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Strategic design as an integral part of early development
of smart wearable devices
The paper argues for the importance of holistic integration of design as a part of the product
development process from the very beginning. The author uses example from the field of smart
wearable electronics – use of design in the development of smart wearable camera for Slovak
startup company Benjamin button in the years 2014-2017. The described project, in which the
author participated as the lead designer and co-founder, serves as an example of complex
integration of design as both a tool of formal execution (product design, visual communication,
experience and service design) and an agile tool of multidisciplinary product development
(design thinking, rapid prototyping, user testing, software development) in the pre-production
stage, in this case discontinued after successful crowdfunding campaign. The paper describes
the tools, methods and positive effects of strategic design approach, used/achieved during the
smart wearable camera product development.
Integrated Design, Consumer Electronics, Smart Devices, Crowdfunding
JEL Classification: D02, D11, D26
The idea of design-driven business strategy is not new. In the introduction to his manifest
monograph, founder of frog – today worldwide proclaimed design consultancy - Hartmut
Esslinger declares that the same idea has led him to start his consulting company in 1969. He
states that design enables companies to invent projects that enhance human interactions and
experiences and connect with consumers on an emotional level. Known for developing Apple’s
“Snow white” design language in 1980s, Esslinger calls design “the means by which companies
can apply creativity strategically to their business purpose” (Esslinger, 2009).
The term “strategic design”, frequently used in today’s business world, refers to the
professional field in which designers use their principles, tools and methods to influence
strategic decision-making within an organization (Calabretta, 2016). Design can no longer be
understood only as an isolated discipline neither as an end product. Design’s aesthetic
contribution (in the field of f.e. industrial design or visual communication) is definitely still
needed, but the importance of intangible forms of design (experience design, service design)
as well as the use and the transition of design methodologies to other disciplines have become
equally (if not more) important.
Project VEGA No. 1/0543/18: The Importance of Product Design in Consumer Decision-Making and
Perspectives to Increase the Impact of Design on Creating Competitive Position of Companies Operating in the
Mgr. art. Michala Lipková, ArtD., Slovak University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, Institute of Design,
Námestie slobody 19, 812 45 Bratislava, Slovakia, firstname.lastname@example.org
It is no secret that the first company, that started introducing first holistically designed
products in the field of electronics, was Esslinger’s early client - Apple. Creating synergy of
software, hardware and online connectivity proved to be a valid strategy and became a
standard of the (at that time only emerging) digital industry. To explain the universal value of
this approach more closely, we could describe design as “disciplined approach to searching,
identifying and capturing value” (Van der Pijl, 2016).
Rather than inviting the designer to the project at the very end to “make the project nice”,
as it used to be common in the linear product development cycle (prepare – execute), much
greater value can be gained from the opposite: the cyclical and iterative approach provides
the opportunity to create a products and businesses, that put the customer at the center and
integrate design methods, tools and processes with other disciplines.
The concept of smart wearable camera Benjamin button was initiated and developed by
Slovak serial entrepreneur Dominik Orfánus. The brand and the name of the project were
inspired by short story by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. "The Curious Case of Benjamin
Button" is an unusual story, in which the main character is born with the physical appearance
of an 80-year-old man and undergoes a process of reverse aging.
The idea of “disrupting” aging from the short story became a metaphor for key values of
the project - the return to the childhood and the authenticity of digital memories. Benjamin
Button aimed to create an ecosystem around family memories. The solution consisted of two
development parts: hardware (smart wearable camera) and software (intelligent video editing
application). The product was supposed to (1) remove the smartphone from the parent – child
interaction, allowing the user (the parent or the child) to wear the camera and to (2) avoid the
hassle of video post-process. By automatically editing the video and suggesting best moments,
the product was supposed to create seamless experience of reliving family moments.
Fig. 1 Benjamin button wearable camera prototype (left) and mobile app mockup (right)
(Design © Michala Lipková)
Source: Author’s archive
What started as a standalone project later became official legal entity - limited liability
company in Slovakia, supported by foreign investors. Among other partners, the project was
accelerated by the German Tech Entrepreneurship Center (Berlin Startup Academy). During
the Kickstarter campaign (June – July 2017) the project was supported by 148 backers and
raised 208% of the campaign goal (Kickstarter, 2017). The project got awarded in national
startup competition Startup Awards SK in 2015 and received substantial media attention
There are two questions that currently rise when it comes to complex, innovative product
development projects: Which role should a designer play? How can we evaluate the impact of
good design? Both questions are impossible to answer universally. Both the role and the
impact of design have drastically changed over last 20 years – and it keeps evolving every day.
Many refer to the launch of the first iPhone in 2007 as the turning point of digital design
paradigm. Smartphone as the signature artifact of our age and mediator of our everyday
(Greenfield, 2017) enabled the whole industry of digital products and services without which
some of us can hardly imagine our daily routines and jobs. The digital shift brought new design
directions, professions, methods and simultaneously - the need for new skillsets.
In his yearly reflection of design and technology trends, John Maeda suggests metaphor
of successful integration of design into an organization, describing it as “when design receives
the Best Supporting Actor/Actress prize” (Maeda, 2019). He distinguishes between “Classical
Design”, “Design Thinking” and “Computational Design”. He sees “Computational Designer”
as someone who understands computation, thinks critically about technology, uses all three
kinds of design and actively learns AI and “the new”.
