Bleary-eyed parents of small children can often be heard muttering that there is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. To get an infant or toddler to sleep through the night or not wake up at silly o’clock is one of the biggest challenges of parenthood.
There are a number of ‘sleep training’ devices on the market but Suzy Snooze from hardware start-up BleepBleeps is compelling because it not only offers three functions in one device – a sleep trainer, baby monitor and nightlight – but it’s also packaged in a design that appeals as much to design savvy parents as it does to children.
It uses patterns of light and sound to induce sleep, then once the child is asleep it becomes a constant nightlight. In the morning, Suzy’s hat pops up to let the child know it’s time to get up.
Controlled via the BleepBleeps smartphone app, parents can also monitor their child’s sleep as well as carry out other tasks like logging sleep routines, for instance.
Suzy’s cute exterior belies how sophisticated she really is with an interior jammed with various technology and electronics to ensure she functions properly as an Internet of Things (IoT) product.
Led by BleepBleeps founder and creative director Tom Evans, the collaborative team involved in her development consisted of industrial designers from London-based strategic design firm Map, technology consultancy Hirsch & Mann, music producer Erol Alkan, technology design studio Hive as well as the expertise off ered by Professor Colin Espie, a leading authority on sleep at the University of Oxford, and parents from Mumsnet.
“It’s a cliche but hardware is hard and connected hardware is probably the hardest thing you can do because it pretty much involves everything. The stack to go from concept to being stocked by Amazon is ridiculous but rather sadistically I really enjoy it because it is so hard,” laughs Evans.
But Evans is used to a busy life having worked most of his career as a graphic designer and creative director in the fast paced world of advertising. However, a few years ago he felt like a change and inspired by a quote from John V Willshere, founder of strategic design firm Smithery – “I got tired of making people want things and wanted to make things people wanted” – he decided to head down the product design path.
Drawing on his own experience of being a dad to young children, Evans started playing around with a design language for a range of products to help with different aspects of parenting and family life. Inspired by the simple geometric shapes of kids’ toys, each of his colourful designs featured a face and had their own personality with names relating to their function such as Sammy Screamer, Suzy Snooze, Benjamin Brush, Lily Loco, David Camera and Tony Tempa.
First product to launch
The first product to be developed from this line-up was Sammy Screamer, a triangular tamper alarm that can be fixed to a buggy or bag and sends a notification to the owner’s smartphone when moved. “For this product I worked with a bunch of individual designers and engineers that I had met on my travels,” comments Evans.
He also approached London-based creative agency Paved With Gold to help with marketing, promotion and developing the Kickstarter campaign in 2015.
With that product on the market, Evans had learnt a few things that would inform the development journey of his second product – Suzy Snooze. “We manufactured Sammy Screamer in the UK and we probably won’t be doing that again. Although it is easier than doing it in China, it was three times the cost and as a start-up, we couldn’t really build a business around it. Thankfully Map, the design consultancy we worked with on Suzy Snooze, has some great contacts in Shenzhen,” says Evans.
Jon Marshall, Map’s design director, first met Evans at Hardware Pioneers, a monthly meet up for those involved and interested in IoT and London’s hardware industry. “We were very attracted to the aesthetic that BleepBleeps has and the sense of personality and fun of the design language.
“We also thought it really unusual that he’d visualised and defined the functionality of all the products and posted them on BleepBleeps website when only one was shipping at the time. Normally when you are developing products you keep stuff secret until the last minute. So we just really liked the approach he had and wanted to work with him,” says Marshall
Taking Suzy Snooze to market
The design process for Suzy was fairly standard, according to Marshall, and kicked off with the design team talking to Evans to fully understand the brief. They then drew quick sketches and 2D drawings in Illustrator and the drafting package Graphite before creating foam and cardboard models to get a feeling for the size and form of the product.
“Alongside these models we also made some rough mock-ups of the gearing and mechanisms. These were just bundles of wire and bits of wood but it helped prototype the functionality of Suzy’s head, which pops up and down to start the sleep cycle,” explains Marshall.
It was only after these two stages that Map started building the CAD model in SolidWorks with all the internal features. High quality renders were then done in Keyshot to check the material, the finishes and the smaller details like the way the face was applied to the felt at the bottom of the product.
Using these CAD files prototypes were initially created on Map’s in-house FormLabs 3D printer and then for the larger, more complex or final parts it utilised the services of 3D printing bureau Hobs Studio.
Meanwhile, Paved With Gold had been working on building an online community and managing the social media strategy. It paid off because when the Kickstarter for Suzy Snooze was launched in June 2016, it reached its target in 48 hours and went on to raise over $70,000.
With Map having helped Evans source manufacturers in Shenzhen, it was now time to take Suzy into production.
According to Evans, this wasn’t without its challenges either with one of the biggest being around security and encryption.
“The IoT is pretty vulnerable actually on the most part and it was really important to us – because we are basically broadcasting live audio from children’s bedrooms – that Suzy adhered to the highest security standards around,” comments Evans.
One of the lessons that Evans learnt from the creation of Suzy, that will be applied to the rest of the products in the BleepBleeps range, is longevity. In other words, products that evolve and grow with the child to remain useful for years and not just weeks.
For instance, with Suzy, once she has performed her function of sleep trainer and nightlight she can then be used as a child’s first music player.
“So we have moved away from conception and fertility devices, which will only be used once or twice in a lifetime, and instead focusing much more on the stuff that you can use every day.
“Products that we are making now and in the future are very much around the daily problems that parents face like sleep, oral hygiene, location tracking, mobility, travel and nutrition,” says Evans.
And he hasn’t wasted any time as BleepBleeps’ third product, which it has once again collaborated with Map on, launched onto Kickstarter in mid September 2017. It’s Benjamin Brush – a smart music toothbrush with a choice of brush heads for babies, kids and adults. Now, who in the family wouldn’t want to listen to their favourite song for two minutes whilst brushing their teeth?
A series of models and prototypes showing the five key stages of the design process
1 Early foam models were used for developing the overall form and character of the product
2 The functional movement of Suzy Snooze’s hat, lighting and sound were developed through physical mock-ups and electronics hacking
3 Accurate visual models were then made for the Kickstarter launch
4 During tooling and preproduction, samples of every element were refined for quality, colour and finish
5 Finally, all components were test assembled to check the production line and product functionality
Bringing BleepBleeps’ connected devices into family life