Design
Assistant professor of architecture, UC Berkeley; principal, Iwamoto Scott Architecture
VP for customer experience, Forrester Research
Professor of computer science and psychology, Northwestern University
Co-CEO, Frog Design
VP for creative, Old Navy
President of sales and marketing, Current TV