Daniel Weil’s Innosense range, designed for the British childcare company Mothercare, re-imagines the feeding experience.

His design includes a new type of silicone nipple, which is more amorphous than the typical oversized symmetrical teat.

Co.Design

Redesign Of The Baby Bottle Reveals A Fascinating Cultural History

Pentagram’s Daniel Weil spent three years immersed in parenting culture while redesigning the baby bottle for maternity company Mothercare.

When Pentagram partner Daniel Weil first became a father in the 1980s, things were different. "When my first daughter was born, we didn’t have half the tools we do today," he tells me. "When my third was born in the '90s, there were prams that could transform with the child up until it was old enough to walk. Something happened—a shift."

Weil was hired by Mothercare to redesign its baby feeding collection—bottles, nipples, and sterilization equipment—in 2009. He’s spent the last three years researching parenting culture, developing a remarkably in-depth study of how product design has changed along with childrearing since the 1950s. "I always want to know as much as my client, or more than my client," he explains. "It’s a dream when you’re hired to do the thinking as well as designing."

You might not expect the design history of baby bottles to be particularly riveting—but it is. Weil traces his research for me by explaining how bottles have mirrored consumer culture at large: In the 1960s, the most popular bottle was the same dimension as a Coke bottle. Later, they adopted the shape of an aluminum Coke can, and in the 1980s, the wide neck of a peanut butter jar. The only problem was that the wider the bottle got, the more you had to incline it to nurse the baby without feeding them colic-causing air bubbles. It became harder to maintain eye contact with the baby, which Weil calls "the most fundamental thing." Feeding was getting healthier—but at the expense of the parent/child bond.

Weil’s Innosense feeding range makes two major changes to the conventional bottle. First, he redesigned the tip, doing away with the large, symmetrical silicon caps that allegedly mimic the shape of a real nipple. "Those are totally unrealistic," he says. "When the baby feeds, it distorts the shape of the nipple." Instead, he opted for a smaller, amorphous tip better suited to an infant’s mouth. He also changed its placement on the bottle. "I took the teat—which has always been centered because it’s easier to manufacture that way—and put it on the edge, so there’s very little chance of feeding air," he explains. "But it also allows you to keep eye contact with the child at a more natural angle." The bottles come in three sizes, delicately curved like a coffee mug. In fact, Weil compares the bottle to a cappuccino cup—it’s designed to feel perfect in the hand of an adult.

Which brings us back to that "shift" Weil mentioned earlier. During the two decades between his first and third children, a new pattern of parenting was emerging. People began having babies later, which tends to correlate to more disposable income. It also became far more common to live independently of a traditional familial network, which meant that advice was more likely to come from books and midwives than grandparents. "Parents who are in their 30s had a lifestyle before they had children," he explains. "They had life experiences, choices; mothers worked, traveled. Suddenly you see the style of the products following the social behaviors of the parents. Bugaboo strollers begin to look like high-performance cycling equipment." Parenting today is as much a social and cultural activity as it is a biological instinct. "In a way," he adds, "parenting is becoming part of an aspirational lifestyle."

[H/t Design Week]

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5 Comments

  • CH

    I wonder how well a breastfed child can transition between this nipple style and the breast. The most important thing for me, as a breastfeeding mother of two who pumps while working full time, would be a nipple that mimics the human breast as much as possible to cause the least amount of "confusion" and change in how the child sucks to get the milk out. Bottles and nipples that are not designed around this concept essentially work against every working breastfeeding mom.

  • VizCab

    'Feeding was getting healthier--but at the expense of the parent/child bond.' Feeding is always healthier when babies breast fed. Only now hospitals are encouraging mothers to breast feed instead of offering 'free' formulae and bottle samples from corporate sponsors that they've done for decades. Mothercare should begin each promo for their product by saying breast is best. It would be terrible if someone gave this as a gift to a mother who didn't know any better. 

  • Electric Blue

    It's offensive to indicate that a mother might choose to bottle feed because she doesn't know better. While some women might not have had prenatal preparation that informed them in detail of all their options, other women choose not to breast feed for any number of totally valid physical or lifestyle conflicts. Also, it's not always possible for a mother to breast feed a child for every meal, even for mothers who agree with your sentiment; as example, see working mothers who have to leave their children with caregivers, women who feel anxiety over public breast feeding, or moms who like to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. All of these women can still be responsible by your definition, but the solution in these cases is to pump and bottle feed mother's milk. Bottom line: bottles are necessary for many, and a well designed one is imperative to easing the family's early experiences and reducing stress.

  • Lillibet

    Ironshu - there are very few medications which are completely contraindicated with breastfeeding.  The www.kellymom.com site and Dr Thomas Hale's database are excellent resources for prescribers and parents.

  • Ironshu

     Not entirely true - breast feeding is not always the healthier choice. Case in point: Mothers on medication.