Product development and engineering consultancy, eg technology, is celebrating its 10 year anniversary in April. eg technology offers product design and development services to the medical, biotech and consumer sectors with a strong track-record of developing medical devices with CE and FDA approval.Clients include Bosch, Smith’s Medical, AlertMe.com, Sphere Medical & Health Enterprise East. Recent successes include the eg-designed Duofertility Monitor being awarded Cambridge Design Icon status as one of the top 20 products designed in Cambridge over the last 40 years and the launch of the British Gas Safe & Secure wireless security system which was designed by eg for AlertMe.com.
1. What made you want to start up your own product development consultancy 10 years ago?
AE: We were both working at a large technology consultancy doing interesting stuff, but we felt that their fee structure really couldn’t be justified for most product development work. So we set out to create a development consultancy with a sharper focus on providing value to our customers. We still employ first rate engineers and designers but we focus on managing other costs by building a network of high quality suppliers and technical specialists who we can use as and when we need them.
DG: Cambridge has a large number of start-ups and other small companies who need the sort of services that are offered by technical consultancies but who simply couldn’t afford the incumbents. By keeping eg lean, we were able to fill that gap. It turned out to be quite a big gap to fill!
2. It seems you have a focus on medical device design; why is this?
DG: We carry out work in a wide variety of sectors, from energy monitors and lighting design to pieces of laboratory instrumentation and yes, medical devices. The medical sector is interesting in that it presents tough challenges. But the products we develop make a real difference to people’s lives, and that is very rewarding.
AE: When we were implementing our quality system some years ago we selected ISO13485, which was constructed specifically for good practice in medical device design, as we felt it was the most appropriate system for our whole business. We find that it is as applicable to general design work as other systems, but it allows us to work in the medical sector too.
3. How important is the Cambridge connection?
DG: There is no question that Cambridge sells. As a city it is known and respected the world over for the quality of its university research and increasingly for the high-tech industries that are largely associated with it, including the design industry. Being based here is also important because of the rich pool of talented people who live here. They develop interesting stuff, start interesting companies, make interesting colleagues and make the Cambridge scene a vibrant one. And importantly, for us and our staff, Cambridge is a really nice place to live!
AE: Yes, and we do a surprisingly high proportion of our work for local technology companies, many of whom we have worked with for much of the last ten years.
4. What makes eg stand out from other product development consultancies?
DG: Our clients tell us that we’re very straightforward to work with, and that seems to make a big difference. If you’re subcontracting a significant piece of your development work to another company, you have to feel comfortable not just with their technical and creative abilities, but also with the softer side of the relationship. We take recruitment very seriously, employing people who not only have great skill but that also contribute more generally to life at eg.
AE: We’re small, responsive but with a real depth of experience in our technical capability. We can use our development processes to help our customers manage the risk of bringing technically complex products to the market. And we’re the only product development consultancy with a pub next door.
5. How has the economic downturn affected your business?
AE: I would argue that the economic climate has definitely affected our business, but in a positive way. We are busier than we’ve ever been and our customers like the concept of building a relationship with a flexible, cost-effective development team who really understand their products.
DG: 2008 wasn’t a record year, but we didn’t have to shrink the team and since then, it’s been full steam ahead, with this past year in particular showing very strong growth.
6. What projects stand out for you over the last 10 years?
AE: A small one and a large one: We did a relatively small project for Solexa (now Illumina) in Great Chesterford a few years ago to design the microfluidics flowcell which is at the heart of their gene sequencing platform. It’s really satisfying to know that much of the leading edge genomics work being done around the world is being done using a part developed by eg technology. At the other end of the spectrum, we have been working for smart home technology company AlertMe since they were founded six years ago and have a great working relationship with them. We are essentially their design and mechanical engineering department.
DG: Different projects stand out for different reasons. We designed a range of remote controlled spotlights for our first-ever client that is still being sold 10 years on and we continue to work with them on new product development. The design of the Duofertility monitor was a lot of fun - a short project, but a product that has proved to have lasting appeal. A lot of the more technical work that we’ve done won’t have the same mass appeal, but we’ve got a lot of satisfaction from cunning mechanisms inside drinks machines or lab robots too.
7. What have been your biggest challenges?
DG: Whilst we’ve tackled some very tricky technical challenges over the years, the biggest challenges have been business ones. In many ways we’ve been very fortunate. We’ve never borrowed a penny, never had to downsize and have had the pleasure of working on some really interesting stuff alongside some very talented people.
AE: Aside from technical challenges for our customers (we won’t mention the entrepreneurs who want us to design a new perpetual motion machine), hiring good engineers is definitely one of the biggest challenges we face. There is a shortage of them in Cambridge and they are fiercely fought over. When we do find one, we work hard to keep them and as a result we have a very low level of staff turnover.
8. What are the key three or four things to keep in mind when designing a great product?
AE: The user, because the product must deliver what they need and they are the ultimate arbiters of a product’s success. The scientist, because a lot of the products that we design are about embodying a technology, perhaps from a University spinout, into a real product, and it has to work. And the manufacturer, because all products must be made, reliably, in volume, at the right cost-point.
DG: The user is definitely primary. A product only succeeds if it is easy, intuitive and pleasurable to use. Whilst this may be obvious for consumer products like mobile phones, it is just as true for medical products, lab instruments, even packaging.
9. What products do you consider great designs?
DG: The human body - a remarkable piece of technology. If you’re talking about something that has been designed by people, I think the bicycle is hard to beat. A good bike remains a fantastic piece of engineering, fitting beautifully with the human form, extracting energy from us more efficiently than anything else, yet built in a way that can be easily understood and repaired by anyone with a set of spanners. A good design is complicated enough to solve the problem at hand, but no more.
AE: For us, great design is not just about something looking stylish; it’s about giving the user a delightful experience and taking market share as a result. Obviously Apple are renowned for doing this well, but other diverse examples of delighting the user include Joseph & Joseph kitchen implements, Fluke multimeters, BMW and Avent baby bottles.
10. What are your plans for the next 10 years?
AE: More of the same. We want to grow, but not so much that we lose the essence of what we are. And we love being able to point to products on the market and say: “eg technology designed that”.
DG: And any more than that would be telling!