A Question of Design

An interesting question may be worth more than a bucket full of fabulous ideas.

Earlier this week, Giro’s brand manager Eric Richter stopped by Sweetpea headquarters with a list of questions and an interest in some fresh perspectives. (First of all, how cool is that?) We spent a good time huddled around my shop heater talking about cycling culture, making stuff, and where motivations find inspiration. His questions led me to some favorite topics and new territories, from gravity boots to temper tantrums to machine tools.  But my favorite question went something like this: “If you were to design something that was “Giro,” what would it be and how would you approach it?”

Of course, this was totally unanswerable. I could not reach into my brain’s pantry of shelf-stable thoughts and unwrap a tidy morsel. This one needed to be butchered on the spot and served up raw.

After all, I think about design a lot, but engage with it in a fairly narrow context. I could spend the next 30 years thinking on the single design problem of relating women’s bodies and to bike frames. But this question demanded a broader design response, the kind that arises from gut level design principles, whether you’ve acknowledged them or not.

My initial answer to Eric was something of a cop-out about how this deserved some time to ruminate, but I quickly found myself talking about how Giro has a really privileged position.  A helmet is a material mediation between what is most personal and precious (the noggin) and what is most elemental and unpredictable (the world in which accidents happen). The design must regard the inside and the outside with a simultaneously light touch and unflinching robustness.

As we’ve observed before, whatever physical objects we spend the most time in close contact with us require the best that design can deliver. (This is the logic of pricey undies.)

As I reflected on the essence of Giro, I couldn’t help thinking about the essence of Sweetpea. The frames I design mediate bodies and motion, but don’t actually touch the body directly. Perhaps this is why I am always fussing over saddles and bar tape. What touches you matters. And I believe that what I design for matters, too. I design for what moves you.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be exploring some of the design principles at the heart of Sweetpea. It is a challenge for myself, and it should also make for some good conversation. So pull up a chair and let’s delight each other with some interesting and unanswerable questions.

From → Design

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