case story | oticon 'intiga'

EVOLUTION

Introduction

Oticon Intiga is a new hearing device specifically designed to meet the needs of first time users and increase acceptance for hearing solutions. It addresses new users’ desire for discreetness, natural sound quality and rapid acclimatization with an exclusive design and unequaled performance. The lightweight shell design houses highly advanced technology perfectly crafted to fit inside and to make Oticon Intiga the smallest fully wireless hearing device in the world. Its shell surface is clean and unbroken; its organic shape follows the physical contour of the ear, achieving a close, comfortable fit – making it almost invisible behind the ear.

The Brief

Design the successor to Oticon Delta, the hugely popular, paradigm-shifting hearing device first released in 2004. Delta was unique in that it was the first device to break the mould and revolutionize the concept of “hearing aid”, transforming it – through design – into something that people didn’t just need, but could actually want.

This time, the task was to design the next generation, which would build upon the knowledge acquired over Delta's lifetime, enhance the user experience, improve performance on all levels and maintain design leadership in the category. We were to simplify retail logistics, harness new technologies, add functionality and battery life and create something new and unique, while making the device even smaller than its predecessor and competing products on the market.

And we had to make it all very attractive.

The Intent

I was directly involved in authoring the design brief, alongside the other main stakeholders. My position was that I would represent the users, and help align the project with their needs and desires.

We formulated a set of criteria to that effect, that would characterize the end result:
1) Looks great
2) Handles easily
3) Fits close and comfortable
4) Then disappears (from sight and mind)

In a different sense, I wanted the device to have a character, in an emotional sense, for us as humans to be able to relate to the product on a deeper level than the simple functional. People aren’t built to connect emotionally to dead things, we just relate practically to them, while objects that in some way seem alive or exhibit a soul, hold a different value for us.

The Process

The project’s stakeholders comprised a wide range of competencies, from engineering over audiology to marketing and production. The client has all these in-house, plus added support from a large network of distributors, dispensers and end-user test persons. Many of these were consulted throughout the process, to ensure the project would adhere to the ambitions set forth from the start.

Initial research was conducted into
-  user feedback from the previous device, “Delta”
-  competitors’ products, their strengths and, in particular, weaknesses
-  general trends in consumer electronics and fashion accessories

The ideation process involved extensive sketching and modelling, supported by studies of the anatomy of the outer and inner ear. No two ears are the same, but there are certain common features that we were able to use as our foundation for physical shaping cues. Also, multiple principles for arranging components were tested in 3D in relation to shaping of the body shells.

We divided the initial concepts into A-types and C-types (skipping the B-type designation to increase the distinction):
-  A-types were immediately feasible, rational and relatively low-risk solutions, building upon known technology and principles.
-  C-types were concepts, where 1 or more assumptions had been broken, to allow for more imaginative and original solutions.
-  Several ideas from the C-type range would eventually inspire the final design concepts and enhance them in terms of originality.

Six initial concepts were selected and produced as show models for use within audiologist and end-user focus groups as well as internally at company HQ, to promote and facilitate the conversation about
-  pros and cons in general
-  comfort and ergonomics
-  discreetness
-  aesthetics
-  colours and the option of changing colours 
-  dispenser/audiologist scenarios
-  end-user scenarios
-  engineering and production concerns
-  etc.

Data from this process informed the further concept refinement and selection process, and over time, eventually, a “proto”-Intiga emerged as the front runner. The final concept (with the working title “Beetle”) consisted of 3 main elements –
-  the body, housing the battery, twin microphones, an antenna and the CPU, and which rests behind the ear 
-  the speaker unit, which goes into the ear canal
-  and the speaker wire, which connects the two,
all of which were subject to much work and consideration.

Initial audiological testing of the concept revealed serious flaws that needed attention, and numerous tweaks and adjustments followed over the development process, as engineering constraints and component requirements were accomodated. However various stakeholders’ dedication to maintaining the original concept intact enabled us to finish with a result that was remarkably close to the concept. 

Oticon Intiga was finally launched in September 2011, 30 months in the making, to great acclaim and enthusiasm among users!

The Value

Clearly, when the work we do in design plays a part in generating a lot of attention and recognition for a company’s products, as is the case for Oticon, it results in something which significantly impacts the bottom line – which is great. That’s one reason why it’s obvious for Oticon to focus on design as an important and quite tangible competitive parameter.

But what interests me the most is observing what a difference it makes for the users of the products, what an improvement they experience in their quality of life. That’s something I enjoy so much about working with Oticon – the value we are helping to create for a lot of people. Through design we are helping to free people from their fear of not fitting in, socially, and enabling them once again to engage fully in their surroundings.

If we can continue to focus on the users’ needs, we’re going to see hearing aids that will be easier to use, more comfortable, and weatherproof. And we’ll keep getting better sound quality, rivalling or perhaps even surpassing normal hearing. Also, I hope we’ll see an increased focus on addressing the stigma of hearing loss to the point where these devices will be as socially accepted and even desirable as eyeglasses are today.

THE PREDECESSOR

 

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