Elvie Breast Pump Product: Beazley Designs of the Year
Q&A – Tania Boler
To mark the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition, the Designer Museum caught up with the founder and CEO of Elvie, the world's first silent breast pump, which can be found in the Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition.
A: We are so excited and honoured to be put up for the Beazley Designs of the year award. In fact, it means so much, and it is such a great testament to the product team and all their hard work over the last three years.
A: The breast pump is a product, which I think people don't think of much in terms of innovation, but it's such an important product for women.
First of all, it's an intimate product used on the female breast, and secondly, it's used for women during a period change when they're quite vulnerable and often over tired. Something as simple as a piece of technology can make a real difference to their day. Thirdly, and most importantly, more than eight out of 10 women regret how early they stop giving breast milk to their babies, so the pump has important health impacts for the woman and the child. But more than that, at Elvie we believe it's a lifestyle issue and helps women be the mother they want to be, and be the woman they want to be.
A: Absolutely. This is an example of feminist design because if you saw how awful the old breast pump designs were, they were shocking. It was painful, difficult to use, and you're tethered to a wall, which is de-humanizing. So many women told us that they literally felt like cows, and I'm not surprised because the old architecture was designed with lactation devices for cows. It actually makes me really angry that women had to put up with that, so for us it was about creating something that would completely re-imagine the experience, making something so discreet, you'd pop it in your bra, let go and it does the job for you. That is more than just convenience. It is very liberating.
The products these days, as we know, are connected in some way. We never really add in features unless we know they're going to solve a tangible issue for women, and women told us consistently that they wanted their pumping experience to be as discreet as possible. So once you have the Elvie pump in your bra, you can control it from your phone via an app for complete discretion.
A: With Elvie pump, we wanted to completely change the pumping experience. So the old architecture was difficult to use, it was a big motor unit that was plugged into a wall. So really, we had a hierarchy of needs at the very base, and it needed to be functional. When we look to the technology aspect, the pumps used to be run by a very big mechanical motor, which made an awful noise that women really complained about a lot. So first of all, we innovated at the technology layer; changing the motor that was being used, which allowed us to miniaturize and go silent, and then the second level was very much about the aesthetic and the design. So it's traditionally seen as a medical device, but we wanted to turn it into something enthralling for the consumer, and we wanted to make it as discreet as possible.
The shape of Elvie mimics the shape of the human anatomy, therefore being able to make it by putting it in the bra. We didn't want to design something which would be condescending to women. A lot of products in this range are very baby infantilized, and actually we know that women want sleek and beautiful design products. The third important point is all about usability. It has to be really easy to use. Recognising that women are often tired, and going through a lot of change, we made sure that the device could be used one-handed, and easily clicked back into place.
A: Our mission at Elvie is to create extraordinary products that improve women's lives, and with both our products, which are targeting women at different life stages, we are completely changing the concept of how women interact with technology products, and having a really positive impact at the same time.
A: When we launched this pump, we knew that it was a real game changer. We knew it was completely different to what existed on the market, but there were risks associated with that as well.
We literally just ripped up the rule book, and we redesigned everything to the point where the risk was maybe women weren't going to get behind a product, which they didn't even recognise to be a breast pump. But again, we realised that women are not there to be condescended to about technology. We've been overwhelmed by how much women have been sharing with us on social, on Instagram and Facebook about the ways in which it's really empowered their lives. We have women sharing organically on Instagram about running marathons whilst pumping, going back to work whilst pumping, performing surgery whilst pumping. It's really giving women a whole new way of becoming the mother they want to be, and continuing on with their lives.
A: Women's breasts are very different, the human anatomy is a wonderful, beautiful thing, and it does vary so much over age and by geography. So we've had to really tailor our pump for personalised use, which is why we have different sizes and shapes for the breast shields.
A: Our fundamental belief at Elvie is if you are really innovating new products and new designs, there's always going to be an element of education that you need to do around those products because they're new concepts.
But more than that, our products so far really touch upon very taboo neglected issues within womanhood. So really you can't just redesign a beautiful product, and then put it out into the market, and expect traction because you are dealing with taboo issues. So our approach at Elvie is how do we break those taboos? How do we break the stereotypes around these issues? Breast pumping is still a taboo issue with women, as they feel embarrassed and ashamed to breastfeed or breast pump in public. So for us, it's about how can we launch a big bold campaign?
So definitely being in the Oscars goody bags was a real way to show how mainstream this issue has become. We also ran a "free the feed campaign" where we launched four huge inflatable breasts of different shapes and different colours all across the skyline of London, and again, saying women should not be embarrassed or ashamed to be breastfeeding or breast pumping.
The other key thing when it comes to breaking taboos, is talking about things, which is kryptonite, and you can also bring humour or bring things more into the lifestyle space. So at Elvie, our products are regulated as medical devices, but we are also building our community and experiences all in the lifestyle space. Launching at London Fashion Week was again, something completely unexpected too. To have a woman in public walk down the runway whilst pumping was a real game changer as well.
A: When it comes to womanhood and women's issues, through culture and historical reasons, a lot of normal things about being a woman have been completely taboo for a long time. Everything from menstruation to paternity, pregnancy, postnatal and menopause, are all issues that are not talked about, and because they're kind of hidden, it's been very invasion in terms of product design. So for us it's all about designing better products for women. The key thing obviously is to make sure we have a lot of women involved in the research so that all of our products are solving real needs for them.
A: I'm an entrepreneur, so I'm an optimist, and there's been a huge progress in terms of the feminist movement. Everything from #meto, to the un-tabooing around issues about womanhood have been very progressive, but we still have a way to go, particularly supporting new mothers in the workplace. Everything from supporting them to breast pump to more flexible working hours and general support in terms of childcare.
A: I hope when people see what we've done with the Elvie pump, they become inspired as well to go out and think about other neglected issues, which nobody else might be thinking about, and are crying out for a design overhaul.
Going out and traveling became so much easier with the @elvie pump, which is now basically the coolest thing I own. - @yuliya.murnik
Elvie has completely changed my life for the better. It has empowered me, given me my confidence, and improved my relationship with my daughter.
Morning pump sessions look like this. Messy hair, tired eyes and a nursing bra. Honestly I’m not the best at pumping regularly but this portable breast pump has saved me. It’s super easy to set up and use, and pumping with it is pretty discreet so I’ve been able to pump while travelling (on planes) and in between takes on set. - @biancaacoley
The @elvie pump has literally transformed the way I work and I have so much freedom with this breast pump. -@lalaslife
Being handsfree and portable, I can rush out of a shower to get ready for the day, play with Odin AND pump at the same time? Yes please. -@nicolejanelle
Discover the most innovative designs across fashion, architecture, digital, transport, product and graphic design from the past 12 months, as nominated by design experts from around the world.