Which product would you redesign to make less dangerous?

Last week, we wrote about a new start-up company which is rethinking the motorbike to make riding in Africa safer. Now, designers tell us which everyday item needs to be redesigned for safety, from alarms to batteries and furniture.

Damion Bailey, senior concept and design manager, Bang & Olufsen

“Household furniture needs a redesign to make it safer. There is a tendency for some products to tip over, risking injury and even fatality to children who can get trapped underneath it. A lot of the time certain furniture types, such as dressers and chests of drawers, don’t consider or prioritise mitigation against this thoroughly. It’s left to the buyer to take precautions. Children are curious and pull on anything and everything they can.

If there were standardised design criteria for furniture manufacturers, we’d see an improvement in incident rates. In the US for example, a child injures themselves from a furniture tip-over every 30 minutes, and a death occurs every two weeks from this type of accident.”


Daniel Phillips, product designer, 3fD

“The battery; as designers we always do our best to ensure that the products we design are the safest they can be. Quite often the problem isn’t the design itself, but the way the user interacts with that product. We can put in guards and safety measures to limit the risk of injury, but if a user really goes out of their way to cause harm, they could.

That said, children are different. The innate curiosity and need to explore without boundaries puts them at a higher level of risk. Witness the damage a single coin-shaped battery can do if ingested; it is absolutely absurd that we could develop a product for children, ensuring every material is perfectly suited and all edges are softened, then put a potentially lethal component at the very heart of it. Integral power sources or alternative power supplies may be the best way to mitigate this risk and ensure products for children are safer as a whole.”


Niamh Nic Daeid, director of research, Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee

“Smoke alarms in our houses are very effective at waking up adults because that is what they are designed to do. However, research at the Centre of Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee has demonstrated that conventional smoke alarms only wake about 20% of children. We are now undertaking the largest citizen science study worldwide to investigate how a different sound could make smoke alarms more effective at waking children, allowing us to design devices which will better ensure young people’s safety.”


David Coley, professor of Low Carbon Design, University of Bath

“The refugee shelter; refugee camps are meant to be short-term solutions designed to provide salvation at moments of crisis. However, long-term encampment has become the norm for millions, with camps lasting a generation. Camps tend to be sited in extreme environments, with the temperatures inside the structures simply following the external temperature of roughly 40°C in summer and freezing in winter. These conditions make family life difficult and impact life expectancy. In addition, many designs are not sensitive to gender and other issues. A new science of shelter design is needed, where data is gathered, designs tested in laboratories then out in the field, and shelters created that stay warm in winter, cool in summer and offer a safe place to raise a family.”


Russell Beard, head of design, Kinneir Dufort

“With recent news articles suggesting that social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are ‘fuelling a mental health crisis’, and the recent death of barbaric human Ian Brady, we think it is time to absolutely improve the safety of products that are prone to manipulating the insecurities of children and young adults. It could be transforming the digital ecosystem itself or improving public spaces and transport through ubiquitous and inclusive product design; but, regardless, if ever there was a worthy target for our cumulative design attentions, it’s the protection and safety of our children.”


Nigel Goode, director, PriestmanGoode © Fran Monks

“I’d like to focus on safety relating to the environment. A lot of consumer products end up in landfill with valuable parts that cannot be recycled, simply because of poor design – look at the Royal Society of Art’s (RSA) Great Recovery report for more on this.

Our responsibility as designers extends further than just improving products for consumers. We need to ensure that they are designed responsibly, using minimal resources. Advances in material technology are also changing the landscape of packaging, something which has been discussed in the news a lot this week. Whether we’re looking at fridges, food packaging or beauty products, we need to consider recycling and reusability with as much weight as consumer appeal.”


Matthew Cockerill, creative director, Seymourpowell

“Supermarkets are the dangerous product that I’d like to fix. We often think of products that can cause immediate damage, like a car or a piece of DIY equipment. But in the long-term, one of the most significant dangers to our health is around our diet.

We’re advised to eat a balanced diet of fruit and veg, carbohydrates, proteins, dairy and oils, yet our supermarkets our stocked with a bias towards processed ‘added value’ products. When making purchasing decisions, if we were presented with the correct proportion of food stuffs to match a healthy diet, we’d have more chance of making the right choices. So, who’s up for seven aisles of fruit and veg in our typical 20-aisle supermarkets?”


Which product do you think needs to be redesigned to make it safer? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Paul Saint May 22, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Time and time again I’ve seen young kids go over the handle bars on small three-wheeled scooters. It’s kind of a no-brainer that if the designers moved the twin, front wheels slightly forward and raised the height of the handle bars a little, then it would save many a cracked head.

  • lawrence May 22, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Its is true (@Russell Beard) that social media platforms have done as much damage as good to the growth of youngsters.
    Its also clear to me, as an educator that children today leave school with woefully inferior manual dexterity and social skills, than they had say ten years ago. This is mainly thanks to the instant gratification of social media and so many apps designed for the difficulty and concentration levels of 4 year olds! (Apple 2001).
    The global games and app industry is huge. Nowadays many young people assume everything is online, or on a mobile device, and that there is no reason to be physically present with playmates. Fortunately there is a growing niche market in Europe to counter this. For example, I have been busy designing “physical” card-games and board-games to challenge this trend, Bring people together, and Have fun without a screen!
    eg. http://www.lordoftherealm.co.uk
    please comment if you agree.

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