Extreme Makeover, Weiner Edition: RKS Redesigns the Deadly Hot Dog

Hot Dog Redesign

Last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for the redesign of hot dogs. "If you were to take the best engineers in the world and asked them to design a perfect plug for a child's airway, you couldn't do better than a hot dog," said Dr. Gary Smith, former chairman of the AAP's Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention. "When it's wedged in tightly, that child is going to die." Never ones to resist a challenge, or the chance to play with our food, we carved out a little time to explore the redesign of the hot dog.

We began by thinking outside the bun. What other ways could we come up with for hot dog delivery? Looking for inspirations from food innovations like GoGurt and Push Pops, we briefly toyed with the idea of a semi-solid hot-dog paste...a Push-Pup, if you will, not unlike the Sushi Popper. But frankly, the idea of a hot dog in a non-Newtonian form, was more than a little gag-inducing.

we ate all the fruit snacks 10/365For enhancing a sense of play, we flirted with the idea of Lego-inspired shapes, like the fruit snacks at right. But, given the reason behind the call for redesign, it seemed a bad idea to train kids to eat things shaped like toys.

So we decided the best way to preserve the hot dog experience would be to work inside the bun, and identified several key factors to keep in mind:

  • Esophagus-sized cylinders and spheres = bad, very bad
  • Fit within existing buns for "authentic"-ish experience
  • Look for opportunities increase sense of play
  • Enhance condiment-to-hot dog engagement

We began our exploration in sketch form. When one designer remembered a friend choking on a Lifesaver candy, but still being able to breathe, we looked at options with a hole down the center. We worry that these holes could be too easily compressed, and, worse, that people wouldn't be able to resist the urge to stuff the hole with cheese, and that would take us back to square one as a choking hazard.

hot dog redesign

Flat, ribbon-style shapes could be folded to create the volume of a traditional hot dog. Forms with grooves and deep troughs would be great conduits for condiment consumption. One idea involved baby-pea-sized pellets of hot dog, packaged loosely in a natural casing to retain the traditional hot dog shape. When bitten into, the casing would release the pellets which would be too small to choke on. Of course, if these spilled onto the floor while frozen, we'd quickly move from choking hazards to slip-and-fall accidents.

hot dog redesign

These forms could also entice play, much like string cheese. Still, the temptation to bring bacon into the picture is hard to resist.

hot dog redesign

When it came to 3-D explorations, given the time constraints, we decided to go old-school...or, actually, pre-school. That's right. We broke out the Play-Doh Fun Factory! Why render when you can extrude?

hot dog redesign

The Fun Factory was particularly handy for creating spaghetti-inspired forms with thin strands which could be bound together like sheaves of wheat or even braided. The downside could be the high outside-to-inside ratio. In many foods, there's a fine balance required between the inside and outside. Think of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. It's not just the taste of the chocolate and peanut butter; it's the ratio of chocolate to peanut butter that achieves perfection.

hot dog redesign

Our favorite form ended up being a Slinky-esque spiral. The initial inspiration sketch looked a little too corkscrew shaped, bringing to mind pig parts (tails and otherwise) we'd rather not approach. But as the form developed in sketches and modeling, it offered a good outside-to-inside ratio, a hot dog-shaped form factor, and lots of room for finger play and getting the condiments down into the loops of the spring shape.

Clearly, this was a very quick exploration--a conversation starter. We'd hope that these designs and more would be explored by manufacturers and vetted by the experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

hot dog redesign

You can find more of shots of the modeling session on our Flickr page. If you have solutions you'd like to share, or thoughts on our ideas, please post them in the comments below.

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Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design. RKS has helped generate more than 150 patents and over 90 design awards on behalf of its clients, which include HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss. Sawhney invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study and is the subject of Predictable Magic, the forthcoming book co-authored by Sawhney and Deepa Prahalad and published by Wharton School Publishing. Sawhney is an IDSA Fellow and Executive Director of IDSA's Catalyst case study program.

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19 Comments

  • Francisco José Rodríguez Valer

    Diseño de la ergonómica y nueva figura geométrica para el pan industrial del Hot Dog.