Benjamin button project serves as an interesting example from Slovak environment,
mainly because of the honest attempt to apply design in strategic way across all parts of
product development in a scale that is not usual in local enterprises of this size. Design
decisions were successfully included in 3 key areas: (1) positioning of the product, (2)
integrated product development and (3) creating trust towards a non-existing product in the
One of the key aspects of the project was product’s unique market positioning. During
the campaign and on the company website, the project promoted the product as “the world's
1st smart camera for families”. At the time of the early development of the idea, there was no
product on the existing market that would offer equivalent features in the niche of baby-
The idea was competing with products that at the time offered hands free video recording
(action video cameras and life logging cameras) or were targeted on parents (baby monitors
and family cameras). The design opportunity was rising from the fact, that action video
cameras and life logging cameras weren’t suitable for the use case – they were only designed
for adults, and they were lacking easy to use software solutions that would enable automatic
video editing or private instant sharing with family.
Similarly regular cameras (Canon, Samsung) - even if they were designed for children
(Kidizoom), lacked the automation and user-friendly experience, which Benjamin button was
aiming for. The reason for including baby monitors in the research was the fact that this
feature was for a long time considered as complementary to the key wearable camera
Based on the deep market research and analysis, the team has identified set of values
and features that were considered unique among competition. These features were
translated not only into the design of the device and software, but as well to the branding and
Fig. 2 Market positioning of Benjamin button camera
Source: Author’s archive
Branding is a good example of this approach: the original working title of the project was
“MamaWatch.me”, referring to the original baby monitor idea. Since the market analysis
helped to identify a niche, the team decided to continue with the name “Benjamin button”.
The philosophy of the brand, represented by the name and the idea of disruption of the
ordinary (“reverse aging” of Benjamin in the story) continued to be considered by all following
Figure 3 illustrates the evolution of the models and prototypes created and tested during
the product development process. The team iteratively used the methods of rapid prototyping
in order to test the solutions often and early, which enabled altering the solution in favor of
the user. Since the final solution was a complex combination of hardware and software, design
served as a necessary communication and testing tool between these two domains, and the
project wouldn’t be possible without integrated product development approach and co-
We have repeatedly mentioned two outputs of the product development: the hardware
(the wearable smart camera, developed to the stage of working prototype with working
automatic video editing software demo) and the software (the mobile app, developed to the
stage of the minimum viable product). This could evoke the idea that the physical product and
the app were in the center of attention if the whole project - but in fact, none of the mentioned
was the final destination. The ultimate goal of the project was to create and sell the seamless
customer experience of capturing, sharing and reliving family memories.
To shape the hardware and the digital product in the way that they provide the desired
exprience, the team iteratively tested both with the target group, using different
methodologies of human centered design (focus groups, in-depth interviews, observation,
shadowing). Very often, non-designers took part in the testing and experienced the direct
contact with the potential future customers. This experience enabled and simplified applying
the complete co-creation approach, which is defined as a transparent process of value
creation in ongoing productive collaboration with, and supported by all relevant parties (in
our case marketing, sales, hardware and software development), with end-user playing the
central role (Jansen – Pieters, 2017).
Fig. 3 Documentation of the prototypes (left) and testing with children (right)
Source: Author’s archive
Photo on the left: (Photo © Michala Lipková)
Photo on the right: (Photo © Zuzana Gavulová)
2 Results and Discussion
Most commonly, design is widely associated with the aesthetic and visual qualities that
are brought by its authors. The emotional qualities and effects that design brings along were
long overlooked. Especially in the context of our digital footprint and AI, designing trust and
understanding becomes an important part of brand development. During the focus groups,
respondents confirmed that the storytelling and visual communication of the brand, together
with the consistency of the design of the product and the software highly contributed to their
positive appreciation of this high tech solution.
One of the most challenging and repeatedly occurring issues during customer testing was
the correct understanding of all product’s features and benefits. Therefore the design of the
campaign page became a subject of frequent testing and redesign. The quantitative
questionnaire, realized after the Kickstarter campaign was canceled, confirmed that majority
of campaign’s supporters understood the key features of the device and the software. 78,6%
of the respondents considered having free hands when recording as the key feature and 60,7%
appreciated time saved by automatic video editing.
Fig. 4 Marketing photos of a model (left) and working prototype (right)
Source: Author’s archive (Photo © Michala Lipková)
The solution that the company decided to bring to the market was a complex smart
device, which combined software and hardware in a technically challenging way. Despite the
successful crowdfunding campaign, considering the financial feasibility of the project, the
team canceled all technical development activities and decided to pivot into a different field
of the parenting market segment (Zaťko, 2017), while keeping the design as the key strategic
factor of the product development process.
1. Calabretta, G. - Gemser, G. - Karpen, I. (2016). Strategic Design. Amsterdam : BIS
Publishers. ISBN 978-90-6369-445-6.
2. Esslinger, H. (2009). A Fine Line: How Design Strategies are Shaping the Future of
Business. San Francisco : John Willey & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-45102-1.
3. Greenfield, A. (2017) Radical Technologies. London : Verso. ISBN-13 978-1-78478-043-2.
4. Jansen, S. – Pieters, M. (2017). The 7 Principles of Complete Co-Creation. Amsterdam :
BIS Publishers. ISBN 978-90-6369-473-9.
5. Kickstarter campaign (2017). Benjamin Button | The world's 1st smart camera for
families. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from
6. Maeda, J. (2019). 2019 Design In Tech Report. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from
7. Van der Pijl, Pa. - Lokiz, J. - Solomon, L.K. (2016). Design a Better Business. New Yersey :
John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-11927-2113.
8. Zaťko, I. (2017). Why we REALLY cancelled our Kickstarter. Retrieved January 12, 2020,
Title: Desire. Design and Research in Business
Published by: Vydavateľstvo EKONÓM, University of Economics in Bratislava
Dolnozemská cesta 1852 35 Bratislava
Publishing year: 2020