Spot-On

The research, design and production of a ‘soldering pen’, aimed at children looking to develop their practical electronics skills.

Spot-On was the result of a Year 2 group Engineering Design Project (EDP); the first detailed start to finish industrial design project we had been given. The brief was to create a handheld, battery powered tool to aid an under-served user group, but otherwise was extremely flexible. I learnt many valuable skills from this project, because it required such a high level of detail and precision in all elements: conceptualisation, user research, prototyping, materials & manufacture, branding, packaging design and marketing.

In particular, my focus within the group was on packaging, the graphic design, branding and marketing strategy for the product, and distilling insights from user research down into specification points used for the final concept.

User Research

When starting the project, we explored user groups that we felt were under-represented in the current market, quickly identifying that we had all had similarly privileged experiences when it came to education and opportunities that eventually allowed us to study at Imperial. It was clear that without a solid, dynamic and well-resourced education background it would be much harder to pursue a career in a technical subject - for example, under-funded schools often do not have the resources to offer practical subjects like Design & Technology, which we all agreed was a huge influence in our interest in Design and Engineering at university level.

Further research into this area indicated that while programming courses are being introduced into many schools across the country, the students' potential interest in developing these skills is often lost due to the lack of opportunity for practical applications (many schools have computers to learn programming, but not electronics kits to learn Arduino etc). We saw that practical electronics is a natural, exciting next step from programming into real-world engineering, but there are some notable obstacles in allowing young children to have the confidence or opportunity to make this step.

Some more specific research and market segment refinement allowed us to create our Product Opportunity Statement:

"Many 10-14 year-olds have limited access to facilities that allow them to develop skills in practical electronics. We think one of the best ways to engage with more technical practical electronics projects is by learning to solder. We believe that this can be best achieved through a battery powered assistive soldering tool / accessory."

Concept Development

At this stage, we were given a donor product: an existing product to tear down into components, allowing us to understand how commercial products are technically delivered. This would then inform and inspire our concept development. Every member of the group was tasked with creating their own unique concept, which drew on different insights and elements of our research. A selection of the technical boards that I produced are shown below.

The basic concept revolved around the touchpoint of 'perceived safety' - soldering is classed in risk assessments as Low Risk, and yet is often perceived by parents and children as High Risk, due to the temperature of the iron and proximity of the user's hand to the iron when feeding solder on to the joint. My concept was designed to remove the user's hand from this 'danger area', providing comfort, ease of use,and reassurance, therefore making it easier to approach soldering as a task, and bridging the gap between programming and practical electronics.

Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Research Insights
Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Concept Development
Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Technical Sketches

Concept Selection

After the team had presented our ideas to our peers, one idea was voted on to be developed further. While my design was popular, the design that was chosen is shown below, produced by another member of the team.

Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Chosen Concept (Vote)
In essence, the proposed concept functioned in a very similar way to a 3D Printer Pen: a heating element heats up a 'hot tip', through which solder is extruded, melting it onto the circuit board. This allows for single-handed operation and simple, intuitive soldering.

This concept was technically complex and ambitious, so we delegated out responsibility within the team. As other members of the group started exploring the feasibility of the concept, and what would be required to make a working prototype, I worked on the brand identity and overall design of the consumer-facing visual material.

Brand Identity

Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Visual Brand Identity Development
Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Final Branding

One of the main reasons I wanted to work on this element of the project was because of my interest in Graphic Design and UI / UX Design. I felt that in order to connect with the under-served user group and product stakeholders (parents, educators), the product story needed to be displayed in an easy to follow way, providing reassurance, excitement and confidence in our product as a novel and enabling tool.

By using a well known positive affirmatory phrase: 'Spot-On', and simple, modern, eye catching branding, I felt we could walk the line between simple, professional and approachable.

Prototyping & Technical Design

One of the main challenges when moving from an attractive concept to a working prototype was making sure that the technical design could deliver the results we expected. To assess this, as a team we designed and tested many works-like prototypes for different elements of the design: the solder extrusion, heating tip, casing materials and electronics design.

Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Prototyping Methodology
Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Final Technical Drawings

Final Design

To represent the final design, I produced renders of the product in Adobe Dimension (including the image seen at the start of this project).

Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Final Design Render
Year 2 Engineering Design Project - Final Packaging Render
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