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How St. Louis-based Metaphase came to design popular household products

Bryce Rutter, founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group, stands in front of a display wall of products at his Midtown office.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio
Bryce Rutter, founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group, stands in front of a display wall of products at his Midtown office.

Research shows that it takes athletes seven gulps on average to quench their thirst. They take three large gulps, then three smaller gulps followed by a pause — and then one last little swig before they let out an audible sigh of satisfaction. Those seven gulps equal about 24 ounces of liquid.

We have Bryce Rutter to thank for that information. Rutter is the founder and CEO of Metaphase Design Group, a small St. Louis-based company that’s worked with some of the most recognizable companies in the world.

Rutter’s research on thirst quenching was conducted for Gatorade in the late 1990s. Gatorade wanted a new sports bottle, so Rutter and his team followed athletes across 12 sports. They determined that Gatorade needed a bigger sports bottle with 24 ounces instead of 20 and a different orifice that mimicked the shape of a month.

“[Gatorade] reported in the media in the first year that they increased their revenues 25% just because of the bottle design,” Rutter explained on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “It had curb appeal and it started jumping off the shelf.”

Metaphase is also behind other recognizable products. They redesigned the iconic red Solo Cup, and created the Heinz Dip and Squeeze Packet and Microsoft’s first ergonomic mouse.

But for all of those popular goods they’ve worked on (also: Harry’s Razors and Budweiser’s bowtie can), consumer products only account for 30% to 40% of his business. The majority of what this 15-employee company works on is in the medical field with surgical instruments, systems, disposable elements and more.

Whether it's a surgeon’s instrument or a toothbrush, the ergonomics of hand-intensive products is at the heart of Rutter’s designs.

Listen: St. Louis-based Metaphase designs popular products

“That's kind of the DNA behind everything we do, is to figure out how we can design something that works like how you and I think, feel and behave,” Rutter said. “I was crazy enough to spend three years in college studying hand function. And there's a multitude of things you can do with your hands.”

Rutter and his team consider countless grips, sizes and textures when they’re designing a product. That’s evident in the company’s recent research on toothbrushes for Colgate, where people are recruited to visit a bathroom laboratory at Metaphase’s office in Midtown St. Louis.

Metaphase researchers film people brushing their teeth and then pore over the video.

“The fun part is you dissect all the video and you start to look how they flip the toothbrush, when they go from the bottom to the top. There's a little bit of a dance in there with your fingers. So, can we make that roll or that twiddle a little bit easier for someone, especially someone who is like my 95-year-old mom with compromised hand function,” he said. “Because if we can get one that's easy for her, it's gonna be easy for everyone and to make sure that it's dignified, in that it doesn't look like a medical device. It’s something that I would want to own.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
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