Would you happen to know OMRON's digital thermometer, Kenon-kun*1? Released in 2004, Kenon-kun MC-670, featured a large LCD and a round shape, in sharp contrast to the conventional design of long and thin electronic thermometers. With the ease of placing it under the armpit and the easy-to-see display, the Kenon-kun series has been the perennial choice of home thermometers up to the current MC-681. Behind this bold design change was OMRON HEALTHCARE's strong belief that any product that supports the health of many must be designed by taking the perspective of its users to heart. The question is, what does this entail?
*1: Kenon-kun is the brand name of thermometer provided by OMRON HEALTHCARE in Japan.
The change in OMRON HEALTHCARE's way of thinking about design was triggered when we started to develop a new digital thermometer in 2003. Before that, technology, specifications, and prices took precedence in new product development, and the design team had to start with these predetermined conditions, which imposed various restrictions on how a product could be designed. Changing our mind, we decided to consider the ideal digital thermometer from scratch, with a focus on the needs of users. The result was Kenon-kun MC-670. With the help of designer Fumie Shibata , this brand new digital thermometer from OMRON HEALTHCARE was designed to embody "a mother's love," offering the maternal warmth upon her child when checking their temperature. With a large LCD for displaying temperature measurement results and a flat-shaped tip for a non-slip, tight fit when placed under the armpit, it was designed to ensure user safety.*2
Upon its release, many users sent positive feedback, lauding its ease of use and safety even when used by children. This prompted OMRON HEALTHCARE to design its offerings from the perspective of users, and subsequently came up with a design concept, "Shaped for People," which was then updated in 2018 as "Design to Hearten," thereby completing the concept.
*2: It was registered as a three-dimensional trademark by Japan Patent Office in 2019. This means that it has been recognized that "Just by looking at the shape of the body, it is recognized as OMRON's thermometer."
You may be wondering why OMRON HEALTHCARE is so attached to product design. It is simply because of our sincere desire as a healthcare company to help realize healthy and comfortable lives for people by distributing the home medical devices and services that we develop. Any product or service that we offer has to be safe and easy to use for anyone. Accuracy goes without saying, but a great deal of attention is also paid to "ease of use," i.e., if it is easy to hold or see, and "approachability," in other words, a form that does not intimidate and is relatable to ourselves.
And now, as people are increasingly expected to share their values, OMRON HEALTHCARE's design approaches are evolving from one that is "product-oriented" to one that is "user-centered," which places the focus on customer experience.
Hence the birth of "Design to Hearten" with its paramount concept being "Putting a Smile on Everyone's Face."
Tsuyoshi Ogihara of the Design Communication Department of OMRON HEALTHCARE explains:
"At the center of our design philosophy is the intent to imagine what concerns and joys our users might have and how we empathize with their emotions to support them gently. When we design a product or service or application, if we wish to align our feet at the starting line with members from our product planning and development teams, it is crucial that we face the actual users. For example, the only way we can know what is in the mind of a 3-year-old child using a nebulizer for their asthma is to observe and read about their thoughts. We must also imagine how concerned parents are about asthmatic episodes of their children and what they have to go through. They wash the nebulizer and dry it to keep it clean, so they can put medicine in it and use it every morning and evening. Sometimes they have to chase their running child and then praise and give them a big hug once they have used their nebulizer. When we design something, we make sure to imagine how our products are used in various settings. We try to take the perspective of countless other users, such as one who becomes anxious every time they step on the body composition monitor to see if their diet worked or one who struggles to get out of bed every morning because of knee pain. We want them to feel that we are there at their side to support them, by creating products that they would actually want to use, even just a little."
Encompassing such initiatives and approaches of OMRON HEALTHCARE, the concept of "Design to Hearten" aims to spread them beyond the company to the general public to gain their empathy with our thoughts. The backdrop to all of this is the message that OMRON accepts the honest emotions that people have about their health. Some people refuse to face their health concerns because of anxiety and fear or neglect the management of their own health due to laziness. Rather than negating their passive or even negative attitudes toward health, we hope to validate such emotions and pursue designs that help them to live with as positive a mindset as possible.
This design concept has given rise to various products. One example is a wheeze detector * for children with asthma, which was released in Europe in 2020. Detailed care was given to its design elements, such as the shape and materials of the unit, as well as the sound and light it emits, to make it easy for family members to use, and be welcomed by children. Asthma Diary, an application for managing measurement results was also developed out of our sincere wish to support dialogues with physicians so the patients and their family members can receive treatment without feeling unnecessarily anxious.
* A home device that detects wheezing, which is heard before the symptoms of asthma patients worsen
Under the banner of "Design to Hearten," OMRON HEALTHCARE continues to take on the challenge of providing a customer experience for "Putting a Smile on Everyone's Face."