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DP3: Fortune 500 Project



The Fortune 500 Program uses a practice called “Participatory Development” (PD), which is based on the philosophy of involving all consumers in all phases of product design and development. This program targets Fortune 500 companies – the largest and most influential sector of corporate America.  The message the T2RERC presents is that when these companies are designing new mainstream consumer products they can expand their markets by considering the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities. This market broadening increases a product’s market size, which increases its likelihood of success. Once collaboration with a Fortune 500 company has been undertaken, the T2RERC provides free primary market research to that company.

Through the T2RERC's Fortune 500 project, mainstream manufacturers will broaden the consumer market for their new products by introducing more accessible and more usable functional designs. As with A/T companies, these larger corporations are initially reluctant to consider outside input but eventually express a high degree of satisfaction with products designed with input from a wider range of potential customers. Our experience with Black & Decker and with White-Rodgers has already resulted in their design teams and managers embracing the concepts underlying our collaborative projects. We expect the longer-term outcomes to be the integration of Participatory Development principles into the design protocols of multiple Fortune 500 companies.
Here are excerpts from a Fortune 500 company's letter:

"We, at White-Rodgers, Div. of Emerson Electric Co., wish to express our appreciation to the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Technology Transfer (T2RERC) for your assistance in gathering significant data that provided useful insights into a universally designed home comfort control center . . . The initial focus groups organized by the T2RERC have provided unique market data that we plan to use in the development of future home comfort controls. Concurrently we are modifying the design of our present offering to incorporate concepts from the focus groups. Our target is to bring these future products to the prototype phase in 18 months, and then have follow-up evaluation done by the T2RERC. We are confident that our development team can meet the challenges, and future evaluation of prototypes by the T2RERC will validate our joint efforts."

As technology costs decrease, we anticipate the gradual incorporation of Transgenerational/Universal Design into all future mainstream consumer products.  However, we believe our current work is effectively demonstrating to Fortune 500 companies that they can broaden their markets now by increasing the usability and accessibility of the next generation of their mainstream consumer products. This market broadening impact is quickening their transition to Transgenerational/Universal Design.  The very positive response we have received from all of the manufacturers we have collaborated with on the Fortune 500 project lends credence to this belief. The impact of our work is further demonstrated by the fact that Black & Decker has continued collaborating with us on 5 new products. In addition, Pass & Seymour, Kodak and Whirlpool have taken notice of our work as showcased in write-ups in Business Week (January 2004) and USA Today (July 2003) and entered into collaborations with us.

While our goal for this five year cycle was to partner with three Fortune 500 companies, the success we have enjoyed with this program and the resultant publicity generated has provided us with opportunities to slightly increase the number of companies we are influencing. The Fortune 500 Development Project is ahead of schedule in meeting all objectives.



Projects Transferred

Lids Off Deluxe Jar Opener by Black & DeckerTM (May 2007)

Lids Off                         Lids Off Deluxe

The Lids Off™ Deluxe Jar Opener is an electronically operated, household kitchen appliance designed to assist all individuals with the task of opening jars. This device is the “fourth generation” addition to the Lids Off Automatic Jar OpenerTM line. This lighter weight version of the Jar Opener allows the user to press anywhere on the top of the Opener in order to activate the jar opening process.  Improved features include the following:

  • No activation button – press anywhere on the top of the Jar Opener to activate the opening process
  • One touch activation – does not require constant pressure to sustain the opening process as required in previous models
  • Release button used solely to expand the Jar Opener from its closed storage position – no longer have to use the release button to lower the top onto the jar
  • Lightweight – motor is now in the bottom of the Jar Opener making the top lighter and easier to raise and lower
  • Collapses to a compact size for storage

EasyShare G600 Printer Dock by Kodak (January 2007)

EasyShare G600

The Kodak EasyShare G600 Printer Dock is a simple way to get high quality Kodak prints in your own home without the use of a computer or complicated editing software.  You perform basic editing functions AND print your photos using the printer dock without having to download anything to your computer.  Simply dock the camera or transfer photos from a compatible USB device.  Basic editing of pictures is no longer complicated as users can automatically eliminate red eye and crop pictures at the touch of a button.  A Kodak EasyShare camera is required to use the G600 Photo Printer.  Improved features include:

    • Larger buttons – 2.5 times larger than previous models
    • Simple, stylish design – straightforward interface
    • Ready to use right out of the box – easy to set-up, easy to use
    • Intuitive controls and status lights
    • Faster prints than Canon, Epson, or HP compact printers
    • Buttons directly on the printer allow for adjusting the number of photos per print and redeye reduction
    • Only one cartridge and one size paper – both easy to install
    • EasyShare software allows printing directly from a computer, if desired
    • Paper tray easily detached for travel
    • Contains a carry handle for portability
    • Automatically charges camera battery in 3.5 hours or less
    • Battery included (for travel use) along with AC adapter
    • Durable carrying case for travel


    90 Series BLUE Touchscreen Thermostat by White Rodgers (January 2006)

    90 Series BLUE Touchscreen Thermostat           Consumer with BLUE Touchscreen

    T2RERC received a production prototype from White Rodgers on a thermostat design we worked on in 2002. We held Beta focus groups in January 2006 and provided design feedback to the company for incorporation into the final production model.  The White Rodgers 90 Series Blue thermostat incorporated a significant number of design and functional features identified in our 4 consumer concept definition focus groups we held in 2002.

