- Capabilities Used
- industrial design
- UX design
Thermo analyzers are the mission critical tools that the military, law enforcement and other first responders rely upon for on-site analysis to identify threats and take appropriate action immediately. Whether it's an IED of unknown composition or a meth lab shutdown on a residential block, they need 100% accuracy every time.
Thermo and Altitude set the industry standard again with Gemini by deeply understanding users and delivering a device that met needs they didn’t even know they had.
Over a decade ago, Ahura Scientific (acquired by Thermo Fisher Scientific) established a new category of handheld analyzers that allowed military personnel, bomb technicians, hazmat teams and first responders to confidently, quickly and safely identify a broad range of unknown chemicals and explosives in the field.
But with its core Raman and FTIR products now effectively commoditized, Thermo could no longer count on its industry leading performance and its reputation to stay ahead. Thermo needed to find a new way to differentiate, grow and maintain leadership.
For years, Thermo’s R&D team tirelessly improved technology, creating products with faster and more accurate analysis capability. But now with performance parity in the market, Thermo asked Altitude to help it discover unmet customer needs and create a next generation product experience—integrating state of the art industrial and digital design—to meet them.
We worked closely with Thermo’s Product Managers (who customers deeply trusted) in the process of discovery and observation. Together we sorted, sifted and analyzed to uncover latent needs and create a breakthrough experience design strategy.
In order to create a holistic user experience, we assembled a cross-functional group of product managers, strategists, industrial designers, and UX designers who collaborated closely throughout. And we utilized an agile process to test ideas and learn quickly, before making major investments in tooling and manufacturing. Whenever possible we put early mockups in customers’ hands. And when that wasn’t possible, we simulated real-world conditions such as when Altitude designers and engineers spent many hours sweating inside hazmat suits in the ninety degree heat to test our physical and digital prototypes.
The result is Gemini, a 4th generation product with design-driven innovations so significant, they redefined the category.
Physical Design for Convenience and Portability
Many users operate deep in the field and are weighed down with full packs of equipment. All the while, working under tremendous stress. The fewer tools to worry about, the better. This observation led to a simple, but dramatic idea: combine Thermo’s two main products—Raman and FTIR—into a single, integrated unit. Since users don’t know which technology they’ll need before getting to a site, now they would only have to learn about, carry and manage batteries for a single device. The new integrated design provided significant reductions in size and weight compared to two separate products.
Digital Intelligence to Simplify In-Field Decision Making
Operators have to learn hundreds of test procedures in order to accurately identify materials. Recalling them is challenging when working under extremely strenuous conditions (getting shot at, hiking hours into a hot zone, testing materials that might blow up in your face). The Gemini interface reduces this burden by walking users through a series of questions to help identify the substance and determine which technology to utilize for testing.
In addition, the device makes testing easier by storing a variety of self-defined presets so operators don’t have to dive through menus and adjust dozens of variables while in the field. By putting Raman and FTIR into a single device, and giving users a streamlined digital UI, the team was able to dramatically reduce operators’ cognitive load, allowing them to keep their focus on the mission and safety.
Getting Details Right for Harsh Conditions
Even a simple device can be hard to use when you are wearing multiple layers of gloves, a hazmat suit that restricts movement, a 40 lb. oxygen tank and face masks that fog up every time you take a breath. When designing for such conditions, every detail needs to be considered. So we simulated real-world test conditions and got as much customer feedback as possible throughout the design process. We discovered that condensation on face masks causes challenges including glare and difficulty seeing details. So we built the UI with a dark background to reduce reflections and utilized consistent, bold patches of color to indicate danger levels.
To make gloved use easier, we chose a pressure sensitive touch screen and offered big areas of contact for interaction points. We also gave users the choice to control the UI with a large directional silicone keypad below the display. Only the buttons that offer control within the current UI state light up, providing navigation assistance. Empathy for the user’s context and attention to such detail, ensured that Gemini could get the job done.
Altitude designers used frosted glass to simulate a fogged-up hazmat suit when evaluating layouts for the user interface.
Early indications are that Altitude and Thermo’s human-centered approach to innovation on Gemini has paid off. Initial sales have been above expectations and customer reactions have been extremely positive. After successfully creating the industry standard years ago with breakthrough technology, Thermo has set it once again. This time by deeply understanding its customers and delivering a device and an experience that met needs they didn’t even know they had.