In preparation for our fall issue, Pattern got the chance to pick the brains of the designers behind some of People for Urban Progress‘ most iconic and innovative designs. Ever look at a product on the shelf wonder how it got there? A self-described “investment banking professional by day and a fabric artist by night,” Christina L. Friedenson, the PUP designer behind the handmade, repurposed ReCycler, describes her design process in her own words.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY A NEED, LISTEN TO THE BUZZ
My husband Doug and I are very much involved with bicycling in Indianapolis. He is the Operations Manager at Freewheelin’ Community Bicycles and has developed deep relationships with cyclists of all kinds over the years as a bicycle mechanic. It was his original idea to create a double pannier bag out of Dome which was spurred on through some conversations we had. In November 2011, when I pitched the idea to Jessica and Michael [Bricker] to create the pannier we all saw a need for it and there was already some buzz over the idea within our circle.
STEP 2: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
I started by researching what is already on the market and what design features seemed most desirable. I interviewed cyclists I know to learn about the pros and cons of the designs they are familiar with. Once my research was complete, I made a list and sketched out a general concept. I like the balance of a tandem bag and retro styles that are prevalent in Europe inspired me. Jessica, Michael and I focused on answering questions like size, dimensions, how we want it to function. The style had to fit in with our current product line-up to maintain a similar look for continuity. We like our designs to have clean lines with a modern appearance while also remaining classic so that it stands the test of time.
STEP 3: MAKE A PATTERN
I worked out dimensions by measuring several racks, existing bags, and key, heavy items one would haul (such as beer growlers and milk jugs) then I put it all down on paper to create a small-scale pattern. As with any design, you start with the basic shape and work out the rest, perfecting and adjusting as you go.
As the designer and maker of this bag, I employed a lot of forethought early-on, so it only has necessary parts and stitches. I tried to eliminate duplication and design overlap. It was necessary for me to work all of that out since it takes a lot of material to make the final product. The pattern for the ReCycler is complex because of some of the angles, so it was important to make 3-dimensional prototypes to be sure it worked.
STEP 4: TAKE THE PROTOTYPE FOR A SPIN (AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO REVISE)
My first full-scale prototype was complete by spring of 2012, and a friend took it for a few weeks, used it, and made notes about her experience. We learned a lot about the design flaws, and I went back to the drawing board. We officially launched the first panniers in late Spring last year, but the design was still not exactly what we wanted, and we immediately pulled them. So after deliberating, redesigning, and ultimately simplifying the pannier, I created the final design that we are now selling. It made its debut in the Fall.
STEP 5: FIND YOUR ZEN
I am extremely pleased with the ReCyler, and we have received excellent feed-back and praise about it. I love how it looks in its functional simplicity. I find it very fulfilling thinking back on the year-long process it took to design. It was messy, even frustrating at times, but I knew it was not ready. There was more to be done. As a result it contains all of the elements of a functional bag without compromising on style. It stays white when you ride through a puddle. The angle accommodates heel-strike so the cyclist isn’t kicking the bag with each crank. The tops cinch under the flap to keep contents secure and dry while each side holds a good amount of stuff. When I chose the cinch toggle I made sure it was easy to push when dexterity is limited, if your hands are stiff from a long ride or cold weather. I incorporated reflective material on the sides and back for an added level of safety. The bungee attachment quickly hooks to a rack but can be removed easily and carried with the handle and adjustable, cross-body strap. One of my favorite things about it is that it rolls up on and off of the rack for that classic look. The roll-up feature is extremely desirable for fair-weather commuters, lighter loads, and people who have limited storage space at home.
It is a lesson in design to be persistent because at some point after working so hard and wanting it to make an impact there was a moment where it all clicked. You cannot reach that Zen-like moment until you persist and I certainly reached Zen when I completed it.