    Large and easy to see characters for heat and cool options, large intuitive red/blue temperature keys, a large 12 square inch touch screen display, audio prompting to ensure program change confirmation, menu driven program change, a keypad lockout, a limited temperature range, change furnace filter and humidifier pad alert, ability to copy programming, a 5 year warranty, a backlit display to improve display contrast in low lighting and multiple other features. The T2 RERC displayed the new White Rodgers 90 Series Blue thermostat at the Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) conference held June 2006 in Atlanta, GA.

    Usability and Accessibility of Thermostat


    UB School of Public Health and Health Professions Impact Article: “Technocratic Thermostats”

    EasyShare Photo Printer 500 by Kodak (January 2006)

    Easyshare Photo Printer 500

    Negotiations initiated with the Eastman Kodak Company in year one culminated in fall 2004 in a collaboration between our two organizations. The initial result of that collaboration was our recruitment of consumers for three concept definition focus groups for the purpose of evaluating Kodak prototypes, evaluating Kodak concepts, and the identification of the ‘ideal’ design and functional features for the next generation of a Kodak product line.

    Kodak personnel were in attendance at the focus groups in January & February 2005 and the resultant report generated by the T2 RERC on the product demonstrations, product evaluations, and the focus groups has been extremely well received within Kodak. In addition to electronic and hard copy bound versions of our report, Kodak received edited DVD copies of all the product demonstrations, evaluations and focus groups for their review.

    We have been told by Kodak personnel that while a complete redesign of the product line incorporating the usability functions and features our consumers outlined is a year or two away, specific functions and features identified in our focus groups are being incorporated right now into the next generation of Kodak products.  They recently sent us the newly released Kodak EasyShare Photo Printer 500 and relevant features of the new product include:

    • Easy to use for people of all skill levels
    • World’s Largest LCD - 3 ½" (8.9 cm) LCD screen for easier viewing
    • LCD screen closes when not in use for storage and protection when transporting
    • View, edit, and print KODAK pictures from almost any digital camera, with or without a computer
    • Wireless capabilities (WiFi ready, BLUETOOTH® wireless technology enabled), so you can wirelessly connect and print from anywhere in your home
    • Ability to print from digital media cards and USB devices
    • Red eye reduction at the touch of a button
    • Compatible with PictBridge-enabled digital cameras
    • Durable carrying case for travel

    Lids Off Open-it-All Center by Black & DeckerTM (May 2005)

    Lids Off Open-It-All Jar, Can & Bottle Opener             
    Consumer using Lids Off

     Black & Decker’s new Lids Off Open-It-All Jar, Can, & Bottle Opener made its tradeshow debut in the T2RERC’s booth at RESNA in June 2005. Introduced in Spring 2005 in limited quantities for Mother’s Day, the Open-It-All functions as a jar opener, can opener, and bottle opener all combined into one compact unit. In 2004, our consumers identified the need for a combination opening device that would perform the function of these three highly used kitchen appliances. Black & Decker used our listing of consumer generated design and functional features to design the new product.
    The Lids Off Open-it-All Features:

    • One easy touch opens jars, cans, and bottles
    • Easy to use and ideal for those needing a stronger grip when opening jars
    • Large activation and release buttons for the jar opener
    • Adjustable jar / can / bottle opener height
    • It is not necessary to hold the lever down or support the can during cutting
    • Dishwasher safe can opener blade assembly
    • Bottle opener successfully removes metal caps
    • Collapsible unit for compact storage

    Gizmo Can Opener Redesign by Black & DeckerTM (May 2005)

    Gizmo Can Opener
              Consumer using Gizmo

    In an effort to improve the usability and accessibility of Black & Decker’s Gizmo Can Opener, focus groups were conducted to determine the functions and features of the consumers’ ideal can opener.  The result was a redesign of the Gizmo Can Opener to incorporate the following features:

    1) Consumers had difficulty mounting the under the cabinet base and charging system for the Gizmo Can opener. They wanted the ability to just store Gizmo in a drawer and not have to worry about drilling holes into their cabinetry for a permanent installation of Gizmo. They now have that ability. The charging system is now portable – can be charged anywhere near a wall outlet and then stored in a drawer. No longer are you forced to just charge the system in its mounted base. They also have the option of still mounting a base home for the Gizmo under a cabinet.

    2) Consumers had difficulty replacing the Gizmo into the space saver charger unit. The consumer no longer has to do this because they now have the option to use the space saver unit, or store the product in a drawer.

    3) Consumers had difficulty lining up the charging contact points on the Gizmo with its cabinet mounted charging system. They could never tell if the unit was charging (no LED, etc). Now they don’t have to worry about properly lining up the charging points- it’s just a straight plug-in now.

