And product design for the action sports industry even less so. So when a Hong Kong-based company recently won a 2010 red dot best of the best award in the sport and games category, it seemed worthy of further research.

The winning product, a drysuit for kitesurfers known as the Lucifer, was created by the Pryde Group. Founded in Hong Kong in 1970 by Neil Pryde, the company began as a manufacturer of yacht sails and has since grown into the manufacturer, distributor and brand manager of five different global brands, each targeting a specific niche in the marine and adventure sports market.

The brand responsible for the Lucifer is NPX. They design and produce wet and drysuits for kitesurfing, a relatively new sport that blends aspects of windsurfing, surfing and wakeboarding.

A kitesurfer harnesses the power of the wind using a kite that pulls them across the sea on a board at speeds of up to fifty knots and up into the air at heights of up to seven metres.

It is physically very challenging and demands high-performance apparel that is tough yet extremely flexible. Typical drysuits lack the freedom of movement for kitesurfers to perform difficult aerial tricks, and by visually resembling wetsuits, they are not aesthetically appealing to kitesurfing’s youthful and image-aware followers. Step forward the Lucifer.

Taking inspiration from both urban streetwear and snowboard gear, the design team created a drysuit that while looking like a two-piece snowboard outfit is actually a one-piece. “Most of our riders spend their time in the water but occasionally they also snowkite or snowboard,” says Terence Wang, NPX product manager.

“We realised that it would be ideal to have great looking gear, like you would in the snowboard industry, for the water. A drysuit would be the only option that allows the variety of colours, graphics and loose fit for waterwear.”

The advantages of the one-piece-that-looks-like-a-two-piece design are not merely aesthetic. The jacket flap not only conceals the harness, but also keeps it in place, stopping it from constantly riding up while kiting.

There are two holes at the front of the jacket for the harness hook; these holes have been reinforced with a rubber-like material to add strength and to prevent the hook from slipping back under the jacket once the kite is unhooked. Other unique design features include the integrated hood that protects against wind and drains water, and the ‘Pee-zip’, a self-explanatory dry zip at the crotch.

What stands out about this drysuit design is how user-centred it is. Or, more specifically, how kitesurfer-centred. This is hardly surprising considering one of the main designers of the Lucifer, and indeed the one who came up with the initial concept, is himself a professional kitesurfer.

Julien Fillion rides on the NPX team, a team of professional kitesurfers sponsored by the Pryde Group. He is also a product designer for Liquid Force. Hailing from Canada where the water is cold for most of the year, he needed a drysuit with a proper fit that would keep him warm in the water and also allow him to perform difficult tricks.

Having Fillion on board also meant that the prototypes were constantly being used and tested during the development phase.

One area that received a particularly high amount of testing was fabric. The challenge was to find a fabric that was resistant to abrasion and that possessed a good balance between waterproof ability and breathability.

The result was a four-layer fabric developed with Toray called the 4-skin. The outer layer is a high-density abrasion resistant weave, then follows a waterproof membrane, the third layer is a breathable coating, followed finally by an inner nylon tricot coating next to the skin.

The neck seal is made of a coated limestone neoprene that adds comfort, and around the wrists and ankles the team created watertight seals out of latex. For the zippers, they used the latest waterproof and flexible zipper from TIZIP.

The Pryde Group’s success at this year’s red dot awards wasn’t merely confined to sports apparel, they also won awards for the design of their new X3 Windsurfing Boom and for their 2010 collection of NeilPryde windsurfing sails.

To help with the design of these products, NeilPryde Windsurfing brought in an external designer, Jamie McLellan, to work with their own head of design, Robert Stroj. McLellan, himself an award-winning furniture designer, has a passion for engineering and structural beauty that proved perfect for the collaboration.

When asked to pick out one particular sail from the 2010 collection that he felt highlighted design innovation he answered, “The Fly. The Fly is a new kind of sail for a new genre of boards, and ultimately a new style of riding. It has a shorter, more compact profile which allows for greater maneuverability when wave sailing. With this sail, windsurfing on waves is much closer to surfing.”

Another unique design feature of the 2010 speed sails is the Dynamic Compact Clew, a cutout at the clew part of the sail, near the back of the boom, which allows the sail to twist and hold its profile at very high speeds. This allows for greater control at high speeds, something necessary for winning races.

In terms of inspiration, McLellan says, “The desire to achieve lightness, not just physically but also visually, is what defines the 2010 collection of windsurfing sails.”

He went on to say, “Every sail was redesigned from the ground up. Unnecessary seams and panels were eliminated. Graphic detailing was added using sophisticated screen-printing technologies that use specialised Japanese inks. This not only reduces weight, but also makes sophisticated colour transitions possible.”

In fact, developing new processes of integrating sophisticated, multi-coloured, high-resolution graphics into laminated X-ply sail materials is the next challenge that the design team are focusing on.

“For 2011, we are using a completely new printing technology never seen before,” explains McLellan. “The patterns on sails are printed on the inside of the laminated film material used for sail production. This means that the colours never wear off!”

During product development, the design team works very closely with windsurfers on the NeilPryde Team of professional riders. Their design centre is on Maui in Hawaii, a place where most of the riders train at some point in the year, giving designers easy access to riders who can test prototypes and new technologies.