    Método y aparato para obtener la NUEVA FIGURA GEOMÉTRICA del pan para Hot Dog, que soluciona la problemática en su producción, en su uso, y al momento de consumir el Hot Dog. 
    La imagén adjunta es para informar ÚNICAMENTE acerca del diseño estructural y no en lo tocante a la calidad de proceso.
    Nuevo concepto de diseño del Know- How para producir "contenedor comestible" PAN ACANALADO (AHUECADO) para PERRO CALIENTE, (Hot Dog Buns cupped)(también disponible para la hamburguesa - Hamburger Buns cupped) listo para ser llenado, además de ser homogéneo en sus otras características físicas y organolepticas

    Características Principales.
    Moderno diseño industrial e integral, que incluye elegante y ecológico empaque multipropósito, para la obtención del producto científicamente suave y FUERTE

  • Alexander Buer

    that has to be the single most stupid thing I've ever read "When it's wedged in tightly, that child is going to die.". So, when you stuff a childs throat tightly with a bun, that child is going to die :| wow. Really. I did not know pushing a food item tightly into someones throat results in them suffocating.

    While we're at it, lets redesign sandwhiches, if you wedge a sandwhich tightly in someones throat, they're going to die.
    Or steak, if you wedge a steak tightly into someones throat, they're going to die.
    What about apples? If you wedge an apple tightly into someones throat, they're going to die!

    Or, and stay with me on this one, you could watch and teach your child how to eat food without wedging it into their throats and maybe not feed them white bread and very unhealthy, badly made sausages with unhealthy condiments.

  • marion Ferrer

    Since most hot dogs are arguably mostly eaten during the fourth of July holiday, I say extrude the hot do into a star shape ( NOW THAT'S AMERICAN!)... you will still have the crevices for the condiments and the decrease of the density would diminish the choking factor ( small wedge-shaped pockets for air to circulate)...plus...in my imagination, the texture could be quite satisfying!

  • Loren O'Neal

    Darryl and I werte discussing a recent case I had encountered, involving the removal of a rather large solid chunk of meat from an airway, and he mentioned that hot dogs were the perfect plugs for toddler's throats; I hadn't really thought about it before, but he certainly is right!

  • Brennan Dell

    How about making it patty shape like a hamburger so you don't have to buy two different types of buns?

  • Hagay Vider

    Been there, done that.
    Spiral hot dogs are already on the market. They're a bit less of a coil and more a screw, but still the same idea. The is a small technical problem when they are packed, frozen, thawed, boiled, and or microwaved. The pasty meat and fat mixture tends to distort unevenly with temperature changes, which would bend or twist the coil. Adjoining pieces also tend to fuse to each other when microwaved, roasted, or barbequeued, which would easily change the coil into a closed tube. Any change in the hot dog's shape would also require changing its chemistry.

  • YN Leung

    Have at it - any great ideas from all you parents and grandparents out there...besides being shocked kids could die from hot dogs not because of whats in them but because of the shape!

  • Dan Soltzberg

    Or, consider redesigning the human throat with genetic engineering! Maybe use the snake as a model - it can swallow a gopher whole.

  • Justin Love

    I agree with Taylor. I think the coil idea is cool, but if parents took a little initiative (and responsibility) they could just slice the hot dog to the middle, making it much more safe for a child. Or even cutting it in half would make it that much better, although for cooking purposes I don't think packaging them pre-cut would work.

  • Justin Love

    I agree with Taylor. I think the coil idea is cool, but if parents took a little initiative (and responsibility) they could just slice the hot dog to the middle, making it much more safe for a child. Or even cutting it in half would make it that much better, although for cooking purposes I don't think packaging them pre-cut would work.

  • Justin Love

    I agree with Taylor. I think the coil idea is cool, but if parents took a little initiative (and responsibility) they could just slice the hot dog to the middle, making it much more safe for a child. Or even cutting it in half would make it that much better, although for cooking purposes I don't think packaging them pre-cut would work.

  • Justin Love

    I agree with Taylor. I think the coil idea is cool, but if parents took a little initiative (and responsibility) they could just slice the hot dog to the middle, making it much more safe for a child. Or even cutting it in half would make it that much better, although for cooking purposes I don't think packaging them pre-cut would work.

  • Justin Love

    I agree with Taylor. I think the coil idea is cool, but if parents took a little initiative (and responsibility) they could just slice the hot dog to the middle, making it much more safe for a child. Or even cutting it in half would make it that much better, although for cooking purposes I don't think packaging them pre-cut would work.