Balancing design and engineering – New Design Magazine interview Ben Strutt

Cambridge Design Partnership was established in 1996 by three engineers (all of whom are still involved in the running of the business to this day). One of the founding partners, Mike Cane completed his Engineering degree at the University of Cambridge before studying Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art; it was his vision to create a company that balanced technological expertise and user-centred design in helping clients to innovate and make better products.

Ben Strutt, the company’s head of design, joined Cambridge Design Partnership in 2010 and the five years since have seen design become an increasingly important aspect of the business. “My vision was to drive the combined industrial design, consumer research and technical R&D offer,” he says. “These disciplines have now become fully integrated within the business.”

The consultancy works predominantly across four sectors: consumer (which includes subcategories such as consumer electronics and packaging); healthcare (medical devices, drug delivery systems, and surgical devices); energy (domestic heating technologies, control systems, and in-home monitoring systems); and industrial (process line equipment, safety systems and so forth).

2014 proved an exciting year for Cambridge Design Partnership in terms of growth. The company took on 18 new staff and in March opened a bespoke multi-million pound R&D centre. The new centre includes laboratories, consumer research facilities, a rapid prototyping suite, and workshop and modelling provision. Strutt adds: “The centre is integral to our ability to work and iterate quickly and support client confidentiality by keeping as much activity inhouse as possible.”

The year started with the exciting news that the consultancy had been successful in obtaining a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help tackle the global HIV epidemic by developing a next-generation condom. “We felt it was a very user-centred problem: it wouldn’t just be about developing a new material or a new chemistry, it would be about focussing on the challenges that are experienced by users,” explains Strutt. “Many of the problems – social, emotional, cultural, accessibility, and so on – are unique to sub-Saharan Africa and other low resource settings.”

Through 2014 Cambridge Design Partnership worked on the first stage of the project, making links with health workers in Lesotho (where around a quarter of the population is HIV positive) and developing concepts to early prototype level.
In 2015 a Phase Two application will be made to the Foundation to support further development of certain concepts. Also in healthcare, the consultancy worked with Raumedic AG, a German medical device company, on a needle safety device that fits to their existing syringes in order to prevent needlestick injuries.

In response to new directives (in the US and Europe) introduced to reduce the number of such injuries, companies are attempting to create completely new products. However, one of the problems of starting from scratch is the product will need to go through a long and expensive validation process. “Raumedic AG recognised the opportunity for a needle safety device that could be retro-fitted to existing primary packs (the part that holds the drug),” says Strutt. “We created a spring-mounted telescopic sleeve which, once the syringe has been plunged and the drug delivered, springs out to surround and cover up the needle automatically. Modifying the existing vial avoided the long process of revalidation and helped the client get to market as quickly as possible.”

Also in 2014 Cambridge Design Partnership worked with Bloodhound SSC, the British land speed record team. The consultancy helped to design the steering wheel for the car, which it is hoped will be capable of speeds in excess of 1,000 miles per hour.

The project prioritized usability and ergonomics with the wheel designed specifically for the hands of driver Andy Green and carefully formed to take lines of sight into consideration. The wheel has been printed using an additive titanium technology making it incredibly strong as there is no need to remove a mould tool.

2014 was a particularly strong year in the industrial sector. To look at one example, Cambridge Design Partnership developed an industrial printer for Domino. “This is not your typical home printer,” comments Strutt. “These printers sit in factories labelling anything from sweets and eggs to mass-produced packaging.

Some of those environments are quite challenging, the products need to be very rugged and washed down regularly.” The main challenge for the designers was around ingress protection to ensure the printer met IP66 rating. There was an apparent fundamental conflict between keeping the electronics cool and a rugged enclosure. The design team did extensive work with thermal modelling and CFD to develop a solution in addition to industrial design work to enhance the user experience.

Having carried out qualitative consumer research in the US, Latin America, China and Europe last year, the company plans to extend and expand its front end process in 2015 to ensure primary insights are translated most effectively into concepts and products that people want and need. Furthermore, the team will continue to grow both at the consultancy’s Cambridge site and at its US office in Palo Alto, California.

See the article here.

New Design Magazine 2015 Year book. Issue 114. February 2015