Prototypes are manufactured by hand at their laboratory, known as the Loft, and then tested. The designs are then tweaked, new sails produced and tested again. The process will repeat itself until the sail is perfect.

An open attitude towards market research, design and testing helps keep the Pryde Group’s products up-to-date with technologies and on-trend with consumers. The design team will often look to other industries outside of their niche, from other adventure sports to fashion, automotive and product design.

This research is arguably what has led to the group’s latest venture, NeilPryde Bikes. It turns out that sixty per cent of all windsurfers also cycle as a way of keeping fit when there is no wind. A move into the bike business therefore seemed a logical development.

What’s more, Neil Pryde’s son Michael, Pryde Group’s sales and distribution manager and division manager of NeilPryde Bikes, has always been a passionate cyclist and, according to his father, was the catalyst behind the project.

From a design point of view, this new venture also makes a lot of sense. “The modern road bike is a very technical product,” explains Neil Pryde, CEO of the Pryde Group, “incorporating all of the elements that have driven the success of NeilPryde Windsurfing products: lightweight, aerodynamic performance and this combined with our knowledge of lightweight carbon fibre manufacturing gave us the confidence to believe we could succeed with road bikes.”

However, as with previous products, they decided to commission an external design team on the project. “This keeps us fresh and current,” says Pryde Group’s creative director, Alex Zenovic.

“We are capable of doing things internally but as soon as you bring in a fresh new mind, that isn’t obstructed by history or a too intimate knowledge of the market, you get wonderful new ideas. It inspires us. External designers also get more exposure to other industries through their other work and I think this is crucial. We have to look outside to be inspired to build something new within our own industries.”

And to whom did they look for this particular project? To none other than BMW Group subsidiary DesignworksUSA. “Our products always carried the label of being ‘elegantly engineered’ so BMW DesignworksUSA seemed like the perfect partner,” says Zenovic. “Their knowledge and passion for design combined with our aerodynamic expertise seemed like a perfect marriage.”

It also proved to be an exciting challenge for DesignworksUSA whose design mission was to translate the core of the NeilPryde watersports brand into a visual identity for NeilPryde in the bike segment.

“We focused on drawing out the emotional appeal of the bikes that would elicit the passion for cycling and allow existing NeilPryde customers to form a natural connection to the brand,” explains Magnus Aspegren, director of DesignworksUSA’s Singapore studio. “The designs embody a fresh visual character that marks the start in a new dimension of mobility for the NeilPryde brand.”

And the resulting products? Two exquisitely crafted road bikes called the Alize and the Diablo. The Alize is primarily a racing bike for the competitive cyclist. Combining sleek aesthetics and the Pryde Group’s extensive experience and deep understanding of the wind, the Alize is a marvel in aerodynamics.

Design features include optimised tube profiling: a narrow front area cuts through the wind while the changing aerofoil profile along the length of the tubes is designed to allow the wind to pass through the frame when faced with different yaw angles.

Another feature is the extended Kammtail, which reduces air turbulence and aerodynamic drag around the down tube, seat tube and rear wheel. Other design features that improve aerodynamics include the internal cable routing, integrated seat clamp and the smooth morphing of the joints and tubes.

Designers used computational fluid dynamics (a virtual wind tunnel) during the early stages to work out the optimal profiles for wind resistance, and later put prototypes to the test in a physical wind tunnel.

The Diablo is a high-performance bike for both racing and climbing. Here the technology of the bike’s exoskeleton takes centre stage, and the influence of the Pryde Group’s long history of working with carbon fibre can easily be seen. Designers and engineers used Finite Element Analysis to first develop unique profiles of the Diablo frame.

They then refined the exoskeleton technology and incorporated continuous, uni-directional C6.7 carbon fibres into the monocoque front triangle. Two continuous carbon fibre stiffness ribs were also incorporated into the frame at strategic locations on the fork blades, chain and seat stays, increasing lateral stiffness, which helps the bike to corner well with as little deformation to the frame as possible.

These tensions in the structure, along with the integrated sculptural surfaces in the transition and tubes, have resulted in a bike that is both strong and lightweight, the design of which reflects “the muscular sports that Pryde is involved in,” says Aspegren of DesignworksUSA.

“As a company, we have always believed that design is at the forefront of any thought and idea. We have always felt that design should be the first objective to creating good products that people want to buy,” says Pryde Group’s Michael Pryde. And in the competitive sports market, it certainly seems as though they’ve hit upon a winning strategy.  

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Derek Yuen

Derek Yuen

Footwear design may seem a somewhat unusual passion for a young kid growing up in Melbourne. But for Derek John Yuen a childhood dream has landed him at the top of his profession.

Play
Economy of form

Economy of form

Simplicity is something that many brands – especially technological ones – often strive to achieve. Coupling innovation with elegance, performance with style and modernity with tradition are nowadays no longer just a plus, but almost a necessity.

Rest, You

Thirsty products or thirsty people?

Running water is an incredibly valuable resource with an almost endless list of applications and uses in and around buildings – whether it’s for drinking, cooking, cleaning, cooling, washing, gardening or recreation.

News
Design for sport

Design for sport

Design breakthroughs in products for sport are, it seems, a very closely guarded secret, in a cut-throat and competitive marketplace involving some powerful players.

Play, You