When you think of what children love to do, brushing their teeth will not initially come to mind and it can prove to be a struggle for parents who are trying to teach their children healthy living and hygiene habits to get their children to do it twice every day. Starting with oral hygiene early on is extremely important for a child’s overall health and for kids to have this routine and enjoy brushing their teeth in the morning and at night can be challenging. Therefore Oral-B wanted to improve the design of the conventional kids’ toothbrush so it would be easier and more comfortable for them to use. The oral hygiene company has always wanted to be more innovative than their competitors and was bothered by the fact that the toothbrushes they offered for children looked the same as the ones that were being sold by any other toothbrush provider. Oral-B saw the opportunity to optimize a product that had not gone through a lot of changes in the previous years, get ahead of competition and raise their market share. For this purpose, Oral-B started working together with the design company IDEO, who emphasize the design thinking approach and the value it creates for consumers as well as businesses.
Looking at how the product is used in everyday life
The IDEO team wanted to look at the way kids brush their teeth at home compared to grown-ups and their approach. The team soon noticed that there are certain differences in how children and adults hold the brush in their hands. They observed that children hold on to the toothbrush with their fists as opposed to adults who tend to hold it with their fingers. It was concluded that this was due to the circumstance that, since kids are still growing, their fingers do not have as much dexterity and fine motor skills as adults’ hands do.
Taking a closer look at the problem
The problem with the conventional kids’ toothbrushes was that they were the same as the ones for adults, just slimmer and shorter in length. The assumption was that children’s hands were smaller than adult’s hands and therefore they would need a smaller toothbrush to fit their hands. Having less grip strength at a younger age and gripping the handle very far up close to the brush head using their fists to move the toothbrush, children need a way to hold the handle of the brush tightly. The narrow brushes grown-ups use, were too tricky for small hands to efficiently navigate around the mouth. In addition to ergonomically optimizing the toothbrush, Oral-B was looking for a way to make the process more enjoyable and entertaining, so children would not refuse or stop to brush their teeth.
Coming up with a solution
Oral-B and IDEO designed a prototype solution called the ‘squish gripper’. What made this toothbrush innovative was the wider handle and soft but textured grip, which would both make it easier to hold on to the brush. The team adapted the size so it would be a perfect fit for any child in the appropriate age group. Figure 2 shows the prototype of the newly designed toothbrush.
Validating the new product
The children the team initially observed for the product research were given the prototype and could test the optimized toothbrushes in their homes. Using the bigger handles resulted in a better brushing comfort and improved cleanliness of the teeth and mouth. The team also decided to use bright colors and graphics, so the toothbrushes would be more appealing to children.
What we can learn from the collaboration between Oral-B and IDEO
Oral-B wanted to work together with a design company to have another point of view and get an insight from another stakeholder who could look at what is important for a kids’ toothbrush from scratch. IDEO’s approach to go into Oral-B’s customer’s homes and actually look at how children use and hold toothbrushes in familiar surroundings is often used in the empathize phase of Design Thinking and has proved to be successful. After introducing their newly designed product to the market, Oral-B had the best-selling kids’ toothbrush for 18 months.
Even though Oral-B still sells manual toothbrushes, the company highly recommends using electric ones and has focused its toothbrush business mostly on the electric product. For children Oral-B advises using electric toothbrushes from age three on. Although the design thinking process was used to design a manual toothbrush, the lessons learned from then were considered when developing the electric equivalent as well. You can tell that the toothbrush handle for kids younger than age six is bigger and squishier than the ones for older kids.