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COLEMAN'S NO-NUISANCE LIFESAVERS

Coleman Safe Keep Monitors
Designer: ZIBA Design

Good product design is visually appealing. But great product design goes much further. Witness the gold-award-winning Safe Keep Monitor product line that Portland (Ore.)-based ZIBA Design Inc. developed for Coleman Co. It perfectly illustrates that great design need not be flashy, fancy, or slick. In fact, one of the design challenges with this line of home safety devices, which includes smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, was making the products fade into the background when not in use, while being accessible and easy to operate under highly stressful conditions.

Two years ago, Coleman, the U.S. camping-gear pioneer, was scouting for new brand extensions. Home safety monitoring fit the bill in two key ways: It leveraged Coleman's reputation for making safe and reliable emergency gear such as lanterns and portable stoves. And there were clear problems with existing devices. Heading this list was ''nuisance'' activation from innocent causes such as charred toast. Some consumers get so annoyed at trying to stifle the screeching devices by fanning a magazine at them or climbing on a chair to push a deactivation button, they end up taking the batteries out and forsaking the protection entirely.

ZIBA stuck with traditional detectors' off-white color and round shape, which tend to make them unobtrusive. But it gave the front cover what ZIBA President Sohrab Vossoughi calls a big, concave ''broom button,'' allowing a person simply to reach up with a broom handle and shut off the alarm when accidentally triggered. That's particularly important to elderly people, who become flustered at the alarms and have trouble climbing up to deactivate them. The button's shape--not its color--is used to cue users because ZIBA's research found consumers don't want to draw visual attention to these devices. With the exaggerated button, however, ''ZIBA took a simple look, but communicated a basic, fundamental improvement in the functioning of the detector,'' says Coleman Executive Vice-President David K. Stearns.

The broom button, plus a feature enabling the devices to be mounted on existing smoke-detector brackets to allow consumers to switch brands easily, helped Wichita-based Coleman capture a remarkable 40% market share in less than a year. ''This is what design should be about--defining a problem and moving a business forward,'' says Vossoughi.

The idea of a big button was translated to the carbon monoxide detectors, too. ZIBA's key contribution for the CO monitors was a small door that opens to reveal a written message when the alarm goes off. Turns out, many people install the devices without understanding the nature of the threat of CO, a colorless, odorless gas. At high levels, for example, people should immediately evacuate the premises to avoid losing consciousness. Searching for a manual could risk injury or even death.

Put simply, this is life-saving technology, most appropriately and accessibly packaged. A winning combination.

By Joan O'C. Hamilton in San Francisco


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Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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