Jan. 12, 2021Educational Microscope
An intuitive, easy-to-use microscope for students who have never used a microscope before — the ECLIPSE Ei is an educational microscope designed from the desire for students to be able to experience the fun of observing and researching, while also opening the door of their curiosity.
The first step toward new discovery always starts with surprises and joy when something that was invisible is suddenly revealed. However, handling a tool like a microscope can present a variety of barriers to this experience.
For example, attaching an eyepiece/objective lens, focusing and adjusting aperture, etc. — many complex operations are required, and remembering how to do them all can be extremely difficult.
Especially in a class where one teacher has to deal with many students, instructing how to use the microscope is time-consuming, and this often limits the time available for learning, which is another factor that we cannot ignore.
So, what could we do to solve these microscope issues and contribute to the next generation of researchers' learning? Nikon tackled these problems with the power of design.
Starting over from scratch
"Initially, we planned to introduce a product that had almost been completed previously with the application of slight improvements. The product also satisfies the basics of a rational design as a microscope," explains Mr. Nakajima, who was in charge of organizing ECLIPSE Ei design.
"However, when I thought about sending it into the world in 2020, there was still room for improvement in this product. So, I asked to start the design over from scratch."
There are various kinds of microscope and their functions and price range vary. Among them, the ECLIPSE Ei is a microscope used for learning and research regarded as an "entry model". Since it is delivered to schools in large quantities, cost cannot be ignored. Starting again from scratch when the design had already nearly been finalized was a highly unusual proposal.
However, Ms. Odashima, who was mainly in charge of the design of the ECLIPSE Ei, had a single ambition.
"When I think back on my microscope experience at school, I only remember that it was difficult to operate, and hard to carry and store. Even a microscope for elementary or junior high schools suffers from this problem, and it's even worse for models used in research. That is why I really wanted to create a design that would allow users to fully concentrate on their observations if we were launching a new model."
The marketing and engineer designing sections received the proposal and decided to restart the project on condition that the cost would stay within a certain range, the number of parts would be kept within a fixed amount, and that they would complete it by the deadline.
Picking up issues from various angles
How could a microscope's design allow users to fully focus on observation?
The educational microscope design project made a new start, beginning by familiarizing project participants with the issues they faced. Not only people in the design department, but also staff members from various other departments all gathered in one location and discussed an educational microscope in every detail.
The experiences of sales and marketing department staff were very useful. Since they had visited many sites where a microscope is actually used, they were able to piece together a picture of the issues from their experiences at educational institutions.
For example, the AC Adapter cord for lighting was cumbersome to store, so users handled it roughly. Because there are few handles, a microscope can be difficult to take out from high and low places depending on the user's physique. There are many complicated operations, so the class tends to end up with a teacher still walking around the classroom telling students how to use it.
Issues like this, which hadn't often been given much consideration with a conventional microscope development, soon become clear to us one after another.
Accumulating wisdom to transform a design into a form
Based on the relevant issues established during our initial discussions, we continued to discuss the design. However, the time limit for completion was always bearing down on us. The cost needed to be kept low and time was becoming extremely tight. As the design process was expected to be very difficult, the team made a critical decision.
They decided to proceed designing and design engineering, that usually proceed separately, at the same time. Ms. Odashima was stationed in the Design Section of the Optical Engineering Division and optimized the design through close communication with design engineers.
Ms. Odashima, following her move to a design engineering setting, explains that she had a strong will as a designer.
"In order to eliminate the resistance that a user might feel faced with a difficult-looking device, the overall gentle form was important. That was something I could never give up."
No matter what kind of design is being considered, its value can only be realized once it is transformed into a physical form. Design engineers involved in this important process thought hard about exactly how to successfully turn an attractive sketch into reality.
It is better to minimize the use of metal even by as little as 1 gram in terms of cost. What's more, if you try to increase the strength of the product with a small amount of metal, it can spoil the beauty of the form.
Mock-ups were created several times, modified several times, and polished in an attempt to find the point where everything was optimally well-balanced. This process was repeated over and over again.
Members of the engineering department who consider costs and manufacturing also joined in. They contributed to the design's realization by determining the number of parts, structure, coatings, etc. Everyone's common passion "to get this microscope out into the world" was a powerful motivation that drove the project forward.
