The Evolution of Vaporizer Design

Clearing out the haze on one of the country's chillest industries. 
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Clearing out the haze on one of the country's chillest industries. 
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Today, vaporizing has transformed from a ritual pastime to a titan of industry. As a result, brands have sprouted as quick as the plants they service, and a competitive market of companies have emerged. Since the process of vaporizing is in itself a rather simple science–heat, inhale, repeat–companies have turned their attention to the ergonomics of the devices themselves, crafting apparatuses all vying for a your lip service.

But, like any booming industry, buying in comes at a cost.

From the “Ferrari” of vaporizers, The Volcano (retailing for $670) to the more diminutive G Pro ($89), vaporizer designs generally subscribe to a similar methodology to cell phones–constantly pushing for smaller, thinner, lighter-weight devices. Websites like VapeWorld.com tout sleek, “swaggerific,” designs along with a trough of ancillary vape accessories such as carrying cases, solar charges, even Formula 410 Daily Use Cleanser.

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“When we first got into this business over a decade ago, it was hard for a vaporizer to fail,” says VapeWorld CEO Aaron LoCascio. “There wasn't enough competition to force manufacturers to think outside of the box. Now that the lifestyle is becoming more and more accepted worldwide, awareness has caught up with interest. The fashion industry, in particular, has seen the immense potential in vaporization collaborations. Black Scale Clothing has already put their skills to use with the GPen line and PAX recently announced collaborations with fashion designer, Richard Chai.”

Top-shelf San Francisco-based vaporizer company PAX Labs is just one of the companies sold on their site. Launched in 2007 by two Stanford graduate design students, the company has seen remarkable growth–in June, the company announced a whopping $46.7 million in a Series C round of funding. This year alone, The PAX has been feature in Broad City, the Entourage movie, and Dope.

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In April, they released sequel to their namesake vaporizer, the Pax 2, which touts itself as “smaller, lighter,” than its predecessor, possessing longer battery life and a “deeper oven.” The Pax 2 comes available in four different colorways including red and aqua and even self-activates its oven when you pick it up. If the Volcano is the ferrari of vaporizers, perhaps the Pax 2 could be called the Audi.

So what was the process like of updating and bettering the original Pax?

“The product was effectively redesigned from the ground up,” says PAX co-founder/CEO James Monsees. “We try to make a lot of the cool stuff very obvious to consumers. We don’t want to add bells and whistles. We don’t want extra buttons. We don’t want it to be overly-gadgety. We want it to be as straight-forward to use as possible and to have the tricks of the product, the really magical new components, be something that’s discovered over time.” The idea being that the consumer should be able to pick up the product and use it without reading the instructions.

“The products on the market before Pax didn’t have a great amount of broad consumer appeal, they were fairly niche products built for extreme users in the category, whereas now they’ve become much more of a lifestyle consumer device.”

The redesign itself finds it shrunken 20% from its predecessor, with an additional 30% battery life and an increased heat-up time. They also added intelligence so it’s not heating when you’re not using it.

In contrast, the Volcano has made few tweaks to its overall design–the largest being the release of a digital version in 2007 that looks more-or-less identical to the original release 7 years earlier.

“I imagine that the Volcano manufacturer is happy with the functional performance, as opposed to the cultural performance,” says Steven Kyffin, ‎Executive Dean of University of Northumbria, Newcastle–the alma mater of Jonathan Ive, Chief Design Officer of Apple Inc.. “The market is established and solid, people know what they are receiving and are happy with it. It speaks to their values: solid, reliable, efficient, long lasting and future proof. These people are not life's early adopters, who are, in contrast, experimental, entrepreneurial, out for the early fix and want to tell ‘their story’ through the objects they hold in their hand and use about their body.” To that end, the Volcano is an anomaly.

Any design update, from tinkering with product weight to expanding colorways, is an important selling point to consumers who often base their decision-making on aesthetics.

According to a Delft University of Technology research study, “As consumers often cannot try out products in a shop or when buying on the Internet, they will use the product appearance to form an indication of the ergonomic product value… By seeing the product, people form an impression about whether handles are easy and pleasant to hold, and whether buttons will be easy to use... The appearance of the product influences consumer perception of aspects such as ease of operation, weight and stability, which affect the perceived ease of use of a product.”

Updating a product, especially one so beloved by consumers, can prove a risky endeavor. Look no further than Nabisco’s Oreo, whose recent announcement of a compacted version, Oreo Thins (intended to "pair well with an afternoon latte, cup of tea, or other 'me time' moment,” according to their press release) was met with sharp disdain on the internet. “Smaller slimmer Oreos is just a sucky concept,” read Penn State University’s official Facebook page.

To that end, developers must be careful.

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“One of the most difficult things you have to do as a product designer is to love your product deeply and yet keep probing for every single flaw,” says Sasha Robinson Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Firefly Vaporizer. “Keep listening to your customers for every single way it's not working for them even though it hurts you to hear it. It's only through that process that you keep what your users love and yet make it better. Because you have that same love too.”

One things for sure, consumer’s appetite for the product (reductive munchies joke aside) remains unwavering.

Photos by Getty Images