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Students’ Design in National Media Blitz for Progressive Insurance

Students’ Design in National Media Blitz for Progressive Insurance

If you’re a casual TV viewer, or one of the two million Facebook fans who follow “Flo” – the perky, retro-style cashier who stars in commercials for Progressive Insurance – you may have noticed the comedic spokeswoman recently touting a shiny little gizmo that promises to be the future of car insurance.

It’s called Snapshot, an electronic device that gives drivers the chance to lower their rates by tracking their driving habits. Reminiscent of a miniature R2D2, the gadget was born three years ago in a Design Principles studio taught by Associate Professor of Industrial DesignLeslie Fontana.

The Snapshot media blitz – on prime-time TV, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media – has put a RISD-generated prototype on a major media stage, and potentially in the hands of millions of Progressive consumers, a rare feat for students immersed in principles of design theory.

“The thing that’s so exciting about it is that it’s such a successful ad campaign,” says Fontana, who led about 75 students in designing prototypes for the packaging and digital interface as well as for the product itself. “Sometimes that commercial is going every hour on the hour. It’s so cool to see that little product in her hand and know it came from a lot of hard work in the studio.”

The three years that elapsed between the studio and this year’s product launch offers students an invaluable lesson about the real-world process of going from a theoretical prototype to a user-ready commercial product, Fontana points out. “After we did the project, the company was so psyched about the ideas and the presentations,” she says. “But I never saw or heard anything. And then three years later, out comes our little design from our studio, and it’s everywhere. It just goes to show you how long it takes to get an idea to market.”

Snapshot offers drivers a personalized pay-as-you-go plan with rates that are based on an individual’s driving habits. The user-friendly gadget plugs into a diagnostic port found in most newer cars and monitors the number of miles driven, the times of day a car is driven and how often drivers make sudden stops. Those who drive less often, brake gently and are on the road during safer times of day are eligible for discounts of up to 30 percent. (Drivers are not penalized with higher rates based on their driving behavior, the company says.) The program is currently offered in more than 30 states, including Rhode Island.

Fontana says the six teams of students who worked on the project presented ideas that ranged from highly conceptual to exceptionally user-friendly. The group whose design ultimately went on to be developed “definitely stood out as having the right look and feel for this type of brand,” she says.

RISD’s long history of providing students with real-world challenges through industry-sponsored studios and partnerships attracted Progressive to the project. Among the many other business, governmental and nonprofit organizations that have collaborated with RISD over the years areNASA, Hasbro, ELLE and DuPont.