Vaporizer Design Research

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It’s the Monday after one of the most storied Super Bowls in recent history. Which probably has as much to do with the states and cities being represented by the two teams playing: the Denver Broncos from Colorado and the Seattle Seahawks from Washington. As of this writing, the outcome of the Super Bowl is unknown. But one thing that out in the open is the prospect of cannabis being legalized at the federal level. This trending discussion is a result of these two teams playing because of its legal status in the states where these two teams take up residence.

It should be noted that the DEA’s stance on cannabis is that like tobacco smokers, marijuana smokers experience serious health problems such as bronchitis, emphysema, and bronchial asthma. Extended use may cause suppression of the immune system. Because marijuana contains toxins and carcinogens, marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs, and respiratory tract. (1)

According to the National Institute of Health, to be considered a legitimate medicine by the FDA, a substance must have well-defined and measurable ingredients that are consistent from one unit (such as a pill or injection) to the next. As the marijuana plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds that may have different effects and that vary from plant to plant, and because the plant is typically ingested via smoking, its use as a medicine is difficult to evaluate. (2)

However, the FDA will continue to be receptive to sound, scientifically based research into the medicinal uses of botanical marijuana and other cannabinoids. FDA will continue to facilitate the work of manufacturers interested in bringing to the market safe and effective products. (3)

This is what prompted my interest and research in vaporizers. Vaporizing can be defined as a ‘medicinal delivery system for the respiratory system, both upper and lower’. In the upper respiratory tract, including the sinuses, the vapors/fumes are intended to effect nerve ending (chemo-receptors), and to a small degree absorb into mucus membranes, entering the bloodstream. In the lower respiratory tract, the lungs, the vapors fill air sacs and rapidly enters the bloodstream in large amounts. (4) Anyone who has had asthma has probably used an inhaler which, in essence, provides a medicinal vapor to help with breathing better.

Cannabis and tobacco have much in common in that they are largely enjoyed recreationally by smoking. But where tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States (6) only cannabis, which has no cases of overdose being reported (1), will put users at risk of jail regardless of the negative or positive effects on health.

Clearly, tobacco use is not only harmful but also deadly. I couldn’t help but to notice the popularity of e-cigarettes (aka electronic cigarettes or pen vaporizers) which have been helping to transition cigarette smokers to a touted “less dangerous” habit. And with the possibility of cannabis finally reaching full-scale legalization, could industrial design play a role in how cannabis becomes a daily part of life with safe and effective products?

For those who do not know, Industrial design (ID) is the professional service of creating and developing concepts and specifications that optimize the function, value and appearance of products and systems for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer (5)

As an industrial designer I put together this design study merely to provide a brief benchmark analysis of vaporizer products available today to examine pricing, styling, some user-interface features, and a look into one retail establishment that sells e-cigarettes.

Portable and Tabletop Vaporizers

When compared to other consumer products, these vaporizers can range in prices comparable to a pair of running shoes all the way up to a decent personal computer.

The products featured here are by no means all-inclusive. If anything, the samples provided could be considered the first generation of commercially available vaporizers and will most likely evolve. Some are exclusively for tobacco where others can be used for whatever the user decides to inhale.

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Regarding the portable vaporizers featured on slide 1, the I.D. mantra “Form follows function” can be seen where the technology used to create the vapor drives the form factor. The Palm 2.0 is quite basic and others like the Iolite WISPR feature some intricate design details which help to provide greater product differentiation. Curiously noteworthy is the celebrity branding of the Snoop Dogg Micro G pen vaporizer.

It isn’t surprising the extensive use of metal and plastic but the use of wood with the Magic Flight Launch Box Vaporizer appears to blend an organic feel with modern technology.

The tabletop vaporizers on slide 2 are just as diverse as the previously mentioned portable vaporizers with their use of different materials. But with these, there are more user features available which also seem to affect their pricing. When using a vaporizer, the idea is to have a high enough setting to boil off the terpenoids you want, without boiling off waxes, or burning off plant matter. (4) As they are larger than the portable models, this is an attribute that the tabletop versions can better accommodate as they afford more real estate for more control settings and to provide feedback.

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Vaporizer Pen – Parts Assembly

These exploded views on slide 3 were provided by their respective manufacturers and provide some details into the different materials and other specs that go into making the pen vaporizers work. With materials like medical-grade ceramics, stainless steel, titanium, and carbon fiber, these portable vaporizers provide their users a high-end experience.

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Vaporizer User-Interface

As mentioned, the larger tabletop vaporizers have a better ability at providing the user details about their vaporizing use. How, then, would a smaller handheld vaporizer provide user feedback? Indeed, there is a limited amount of information that can be shared with a handheld device but it was interesting to note the Elevape SV’s use of an app on slide 4 to overcome its diminutive size to share user information.

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Vaporizer Retail

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The last part of this design study was to visit a retailer that sold vaporizers. I stopped in at Vapor Smoke, LLC at 148 N. Tyndall Parkway in Panama City to see what they had available. It was a small space with a basic glass counter and little in the way of space embellishment. I spoke with the owner, Rick and co-worker Kathy about their establishment. They specialized in e-cigarettes and have been in operation for about 8 months. Rick mentioned that his former business was one of many affected by the Gulf Oil spill. He started this current venture with money attained as part of the BP settlement to Gulf Coast residents and ever since, “business has been fantastic.” he says. He did have a personal reason to sell e-cigarettes also to help people quit smoking regular cigarettes as he lost his father to lung cancer a few years ago. We spoke briefly about the pending medicinal marijuana initiative in Florida. He and Kathy were enthusiastic about it passing and thought, in general, it would be good for business but also expressed that, like President Obama’s recent sentiment, marijuana was as safe as alcohol.


E-cigarettes, as a consumer product, are relatively new to the consumer landscape. As such when it comes to tobacco and e-cigarettes, e-cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers currently don’t know:

  • the potential risks of  e-cigarettes when used as intended,
  • how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or
  • if there are any benefits associated with using these products.

Additionally, it is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death. (7)

The demand for them comes as an avenue to a “healthier” alternative to smoking cigarettes even with all the unknowns. The same can be said with the use of vaporizers and any emerging recreational/medicinal cannabis market.

What role will industrial design play with vaporizers? First, what will drive the demand? Consider the following: health consciousness, image, price points, and ease of use to name a few. Will it matter that cannabis is legal or illegal? Doubtfully because the current market of vaporizers cater first most to tobacco users. That vaporizers can and/or will accommodate other substances will, however, add to their appeal especially if they can be proven to be more beneficial to smoking. A change in the law, then, would allow cannabis users to maximize the potential of vaporizers.

Thus, a change in the law, would not only create jobs for the Industrial Design sector but ultimately, usher in a cannabis design era.











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