New experience born from the design
Thanks to the cooperation of many people, the ECLIPSE Ei was finally completed. This microscope has changed the user experience through values born from the physical form such as friendliness, ease-of-operation and ease-of-teaching.
Ms. Odashima was particular about the impression of "softness" that could be felt from the overall appearance.
"By finishing the microscope body with a soft and gentle form, including the white frame, we refreshed the image of being difficult to use that a microscope previously had. We wanted to eliminate the psychological resistance students might feel when they touch a microscope for the first time and encourage them to learn positively."
The frame sections contribute to comfortable handling. The form fits naturally in your hands no matter where you hold it, and the actions of taking out before use and storing afterwards, which are required at any educational site, are made safer and more convenient.
Although there were no significant changes to the essential functions of a microscope, operation was improved by the design. By matching the same color on the objective lens and the aperture, it is easier to make the appropriate settings, which in turn makes operation more intuitive. This easy-to-use, and easy-to-learn design helps speed up practice and learning.
Beyond that, there was also close attention paid to other details of the design.
The handle that controls the stage with fine movement is a good example. The larger the handle is, the easier the operation becomes; however, if we increase the size, the storage space is limited. Bearing this in mind, a form was sought that could achieve the optimal balance of maximum operation and minimum size, with the team making and rigorously testing a number of prototypes. The resulting design was shaped so that it could be turned by either pinching the outer edge or pushing the side with the pad of your finger.
Meanwhile, reading the *QR code activates an online guide. Students can continue working by themselves without calling a teacher.
- *The word "QR Code" is a registered trademark of DENSO WAVE INCORPORATED.
The sales department members who visited several schools also voiced their approval that, "This microscope would be readily accepted in the educational field."
True to their words, the ECLIPSE Ei educational microscope was selected for both the Good Design Award 2020 and the Good Design Best 100 list and evaluated highly for its functional beauty.
In addition to the product, a giveaway notebook was also designed by designer Odashima. This was a project that all team members worked together on, from finding and solving every issue and successfully developing the product, all the way through to sales.
The development members talk about the design of the ECLIPSE Ei
I wanted to support students
Bioscience Sales Division
"I think this product greatly contributes to lowering the psychological hurdles for students regarding a microscope. We love this microscope and some salespersons even introduce it to customers as a 'cute microscope'.
This product embodies Nikon's sincere desire to help students. We will continue to listen and reflect customers' voices and hope to create even more wonderful products."
Trigger to create new Nikon fans
Healthcare Business Unit
Takuro Saigo, Ph. D.
"The ECLIPSE Ei is for students who are new to a microscope. It might actually be the first Nikon product they use, so I feel that it is of great significance to be able to fully imbue it with the essence of Nikon design.
It would be great if many people could feel a sense of fun from using a microscope that has been created through the close cooperation of everyone in the team."
Design dedicated to comfortable operation and fun observation
Technology Solutions Sector
Healthcare Business Unit
"I believe that this product not only realizes comfort during use, but also embodies our desire to 'feel the fun of research' through its design. As an entry model, I hope this microscope will reach as many people as possible and I will be very glad if they feel that they were right to choose a Nikon as their first microscope."
Products that can grow with their users
1st Designing Section
Optical Engineering Division
"It was a great opportunity to feel the designer's commitment nearby. I will never forget the days I devoted to this microscope through trial and error with Ms. Odashima over and over again. That is why we would like students to 'take full advantage of utilizing this microscope'. We want them to happily enjoy using it as much as possible, and we would also welcome encouraging requests such as 'I wish there were other products like this.' I really hope this product can grow with its users."
Aiming for design that inspires trust
Ms. Odashima: "I hope Nikon design is a tool that can effectively support those who take on challenges. If you have to wrestle with your tools before you can do your job, the product is disqualified as a BtoB product. This applies to an educational microscope too. Every time you use a well-designed product, it should inspire learning motivation, so you feel that you want to see more and use it more. I think this microscope has become such a Nikon-style product. I would like to apply what I have learned with the ECLIPSE Ei to other products."
Mr. Nakajima: "Whether it's BtoB, BtoC, flagship or entry models, all Nikon products have a commitment to "trust". Experiences you can gain from this consistent design concept can be a force to encourage you to smoothly take the next step when you wish to move up to an even higher level.
If students discover the fun of science with the ECLIPSE Ei and develop their talents, that would really make me so happy as a designer."