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Designing a child bike seat is all about finding the safest solution. It should be practical, versatile, and good-looking – but above all, safe to use. At the Thule Test Centre, all designs are put through the hardest real-world challenges imaginable.
Henrik Eriksson is Global Design Director at Thule and has been involved in the design of many products that are used by active parents around the globe.
Do you ever get feedback from parents who use the products you design?
“Yes, and it is a great feeling when people appreciate what we do. They are engaged, and usually in a good way! But to be honest, there are many active parents both in the design department and at other departments at Thule. We use our own products and I think we learn a lot from them.”
How do you design a product like a child bike seat? Something that should be safe, easy to use, durable… and look good, too?
“It’s teamwork, really. At the design department, we deal with product identity and form language. The way things look and feel. When it comes to other things – such as functionality and quality – there are a number of different departments in the process. Then we act as advisors.
Sometimes, this advice is very hands-on. Say that we are talking about a way to have two child bike seats on a single bike. How can we do that, safely and practically? How does a parent manage to get two kids – who are tired after a long day – into the seats? We have lots of opinions and thoughts. We try to “be” the user. This is where our own personal experiences as designers and parents matter.”
Speaking of child bike seats, the biking trend is huge now.
“Sure. And it’s very cool to think about the bike and what a genius invention it is. I mean, you could look at a bike from the 1880s and still recognize it for what it is. Obviously, a new bike is different, but much of the original design is there.
I think it’s great that more and more people see the bike as a smart way to transport themselves and their kids. I come from a country where it is quite common to commute with your bike, but for many it is a novelty. And if you are going to put your kids on your bike as well, you are going to make sure that you use the right gear.”
So let’s talk about safety. As designers, you obviously have the intention to make products that are as safe to use as possible. How do you know if you are successful? Does testing give you the answers?
“Testing is so important for us! Sure, there are certain safety standards that we need to meet, but for us, testing our products, exposing them to absurd forces and extreme situations during the design process is absolutely essential.
And for us as designers, we are there the whole way. Naturally, we are most into the preliminary phase and at the beginning of a project, but things develop over time. We test, and we change things.
Many of our products are built for something that they hopefully never will be put through – the extreme forces in an accident. And yes, of course it may seem over the top to test extremes. And, of course there are faster and easier ways to do it. But that would not be the Thule way. At the end of the day, I would say that the knowledge we get from testing different products is a huge asset when we start new projects. We learn from every step in the development process.”
The Test Center is a prominent part of the Hillerstorp facility, right?
“It is, and it is only getting bigger. It is an inspiring environment, and the fact that we are investing so much right now is great for all of us here. In the end, it gives us the tools to make even better products in the future. You can simulate lots of things, but nothing beats real life testing!”