High-profile design paints a corporate image

By: 
February 28, 2001


Figure 1. Designers at Herbst LaZar Bell completely redesigned Motorola's headset for the 2000-2001 football season. A single attachment point for the yoke, boom, and ear cup streamlined the appearance over the previous version and aimed to associate the Motorola name with advanced technology.

Whether or not you liked the outcome of Super Bowl XXXV, you probably did notice the wireless headsets that each coach wore. If you did, then Motorola and product design firm Herbst LaZar Bell Inc. (HLB) succeeded in their goal to create a highly visible, brand-new look to market the communications company—and all in a tightly compressed time frame. 

Spawned from a carefully crafted sponsorship agreement with the National Football League, Motorola's headset for the 2000-2001 season (Figure 1) was designed for the most part as a marketing tool to provide the company with wide television exposure. "We wanted to give an image of Motorola as a cool, technological company," says Terry Taylor, director of design for the Asia-Pacific region and sponsorship products at Motorola. 

As a result, the headset was a total redesign from the 1999-2000 season version (Figure 2), which HLB also handled. According to John Hartman, senior designer and program manager for the Chicago-based design firm, Motorola was taking a step away from previous sponsors who simply placed their name on an existing headset. "Motorola wanted to bust out of the idea that the headset was a black background product," he explains, "and to highlight its manufacturing abilities." 

Design Drivers 
One of the most important elements in achieving these goals was the headset's appearance. Research indicated that black and white would provide the greatest contrast in a televised image, but designers were looking for something high-tech. "That's where titanium came into play," says Hartman. "Motorola is using this material in some of its newer phones, so we highlighted it in this product." The titanium color is painted on the yoke, or the headband, over GE Plastics' Lexan polycarbonate. 

Another key factor was the positioning of the company's name on the boom, the component that brings the microphone to the coach's mouth. The word Motorola appears twice here, so if the coach flips the headset around to his other ear, the name can still be read. "These coaches are generally photographed from the front, so it was critical to get the logo as close as we could in this line of the camera," Hartman explains. "The windsock on the end of the boom was also completely contained within the plastic parts, offering even more billboard space to move the logo into the front." 

The focus of the design was to create a product to market Motorola's corporate image.

For Steve Remy, mechanical engineer at HLB, timing was the most critical factor. "In most projects there are three drivers, the triple constraints—time, money, and performance," he says. "In this case, time was the main driver, performance was the secondary driver, and cost was dropped by the wayside. [Motorola] said get it done and make it work at all costs." The reason for the rock-solid deadline is obvious: The first preseason game was the third week of August 2000. Engineering received the project from the industrial design department in May 2000. 

The success of this design, however, depended as much on user acceptance as it did Motorola's. Hartman and his team of industrial designers interviewed coaches and NFL officials. One of the greatest challenges, he recalls, was balancing Motorola's desire for an almost space-age, advanced look with the grass-and-mud tradition rooted in football. "There's a lot of additional technology that could have made the product look like a virtual-reality headset," notes Hartman. HLB dialed back from this high-tech look, which would have made the headset very small, and beefed it up to fit a coach. "The fact that the coaches might wear something like a call center headset didn't fit in," he quips. 

Figure 2. The 1999-2000 headset version, a souped-up adaptation of previous designs, was a step in the right direction, but still harkened to older designs. Changes to the yoke, boom, and ear cup were in order.

Cosmetic Changes vs. Overhaul 
The critical timing issue mentioned before was especially acute when Motorola first approached HLB for the 1999-2000 season headset. Motorola marketing cut a deal with the NFL and the entire project was completed in four months: April to August 1999. In that case, designers took the skeleton of an existing headset and revised some part shapes. However, the second generation was to have a cleaner, more futuristic appearance. 

"We were changing the way it was assembled, the way the boom and ear cup mounted and swiveled," says Remy. For example, the most significant change was the attachment of the boom to the yoke—instead of to the ear cup—in a single connection point. Previously, the yoke connected to the ear cup in a Y-shaped fixture, and the boom attached to the bottom of the ear cup. Now, behind the batwing logo are screws attached to the yoke, surrounded by an elastomer O-ring held in place between two plastic pieces. The O-ring, which provides resistance to rotation of the boom, replaced generation one's rotating plastic ball and stamped metal part. 

The second-generation boom also received major revisions from the first version. In the first, the gooseneck was simply overmolded with an elastomer. Recognizing that coaches remove their headsets 80 to 100 times a game, almost always grabbing them by the boom, designers made this component on the next generation much more substantial and again overmolded it with Santoprene TPE (Advanced Elastomer Systems) to give it a tactile grip. 

The Process 
Taking advantage of the time afforded for the second generation, Hartman interviewed fans and viewers in addition to Motorola's design and marketing departments and NFL coaches. Next, industrial designers used that research to create concept sketches, working with engineering to brainstorm efficient manufacturing methods. 

Foam models were then crafted, which, once approved, were scanned and translated into CAD data and imported into Pro/Engineer. Engineers used this data as the basis of the headset's surfaces. It was at this point that, Remy recalls, the design got very complicated. "The surfaces don't look terribly complex, but they're somewhat organic shapes," he explains. "Getting them to match the intent of the industrial designer can be a challenge, especially within the time frame we had." 

After a mere month of CAD work, the design went to moldmakers for completion in three to five weeks. For the first headset, ARC Industries Inc. (Schaumburg, IL) made the tools; the second project spread the burden among several moldmakers, including ARC for the ear cups and Moldmakers Inc. (Germantown, WI) for the yoke. All told, 13 tools were cut for the headset's 13 parts. 

Remy notes that engineering tried to make the parts as simple as possible to mold, but one complicated feature of the yoke required hand-loaded inserts. A part that mates to the metal headband substrate had undercuts that would have substantially lengthened tooling lead time and increased the cost, but given that only 1750 headsets were produced, such things were overlooked. "You couldn't make millions of parts that way," he concedes, "but since we were looking for fast tooling turnaround times and low volumes, it made sense." 

Cashing In 
Given the vast resources Motorola threw at this project, it's natural to question if the return justified the cost. Without a doubt, says Motorola's Taylor. "We had absolutely no idea how visible this program would be and how many people would recognize it," he comments. "We've had large numbers of people and organizations calling to ask if they can buy the headsets, which we don't sell. The feedback has been far more than we normally get—in fact, more than any other program I know that Motorola has ever done." 

Hartman attributes this success to his client's heavy focus on designing a product that markets a corporate image. "We haven't really had that type of request before," he says. "This exercise was saying, 'We're going to create something that is a benchmark design for defining what we want as an image for our corporation.'" 

Contact information
Herbst LaZar Bell Inc.
Chicago, IL
Cassie McQueeny-Tankard
Phone: (312) 454-1116
Fax: (312) 454-9019
Web: www.hlb.com
E-mail: [email protected]

 

 

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