As a company with a history in hardware, product design has always been a focus for Axis. As the network technologies and solutions have evolved over the years, so too has the focus for our design team. Where ‘function’ has always been essential, the role of ‘form’ has become increasingly important. Alongside this, the users of surveillance and security technologies have become more and more varied, and with it the need to design intuitive use. We caught up Jonas Sjögren, Manager of Design at Axis to hear about the challenges and opportunities and how he and his team are meeting them.
You’ve been with Axis for nearly a decade now, Jonas. What major changes in our product design have you seen in that time?
Put simply, a greater variety of products, and a more varied group of users to cater for. Everyone knows Axis a company with a heritage in creating video surveillance cameras. But not only has the number and variety of the cameras increased, but we’re now also creating audio products, access control devices, video recorders, joysticks and keypads, housings and cabinets…the list goes on. We want all of these products to adhere to the Axis principles of high-quality design.
And again, historically, the users of our products have predominantly been security operators and technicians. Today, the users of our products include those who may have less, if any, technical training. A great example are our wearable and body worn cameras, which need to be highly intuitive to use by not only law enforcement and security officers, but due to the growing number of applications by users in transportation, retail, and customer service. Similarly, network intercoms and some audio devices need to be intuitive to use by everyone – including, for instance, someone visiting a doctor’s surgery or the dentist. Designing for these levels of use is a relatively new challenge for Axis.
And how do you and your team meet that challenge?
Firstly, it’s something we embrace. Designers never really switch off – even as ‘industrial’ product designers in our day jobs, we’re highly attuned to design in everyday life. Therefore, the opportunity to apply our skills to design that we know could be used by everyone is an exciting one.
Observation is important in any design process. Watching people use products gives great insight into how to enhance their design. And prototyping plays a key role here, particularly in new product areas.
Again, our body worn cameras are a great example. Body worn cameras were completely new for Axis, and we genuinely started from blank sheet of paper, not wanting to be influenced by the products already on the market. We moved as quickly as possible from design concepts to prototypes – and 3D printing has been a real benefit in doing this – so we could put the product in the hands of users, observe their use, gather feedback, and iterate the design.
A lot of body worn camera prototypes were developed during its development, but the success of the final product is testament to the value of prototyping, testing, and observation in design. As we say in design, “early changes to product design are cheap; later ones are expensive”.
How does Axis decide on what new products to design?
There’s no single answer to that. Sometimes a product manager will come to us with a brief, or even just a problem that needs solving, and that will start the process. We also have processes for gathering feedback from customers, and this can also form the basis for design enhancements to existing products, or even new products entirely. Sometimes it’s purely the creative energy of the design team!
Good design is an optimized mix of function and form. Does one play a greater role than the other at Axis?
Actually, less so now than it has ever done. Our reputation has been based on our products’ functional excellence, for instance delivering the highest-quality video in any conditions, withstanding whatever the environment might throw at them. That’s never going to change. But the aesthetics of our products has become of increasing importance for a variety of reasons.
In some scenarios, the visual deterrent of a video surveillance camera is an important part of its role in safety and security, so ‘overt’ design is important. However, in other use cases it’s desirable to have surveillance cameras fit more seamlessly into a building’s overall design aesthetic. For this reason, we now have surveillance cameras with a variety of casings – brushed stainless steel, for instance, or casings that can be painted to align to the interior design scheme – which can be used in locations such as hotels, leisure facilities, residential buildings and offices.
It's the same in other product areas. We were delighted to have recently received a ‘Red Dot’ Award for high design quality for the AXIS C15 Network Pendant Speaker Series. While these speakers meet every functional aspect you’d expect from an Axis product, they’re also designed with aesthetics in mind. Some models can be recessed into a ceiling – seamlessly and unobtrusively blending in – but we also have a ‘pendant’ version which can be hung from a ceiling of any height and painted to align with the overall design. In that, they become an overt part of the interior design of, say, a retail outlet or public building. It was pleasing that the judges of the Red Dot Awards recognized both the form and function aspects of the design.
You’ve talked about designers never “switching off”. What do you bring from your life outside Axis to your work, and how is this influencing design direction?
That’s an interesting question. It’s sometimes subconscious – I don’t often see something outside work and think, “ah, we can use that in a surveillance camera design!”
When I’m not at work, whenever possible - and depending on the time of year - you’ll find me either up a mountain skiing or in the ocean surfing. Both of those activities definitely mix aspects of form and function – great-looking ski boots aren’t much good if they’re uncomfortable – but perhaps more influential is the reminder it gives me of our environmental responsibility.
Whether it’s changing ski seasons or plastic in the ocean, you can’t escape the impact we’re having on the environment, and that’s becoming an ever-greater focus for Axis. From a product design perspective, that means designing for both maximum recycling and in using as much recycled material as we can – supporting the circular economy – removing harmful materials, and even redesigning product packaging to reduce its impact. It’s a responsibility we feel acutely, and one we’re determined to have a positive impact on through improved and new product design.