Nilfisk ALTO

Business type
Product SME
3 years (ongoing)


Nilfisk was founded in 1906, achieving their breakthrough in 1910 with the launch of the Nilfisk C1 vacuum cleaner. The C1 vacuum weighed a mere 17.5kg and could be operated by just one person – a real step forward at a time when most machines required four people to work them. In the intervening years Nilfisk has built a global reputation for professional cleaning equipment, with products sold in 70 countries worldwide.

In 2012, when Nilfisk began work on a new line of vacuum cleaners, they decided to do things a little differently. The company had a long tradition of technological innovation but with their new machine they wanted to make sure the improvements they made really reflected the needs of customers.

Although it wasn’t unusual for Nilfisk to work with external design companies, this particular design process was different from any they had previously undertaken.

How design helped

Nilfisk contacted Danish design agency design-people, their brief was to create a more user-centred vacuum cleaner that would be easier and safer to operate.

We spent numerous hours analysing the customer needs, specifying the requirements for the future.

Thomas Elmer
Group Product Manager, Nilfisk ALTO

The company realised that their goal to become more user-oriented would mean a greater focus on research. They chose design-people because of their track record in turning research findings into concrete solutions.

Watch how Nilfisk and design-people created the AERO vacuum cleaner

Watch how Nilfisk and design-people created the AERO vacuum cleaner

The process was very intensive and the two parties worked closely together. Design-people undertook detailed user studies to understand customer needs. Nilfisk participated in site visits to get an insight into the research process and better understand how customers used their vacuum cleaners.

Once the research team at design-people had reached its conclusions, the product could start to take shape. The designers translated these findings into new features for the AERO vacuum cleaner.


  • 3 international product awards

The AERO vacuum cleaner was launched in 2013 and won three prestigious design prizes: the Red Dot, iF and X awards.

The award-winning Nilfisk ALTO AERO created with design-people

As a result of working with design-people, Nilfisk gained a greater insight into the needs of their customers. This provided an opportunity to improve their product development processes and strengthen their brand.

Thomas Elmer, Group Product Manager at Nilfisk, says that the design process helped in many ways, including:

  • Growth in sales – Nilfisk outperformed their targets for the vacuum.
  • Improvements to product development – Elmer feels Nilfisk will be able to carry out projects like this much quicker as a result.
  • Change of culture and mindset – Nilfisk has become more user-oriented and aware of the importance of their customer’s needs.
  • Changes to other Nilfisk product lines – the success of the collaboration between Nilfisk and design-people has inspired Nilfisk to extend the process of mapping customer usage to other products in their range.

The collaboration with design-people helped Nilfisk to get closer to their users, and the AERO vacuum cleaner is just one of many products that will benefit from this understanding. The company’s ultimate goal is to become the biggest player in the professional cleaning equipment market – they know design will be integral to that goal.

We chose design-people to help us better understand the needs of our end-users – and transform this understanding into new, easy-to-use features for our customers. The AERO has strengthened both our brand and our sales.

Thomas Elmer
Group Product Manager, Nilfisk ALTO