Exactly 200 years after the invention of the bicycle, the German Design Council offers – for the second time – awards honouring outstanding product and communication design in the bicycle industry. The focus of this international competition is on accomplished staging and execution of brand management and communication. Andreas Haug, Managing Partner and founder of Phoenix Design, is part of the jury which will chose the winners on 25 April 2017. Regarding his interview in the Bicycle Brand Contest 2016 Magazine one can guess what the passionate cyclist this year pays attention to.
Bicycle Brand Contest 2017
FROM ELECTRONICS TO BRANDS
Mr. Haug, when is the last time you were on a bike?
Just this last weekend, I was at a triathlon training at Bodensee Lake – it was amazing! When I’m in training during the season, I like to ride two or three times every week. But I’m the type who prefers to ride when it’s nice out, and we haven’t exactly seen a lot of that this summer.
You were on the jury for the first Bicycle Brand Contest – what got you interested in it?
One especially exciting thing was the range of the submissions – it wasn’t just about bikes; we also got submissions for bike components, clothing and accessories. I find the design quality in contemporary bike design to be particularly inspiring. The level of refinement in the formal transitions, even for the smallest components – the design is done wonderfully these days.
But you looked at the participants with a critical eye as well.
Of course. From a design point of view, the thing that strikes me generally about the bicycle market is the fact that there are still component manufacturers and frame manufacturers. For this reason, bicycle design often does not achieve the product unity that we see in the automobile industry. From a user’s point of view, I would like to see a higher degree of integration among the components and functions. For instance, GPS devices and on-board computers are always additive elements, yet they actually make up the bike’s cockpit. It would be good for the design if bicycle manufacturers were to develop their own integrated solutions.
How do you see the design of electric bicycles in this context?
There is still design work to be done in this area as well; in my view, there’s still no definitive archetype.
Do you expect that there will be one?
We’ve seen in the past that innovation begins with the exploration of several different paths, then the best one becomes clear. At the moment, there are still a lot of variations in electric bicycle construction: Where does the battery go, or the motor? What is the drive system like? All of these things are not yet fully cemented. There are two or three different approaches that are used. Compared to the first models, where the battery and the drive were still separate parts that were screwed on, there is now more and more integration. Now, for the first time, the product design is becoming holistic.
What significance does the brand have – is it as strong an influence as in the automotive sector?
Since a bike is an everyday product with a high frequency of user contact, the brand plays a huge role. Particularly in a large and complex market, the brand offers the user a form of orientation. Of course, building a brand also has to do with market presence. There are quite a lot of bicycle manufacturers on the market, but only a few that are big enough to create a brand that’s actually important. Branding work always goes beyond the product itself. The most important thing is authenticity: If you want to develop a brand, you have to stand behind it completely.
What about accessories, clothing and the like – are these things part of the overall experience of cycling?
Yes, absolutely. Everything associated with the bike – including experiences like group trips and customer events – it all supports the brand presence. And thinking beyond the product allows the manufacturer to have a much more intensive interaction with the customer. This also includes service design, the intensive interaction with the customer from the moment of purchase to any possible repair work and beyond – this will be a major challenge in the future. Of course, companies also learn a lot more about their customers and their needs in the course of this dialogue, which allows them to develop better customer-orientation.
Currently, manufacturers have hardly any control at all over what kind of service and brand experience the bicycle dealer offers the customer.
That really is dangerous. The manufacturer has very little access to the service on-site; there is a pretty large distance between manufacturer and customer in this regard.
These days, bikes, like cars, are becoming fully integrated: Electric drives, electric gearshifts, navigation systems and anti-theft devices – do you see this as a positive development?
I think it makes a lot of sense. Electronics allow for much more precision and for more functions to be integrated.
This could even change cycling overall. What do you think cycling will look like in Germany in ten years?
At the moment, I don’t foresee any major revolutions, but I could imagine many things happening. Maybe there will be a self-driving bike? A little while ago, no one could imagine that for cars, either. Why shouldn’t bikes be able to do more by themselves? Our office is involved in developing robots – and when I see what’s possible in that area, I can imagine a few kinds of electronic support that would work for bicycles, particularly in terms of safety. I would also like to see new solutions for providing cyclists with more visibility in traffic – because that’s a major safety factor.
Source: German Design Council (2016): Bicycle Brand Contest 2016, 1st Ed., Rat für Formgebung Medien GmbH, p. 11-14.