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