    4) Battery life was extremely limited with the prior versions of Gizmos. Consumers complained that the product would only last a year or two. The problem was that Gizmo was always being trickled charged in its base and the battery never depleted before charging (Memory battery). Now the unit will only be charged when the battery is significantly discharged and the consumer physically plugs in the charging unit. Result – increased battery life and consumer satisfaction.

    5) Consumers had difficulty mounting the can opener back into its base without activating the can opener and possibly cutting themselves. This is no longer an issue because they no longer have to mount it back into a charging base.

    Digital Toaster/Convection Oven by Black & DeckerTM (March 2004)

    Consumer using Digital Toaster/Convention Oven          Digital Toaster/Convection Oven

    The Black & DeckerTM Digital Countertop Toaster Oven & Broiler (CTO8500) and the Digital Advantage Toaster/Convection Oven (CTO9500) were introduced at the end of year one of the grant cycle and offered for sale through the internet. These toaster ovens were designed with consumer input from the T2RERC. Our consumer groups identified the need for an easier to use, mistake proof toaster oven that could be used to cook small, complete meals for just 1 or 2 people.

    Usability and Accessibility

    Consumers stated they did not want knobs or dials to turn; they wanted better temperature control (1st slice of toast is as brown as the 4th slice of toast); temperature settings that were more precise; an automatic oven shut off; an auditory cue when the door was left open or when the toaster oven had finished cooking; cooking accessories that would fit their toaster oven so that they could bake a few cookies or muffins at a time; and multiple other usability and accessibility features (larger non slip handles, cool outer shell, easier to remove crumb tray, an easier to clean oven, etc).      

    Black & Decker incorporated the design and functional features requested by our consumers into the design of the CTO8500 and CTO9500 ovens. Features of these new ovens include pressure sensitive button controls; an electronic toast control (no more burnt toast); accurate digital settings from 200 to 450 degrees F for precise baking or cooking and 1-7 for toasting; a 90 minute auto off timer; a signal bell that chimes when the door is left open or the oven has completed a function; Black & Decker partnered with Mirro Bakeware to offer bakeware specially sized for the new CTO8500 and CTO9500 ovens; large non slip handles; a Thermal Guard (cool) outer shell; a large crumb tray with a large easy to grip handle for removal; and a non stick baking chamber for easier cleaning.

    The new toaster ovens are designed to make the task of preparing meals simpler and less time consuming for all consumers.

    Current Projects

    In late 2006, we were approached by Tupperware for assistance through a referral by employees of Black and Decker. Following a meeting at their corporate headquarters in Orlando, Florida in January 2007, the T2RERC entered into an agreement with the Tupperware Corporation in April 2007. Details of the scope and nature of the working relationship will be forthcoming upon introduction of a new product into the marketplace or the expiration of the Non - Disclosure Agreement that was signed.

    Whirlpool (two products)
    During a visit to Benton Harbor, Michigan, in August 2005, negotiations were completed on two different product design collaborations between the T2RERC and the Whirlpool Corporation. As a result, Alpha, or Concept Definition focus groups were held in late September and early October for a universal remote control for appliances. In addition, alpha focus groups were held in December 2005 for the redesign of major kitchen appliance. Reports, DVD’s of in depth product demonstrations and subsequent focus groups, a critique of the current state of the science on these products and other marketing information was provided to Whirlpool.  Initial response from the corporate representative present for the focus groups and other corporate designers has been extremely positive. We have been told that our information has been disseminated to Whirlpool production units in Italy and Brazil as well as of course the US. We hope to provide more details in the near future but as of this time we are bound by a non-disclosure agreement signed between Whirlpool and the T2RERC.

    Consumer using washer

    CNN Article: Whirlpool begins ‘smart’ washer test

    Black & Decker
    We currently have one other device under development/commercialization, however, due to Intellectual Property issues we are unable to disclose it at this time.

    Pass & Seymour/LeGrand  
    In year two of the grant cycle, the Fortune 500 Program successfully worked with Pass and Seymour/LeGrand. The T2RERC held multiple teleconferences, conducted an Ideal Product Focus Group with corporate staff in attendance, provided the company with an in-depth focus group and marketing report, and provided the company with design and functional feature improvements for its product lines of switches, receptacles, and motion sensors. For Pass & Seymour/LeGrand, our marketing and consumer reports were presented in person at a three hour meeting in August 2004 at Pass & Seymour corporate facilities.   Products are in development.

    Consumer using various switches




    UB Office of the Vice President for Research Article: “Helping Hands”
    WGRZ Channel 2 Report: “Products That Can Help the Elderly and People With Disabilities”
    New York Times Article: “Fire, the Wheel And, of Course, Mop Slippers”
    UB School of Public Health and Health Professions Impact Article: “Technocratic Thermostats”
    Buffalo Business Article: “Fortune 500 Program Designs Next-Generation Products”
    UB Reporter Article: "'Fortune 500' Program Designs Next-Generation Products"
    Business First of Buffalo Article: "Consumer products honed at UB"


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