New product development with YOU in mind
At Aquasana, we hear from thousands of customers every day that use our products and have thoughts as to how those products could better work for them. During 2012, a clear theme emerged around customers that did not want to hassle with plumbing but were concerned about water quality and wanted great filtration. At the time, these customers only had a couple of options. They could:
- Use a gravity-based product like a Brita pitcher and content themselves with basic filtration, a pitcher that was never full when they needed it and a long refill time; or
- Use a faucet attach product like our AQ-4000, assuming that they had a kitchen faucet that would work with these units and were indifferent to the aesthetic and usability trade-offs.
We began to think about how we could bring better filtration to these customers so that they did not have to make concessions in functionality, could avoid the complexity of a plumbed solution and could have nearly unlimited access to great-tasting, clean water free of lead and other chemicals present in our water supply. This became the idea behind Aquasana’s Clean Water Machine. Our brainstorming sessions resulted in the formation of a project team and the kick-off of a multi-million-dollar effort to deliver the same level of NSF-certified filtration from an appliance that we offered in our plumbed products.
Product development is an exercise in working to develop a hypothesis about how a design may satisfy customer needs and then testing the hypothesis to find out how off-base it is. As an example, our initial design was a mechanical product much like a French press coffee machine. The idea was that the user could activate a lever that would force tap water through the filter and out a spout, thereby creating filtered water on demand. Everyone thought the concept was great until we developed a prototype and tried it. On the plus side, the concept worked. However, so much effort was required to use the machine that we ended up drinking all the water we had just filtered. On to the next idea…
Once we determined that we would need to use power to make this product work, things started to move very quickly. We enlisted the help of an engineering firm and a top-tier consumer research organization to help us work through various concepts and test how attractive each would be to our target customer via a series of focus groups. I was surprised at the very strong feelings that the attendees had about their kitchen counter and how they allocate the space – this square footage is sacred. We tested concepts of all shapes and sizes and got strong feedback that a narrow but deep design that could fit underneath a cabinet was overwhelmingly preferred. By creating a “docking station” that held the filter cartridge, pump and other components, we could achieve a narrow footprint and provide the customer with a unit that could serve as both a device to quickly filter a pitcher full of water and serve as an on-demand dispenser. This direct feedback and subsequent prototype testing drove our design principle to keep the product width at a very svelte 4.5”. The challenge in keeping the design this narrow was two-fold: (1) ensuring that the vessel was large enough to have a meaningful amount of water so that the customer wasn’t continually refilling the unit and (2) determining how to make the pitcher feel natural in the customer’s hands.
While the development of the on-demand dispensing unit proceeded quickly, the creation of the matching pitcher was trickier. The pitcher usage model is such that the user fills the pitcher with tap water and places it on the docking station. The docking station then extracts the tap water from the pitcher, filters it and refills the pitcher that can now be removed from the docking station. Our first concept envisioned a divided pitcher with the user filling the rear of the pitcher with tap water and the filtered water filling the front of the pitcher leaving the rear chamber empty. The theory behind the concept was solid, and the design was appealing, but once the filtered water was in the pitcher it became nose-heavy and difficult to control. Over the next few months we tested multiple different configurations with focus groups and landed on the final design in which tap water is placed in a chamber in the center of pitcher. Once the docking station is activated, the tap water is drawn from the center chamber, filtered and used to refill the pitcher around the now-empty center chamber. The balance of the pitcher was drastically improved, and the design has the added feature of being easy to fill through a door in the lid.
The development of the Clean Water Machine was a milestone for Aquasana. It is our first non-plumbed product and our only powered product. It is the only pitcher filter on the market NSF certified to remove more than 60 contaminants. And in just over a year on the market, we now have nearly 75,000 of these products in customers’ homes ensuring that their water is free from lead, pharmaceuticals, herbicides and other contaminants.