Have you ever wondered how the objects in your life ended up looking the way they do? I wanted to delve deeper into the story behind the Kensington Ultimate Presenter’s distinctive intuitive design. The Ultimate Presenter isn’t just another pretty shape— having won a coveted 2017 Red Dot Design award for Product Design, given to recognize the best products of the year. So, what makes a groundbreaking design? I had the opportunity to meet with Nojan from Kensington’s Industrial Design Team, and Melanie, the ergonomist who approved the design of the Ultimate Presenter, to take us behind the scenes and walk us through the design process.
1) Design is Another Word for Problem Solving
Product design doesn’t just occur in a vacuum it takes multiple vantage points to design thoughtfully and beautifully. Nojan says that she always begins by looking at the products currently on the market. Then, she identifies opportunities and pain points, which are problems that could be improved by better design. When she examined existing presenters, she says that “one thing that stood out was the lack of attention to wellness and natural body posture. Using a flat layout leads to the user’s unnatural twisting of the wrist while presenting.” It turns out that those presenters were flat because they were designed around the shape of the circuit boards inside them, and not around the shape of the human hand that would be holding them.
This isn’t an isolated issue. People have become accustomed to designs that don't fit the user. Melanie, whose work as an ergonomist involves designing products to be well suited to their human users, says that our flat phones already put stress on our bodies every day.
Even though the carpometacarpal joint (the one that connects your thumb and hand) needs to be left open and relaxed to reduce compression, the time we spend clutching our phones places our hands in an unnatural position that causes irritation for the joints. It looks like many of our favorite devices could use a tune-up to fulfill the basic principles of ergonomics: to increase body alignment and decrease strain on the body.
2) Perfection Takes Time
Once Nojan and the design team zeroed in on the problem that the flat, sticklike design of existing presenters added to everyday stress on the hand, they started looking for solutions.
First, they studied proper hand alignment as well as how users moved while giving a presentation. Nojan recalls that the solution revealed itself when they saw that an ergonomic presenter would have to fit comfortably in the palm while keeping a natural wrist position.
After Nojan and the designers dreamed up “lots of mild-to-wild concepts” for a brand new angled design, they had users play around with the prototypes to get feedback on which ones were the most comfortable.
Then they redesigned the presenter and repeated the cycle again. And again. And again. The organic form of the presenter evolved over time until, as Nojan put it, “the Ultimate Presenter was born.” There’s a reason that the final version of the Ultimate Presenter is the one users found the most comfortable. Melanie says that the specially curved shape alleviates the added stress of other presenter remotes by (finally!) providing proper alignment for the hand. It turns out that our bodies know when something has been designed to fit their needs!
3) Ergonomics, Why is Wellness Important?
Wellness and Ergonomics are the means to providing a happier work environment and one that works with instead of against your body in its natural positions. Often companies focus on the statistics of employees injured every year based on the negative ergonomic impacts products have on their employees. At Kensington the focus is on wellness and health for all employees. Prevention is a best practice, but the best way to introduce prevention into your work environments is with products that are built for you.
Melanie’s tip for wellness in the workplace is to sit back and allow your body to relax and be in a position that accommodates your day to day actions. This includes sitting straight but leaning back enough that it encourages your body to get out of the hunched slump that we often find ourselves in when trying to solve the many problems that arise throughout the day. Happiness in the workplace will be invited by body posture and ergonomics that increase wellness and decrease sore, aching and health detrimental positions and postures.
4) Keep the User in Mind
Melanie recounts that employees are happy to see her and get ergonomic evaluations and receive new products to work with that focus on helping them through their day. There is a certain joy in bringing happiness to the workplace – as the body feels happy so does the alleviation of stress that allows you to be more productive throughout the day.
Through it all, the designers didn’t just focus on the anatomy of the user’s hand, but on the whole presentation experience. “We all have done presentations either for school or for work,” says Nojan, “and often felt nervous before and/or during a presentation.” Nojan and the designers made strategic choices so you’ll feel like the Ultimate Presenter is working with you as you present. The angled orb shape helps the user to hold the device comfortably without any pressure points or fatigue. The design team added a rubberized coating on the bottom for better grip and to prevent slippage (even if your palms get a little sweaty in the middle of your presentation!). They also transformed the button layout, making the main button bigger and closer to the user so that it’s distinguishable by touch and easy to find without looking. Nojan says that “we really wanted to focus on creating a natural and organic presenting partner that developed a team, so no one has to feel like they’re presenting alone.” By taking human experience into consideration, Nojan and the team designed the Ultimate Presenter to be truly user-friendly.
5) Design with Wellness as the Priority
Melanie believes in Kensington ergonomic products because the designers listen and design with the people using them every day. It takes a lot for companies to design products that are awarded for their unique design, but to incorporate the natural ergonomics set Kensington apart. The products that Melanie loves the most and has seen make the most difference in workplaces across the country are the Orbit® Wireless Mobile Trackball and the SmartFit® Solemate™ Plus Foot Rest that are built for comfort and to accommodate the natural positions of the body. She loves working with the Kensington team because they listen beyond the design phase and are ready to innovate to accommodate the evolution of the workplace.
The Expert Mouse® Wireless Trackball is a Kensington legacy, but Melanie began to recognize that the upward angle of the hand was initially going to provide some discomfort for daily users. She recommended that there be some sort of wrist support and the industrial design team delivered a wrist rest built specifically for users that would continue to encourage ergonomic wellness and their ability to be more productive with less motion throughout their day. It is this kind of attention to detail that brings Melanie back to continue approving Kensington products for customers around the world and to encourage the focus on wellness in a time where people are working longer hours and have more demanding timelines.
For Nojan, as a Kensington industrial designer “what excites me is working to introduce new innovative and homegrown projects that focus on the wellness of users in their workplace.” This focus on wellness isn’t just limited to the physical form of the Ultimate Presenter. It led to the design of the Virtual Pointer to eliminate the need for a traditional laser pointer that poses a danger for eye health. Wellness also means designing a product to work with your natural movements, and not forcing you to conform to the device. Rather than developing a product and then trying to teach people to use it in a way that improves ergonomics, Nojan says that as soon as someone picks up the Ultimate Presenter, her design is already optimizing the way that user presents. With so many devices putting strain on our bodies every day, it’s important to choose products that are designed to promote our wellbeing.
It might seem simple to make a product that fits the human body naturally, but it takes a lot of trial and error to develop an object that enhances human action. Ergonomic design seeks to make the things people use safe, intuitive, comfortable, and effective—making our tools work as extensions of ourselves. So, when you choose an object to bring into your life, make sure it’s one designed to work with you.
Update: The Ultimate Presenter is no longer available on kensington.com