An Urban Bike Light Designed By The People, For The People An Urban Bike Light Designed By The People, For The People

An Urban Bike Light Designed By The People, For The People

by Slava Menn

June 2, 2013

Steve Jobs loved to quote Henry Ford on product development: "If I asked people what they wanted, they would've told me faster horses.”
I am not Steve Jobs. At Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries, we're working to create a new piece of urban biking gear. Unlike most products, this one is being developed from beginning to end by the people who will use it. Our network of urban cyclists are helping Gotham decide everything, from design to name. We're calling this experiment Product of the People.
Companies and product design teams love referencing Apple as an excuse for designing in a vacuum without getting any real customer input. But companies don't always have a crystal ball.  In the bike industry, such thoughtless product design is especially apparent—lights that fall off your handlebars, fenders that don’t fit, and Kryptonite locks that can be opened with any Bic pen.  Cyclists have had to settle for crap products that need to be replaced each season. We deserve better.
Democratized Design
We believe city cyclists can design better than people working at big companies, so we called upon the cycling public to design the best urban bike light. For our Afterburner tail light, we democratized the design, asking what you wanted, and built what you told us to build.
In previous GOOD articles, you told us where to attach it, and what it should look like. The information was golden, but 2D sketches can only do so much, so we moved to 3D. At Artisan’s Asylum, our local maker workshop, we cranked out 3D-printed prototypes and put them into the hands of cyclists for feedback. Each iteration cost us between $4.23 and $7.55, and the feedback from customers was priceless. Here’s what we learned from each stage.
Learning in 3D
Prototypes 1 and 2 of the bike light: Size-on-screen doesn't equal size-in hand.


Our first Afterburner design looked perfect on our big screen. But when we printed it and showed it to customers, they told us it was “awesome but enormous.” The battery opening was also too small and the hatch was flimsy. Lesson learned.
Prototypes 3, 4, and 5: Too big is bad, but too small is worse.


After the first set of Afterburners, we tried again, this time with the most compact design possible.  Customer feedback on this bike light: “It’s tiny!  It looks like a ring pop.”
Prototype 6: We got the size right with our sixth prototype, but then came questions of functionality. How would we account for different seat post sizes? How would we make the batteries easy to replace but less likely to be stolen?
We’ll answer these questions in our bike light product reveal on Kickstarter next month. In the meantime, what are other products that can be improved through democratized design?
Original top image via (cc) flickr user hogophotony
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An Urban Bike Light Designed By The People, For The People