Housewares Design Awards

2004 Best in Category: Personal Care/Health Care and Garment Care Electrics

Mark of Fitness

Body Fat and Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor

For Mark of Fitness, design considerations go far deeper than the cosmetics of a product.

This is not because the company looks down on how a product looks. Rather it has to do with the fact that the products the company offers, such as blood-pressure and heart-rate monitors, are often instruments that help prolong life.

“Once you specify the size of the display and all the internal components, you almost have a free hand in terms of how you design the product,” said Wayne Baker, senior vp/sales and marketing, at the company.

A key consideration for Mark of Fitness when it designs a product, for example, is comfort. “Comfort is a critical issue,” said Baker. “It has impacted the design of a lot of our products.”

Mark of Fitness has developed what it calls the IQ System, which quickens the blood pressure monitoring experience by rapidly measuring on deflation rather than inflation. “You want to try to minimize the amount of time that the cuff on the person’s arm is at or near maximum pressure,” said Baker. The IQ System is now featured on all of Mark of Fitness’s blood-pressure monitors.

Overall, Baker said the company takes a holistic approach to design. Design encompasses, in addition to comfort, ease of use, as well as the features that can make a product attractive to the consumer’s eye.

“A great many things need to be done right to make a product a winner in the marketplace,” said Baker. “You get anything wrong, and it is like a rotten layer in an onion: You have to throw it away.”

Products are typically designed in Japan, where the Mark of Fitness parent company resides. Executives from the U.S., most notably Baker, provide feedback every step of the way to ensure a product is ready for the U.S. market.

The U.S. market is different from the rest of the world in a number of ways, which impacts Mark of Fitness’s product development. Most of the rest of the world uses 24-hour time, whereas the U.S. has 12-hour time, he noted. “This adds a degree of complexity from an engineering and design standpoint,” Baker said.

Baker participates in the design process in other ways, too.

Recently, he flew to Japan to participate in a frantic 10-hour meeting “to improve the operational simplicity of the product,” he said. “ It was more complex then we would have liked to see it.”

Baker and his Japanese counterpart “started grinding away at the process, trying to smooth out the bumps,” he said. The end result: a product often is the result of a great collaborative effort.

The geographical and language barriers also represent an obstacle to a Trans-Atlantic company, such as Mark of Fitness, although that is changing, thanks to the Internet.

“The need to translate everything does pose an issue for us within the company,” Baker noted. “I speak English, the engineer speaks Japanese. That’s why I went there, so we could draw on a board and look at the process in a series of steps, sitting together around a table with someone interpreting.”

As Mark of Fitness’s products run on batteries, it is spared having to deal with the cord, plug and motor issues that other global consumer products companies have to deal with. However, since it offers medical devices, the company does have to deal with government regulatory agencies. In the U.S., it is the Food and Drug Administration.

“In many instances, we face a series of moving targets,” Baker said.

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