Bluefrog Design

Part of a MedTech special focus for New Design magazine

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Bluefrog Design is a product design engineering consultancy based in Leicester.

For over 25 years (until 2000 the business traded under the name 3CD) the company has worked with clients varying in scale from large organisations to independent inventors. Although the company built its reputation primarily in design for the consumer products, industrial equipment, and transport sectors, over the last decade it has added to an ever-growing portfolio of work in the medical and healthcare space.

Bluefrog has worked alongside small companies on the development of drug delivery devices and clients have taken advantage of its expertise in prototyping to support the build of demonstration models of clinical and therapeutic equipment. Meanwhile, the company’s founder and owner Chris Samwell explains that UK and European funding programmes (such has those run by Innovate UK) have proven to be very useful in connecting Bluefrog with university-based researchers who are seeking a design partner to advise on the process of taking a concept from the academic sphere to, potentially, a production environment.

Indeed, Bluefrog was part of a consortium based at De Montfort University Leicester which recently completed a project concerning the development of Through Vial Impedance Spectroscopy (TVIS) – a new methodology for the analysis of the freeze-drying of pharmaceuticals. It is hoped that TVIS will not only enable a deeper understanding of this process but will also accelerate product development, especially that of room temperature stabilised biopharmaceutical formulations.

An important aspect of Bluefrog’s involvement in the collaboration was to develop the laboratory scale piece of analysis equipment that would sit alongside the industrial scale freeze-drying units. Working with the university’s team (led by Dr Geoff Smith) and fellow project participants, including the primary commercial partner GEA Lyophil and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, Bluefrog managed to find a way of packaging the technology in a unit about the size of an A3 desktop printer. The technology was recently trialled successfully and GEA is now likely to address how to move the system towards production for its clients in the pharmaceutical industry.

Many of the design capabilities that Bluefrog might bring to a consumer product project are also relevant to the medical sector. The consultancy seeks to navigate the strict regulatory standards that govern medical device development by planning any project meticulously from the outset, often conducting in-depth research and feasibility study before moving into a design or prototyping stage.

Working on behalf of Hydrotreat, Bluefrog developed a demonstration unit that showcased the client’s contrast hydrotherapy technology. The treatment uses alternating hot and cold water to speed the healing of soft tissue injuries through the dilation and constriction of subcutaneous blood vessels. Bluefrog engaged closely with the client to refine the concept and provide the product design and engineering services that culminated in a prototype unit which Hydrotreat could use to further evaluate the system and use in clinical trials.

“We carried out a significant amount of research with independent physiotherapists and professional sports therapists at Leicester’s rugby and football clubs,” says Samwell, explaining the depth of the process. “Research also covered a review of the academic literature, user research, and looking at potential avenues through which to market the product.”

With the parameters of the project established, Bluefrog then moved to 3D CAD and produced some notional full-size soft models in foam to present to user groups. Feedback from these process informed further design work in CAD and, ultimately, the demonstrator prototype.

Whilst the medical sector is known for an emphasis on rules and regulations, Samwell says that Bluefrog endeavours to apply a similarly rigorous approach to any project it takes on. “Having said that, medical products do have to go through a lot of testing and so there tends to be a fair amount of iteration of whatever you are doing in order to fulfil everything you need to fulfil and give proof of it,” he comments. “There are some consumer products where there are less demanding standards and you can use common sense and common sense is good enough – but that’s not the case in the medical world.”

Furthermore, Samwell argues that ‘styling’ is no less significant when working on a medical device than in other sectors. “Any product should be styled well and engineered well for its market,” he reflects. “I don’t want a really nicely styled product that is poorly engineered, or a well-engineered device that looks boring.”

Although medical work currently represents only a relatively small proportion of Bluefrog’s business, it is a sector that the consultancy is eager to focus on and in which Samwell sees excellent potential for growth, particularly given the emphasis that government funding programmes are placing on high value manufacturing, of which medical design is a subset. Design for medical and healthcare products, he says, represents a “real challenge” to a designer and offers the opportunity to apply design thinking in a “meaningful way” to improve the lives of clinicians and patients.