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Functional Design: This Bike Fender Rolls Up When Not Used
Functional Design is a concept we think a lot about at Percolate, as we strive to create powerful, efficient, and enjoyable software that helps brands solve their biggest marketing challenges. In this series, we talk to makers that inspire us with creations that are both useful and beautiful.
As an avid cyclist, I spend a lot of time on my bike. When it rains, as it often does in the springtime in New York City, the sludgy water sprays up my back and I get the dreaded “rooster tail”. That’s why I was so excited when I first discovered Plume, a mudguard for your bike that rolls up when not in use and looks still good while doing it’s job. I backed the original Kickstarter campaign in June 2013 and am now the proud owner of a beautiful and useful mudguard.
I sat down with Dan McMahon, one of the co-creators, to learn more about how they built Plume and how they think about functional design:
Gabe: What was the unsolved need that drove Plume?
Dan: There’s a compromise required in order to protect your rear end from getting soaked with street splatter. We felt that existing mudguard/fender options took something away from the experience of riding a bike. It’s not necessarily immediately obvious, but I think a lot of bike riders subconsciously avoid mudguards or choose to just deal with the wet for that reason. The bicycle is a truly beautiful thing. It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity, it’s honesty, it’s quality, and it’s ingenuity. When we are presented with clunky, brittle, injection-moulded pieces of plastic, it feels absurd that we would attach them to something as beautiful as a bicycle.
What was the most fun thing about building Plume?
We really love working with materials and manufacturing processes. I think for both of us, the most fun was in experimenting with different forms and materials, observing how they performed, then revise and repeat. Our design process is very pseudo-scientific in that we are following the scientific method but constantly going off of hunches and ‘gut instincts’ to try different things. We also had a lot of fun rapid prototyping different mold cavities and injecting in silicones of various densities to figure out how to make the mount component work best. That was the first time I think I’ve used 3D printing in a genuinely productive way.
What is the most interesting piece of feedback you’ve received from users about it?
What’s been interesting is to see how the Plume Mudguard has been adapted. It’s really exciting to see photos of Plume emerging on a variety of bikes. Slick fixies, chunky mountain bikes, even a bamboo bike. And the coolest part is seeing why Plume would be a good fit for each bike in a way we hadn’t considered before. It seems to compliment a variety of personalities. We’ve even been approached by a wheelchair user interested in adapting Plume for his chair.
What was the hardest part about building this product? How did you overcome it?
It was difficult dealing with the fact that so much about Plume is new, or hasn’t been done before. Finding ways to produce the recoiling steel and the flexible rubber mount was a challenge because it was new territory for us, and because there weren’t any existing products we could point to in order to communicate what we were after. Even the refrence of a slap bracelet only gets you so far – eventually it has to be bigger, better, and made of stainless steel. Ultimately we overcame this challenge by cold calling a huge number of manufacturers in the USA and the UK and establishing relationships with the rare few who thought they might be capable of producing what we wanted, and were open to the adventure. Once you find a smart and adventurous manufacturer, things get really exciting.
Who or what inspires you as a designer/creator/maker?
I feel that there’s some natural born quality in makers which results in constant excitement and finding inspiration everywhere. That sounds super snobby. I think the two of us have overlaps of inspiration in play, and materials, and utility, and magic (which is kind of like play). Before Plume, both of us were designing products which engaged the user through surprise and play but also through the quality and integrity of the materials and manufacture.
What does functional design mean to you?
To us, it’s important that ‘functional design’ concern’s itself with the literal utilitarian role, and also engages the user in a pleasing and sustainable way. Sometimes that can happen naturally if an object is purely concerned with utility. One of my favorite objects is a dog-bone wrench by Reese. As an object, it serves a basic function in that it works as a wrench, and it offers 10 sizes in one tool. Simultaneously, it’s a bit impractical in several ways. Every time I use it, I have to solve a mini-puzzle. But as a result, I love this object and I cary it with me everywhere. And I don’t even need a wrench in my day-to-day. So as an example of functional design I think it’s a total win.
(Hard to see here, but on each end there are 5 openings of different sizes: 4 around the outside, and one on the tip.)
Btw, my inaugural ride with Plume was awesome. Nary a rooster tail to be seen.
Great! That’s so good to hear.