Since establishing the technology in 2002, BBQ Guru has been the leading innovator and authority in temperature controls for charcoal grills and smokers. Over the last several years, BBQ Guru faced growing competition in the category with others developing more innovative products. Despite maintaining its dominant brand position in an expanding market, BBQ Guru experienced eroding market share. In 2019, BBQ Guru decided to re-invest in the category by reinventing its product offering. BBQ Guru commissioned Michael Graves Design to develop a new physical product language and a superior user experience to achieve its strategic business goals.
Barbecue is all about cooking “low and slow.” The key to the best barbecue is maintaining a stable temperature for the duration of the cook, which typically lasts from 2 to 12 hours. BBQ smokers don’t have a thermostat; temperature is regulated by managing the charcoal and the airflow. It was always very difficult to keep a stable pit temperature, until BBQ Guru innovated with temperature controls, which allow any person barbecuing to achieve easy and excellent results, just like a Pitmaster. By connecting a small fan, temperature probe and control device to a BBQ pit or smoker, BBQ Guru’s temperature controls allow users to run their pit and smoker like a controlled oven. All you do is set your desired temperature and the device regulates the fan by increasing airflow to make the coals hotter or cut off air to cool it down. The products revolutionized barbequing, essentially leveling the playing field between backyard enthusiasts and professional pitmasters. Even so, all products in the category were visually reminiscent of technology from the 1990’s, conjuring comparisons to pagers and handheld video games from RadioShack. The category was ripe for reinvention.
Upon receiving the commission, MGD set out to establish a recognizable product design language for BBQ Guru temperature controls that would be commensurate with its pioneering position in the industry. As brand development experts, and to ensure the products and the branding were compatible, we started by considering alternative brand archetypes, eventually establishing BBQ Guru as “the Sage” of the industry, promising its consumers learning and teaching. We translated the Sage into key product design language attributes such as “iconic,” “direct,” “bold,” and “powerful.”
To begin our project immersion, we attended a barbeque competition where BBQ Guru was cooking. Experiencing the culture of the event and the products in use, we had a proverbial AHA moment – we call it the Big Bright Q. We envisioned a design that would stand out from the crowd and behave as a communication beacon, when in use, day or night. BBQ Guru had been using the letter “Q” in their product naming conventions, which we translated into new product design language by creating a highly visible illuminated Q. Utilized on both the DynaQ and UltraQ models, this powerful graphic establishes the BBQ Guru brand look and feel, and has become a memorable, highly identifiable brand attribute. Owning Q in the barbecue industry is highly valuable. The asymmetrical Q form leverages several visual archetypes (the bbq pit and meat probe, a communicative word bubble, and a classic meat shape silhouette) that provide layers of meaning for the brand and imprints on a user’s memory.
The display is an LED matrix allowing high legibility and visibility from a distance. MGD lead the UX and UI design for both units, and guided product strategy, establishing functionality, connectivity, & feature differentiation between each model. The project re-established BBQ Guru in its rightful position as the undisputed leader and pioneer in the BBQ temperature controls industry, while also elevating the industry as whole into modern consumer electronics.
DynaQ and UltraQ launched in March 2020 and has already seen higher than expected sales projections for a new product debut. According to Robert “BBQ Bob” Trudnak, Pitmaster and Vice President of BBQ Guru, “We have seen an excellent reaction from our existing customers to both of our new products with many customers upgrading to the new units. We’re thrilled with the creativity, professionalism, and service that we received from MGD. Their work has established our new trajectory for the next decade.”