At Pivot, our portfolio includes products in many different fields – biometrics, medical, consumer, and more – and we’ve found that they all have their own unique joys and challenges.
From figuring out how to make a touchscreen display three screens continuously, to ensuring that a ballot box design was secure enough to store voter ballots, these challenges are part of what make product design such an exciting, interesting field to be in.
One area of this field that’s getting more attention these days is outdoor product design. The reason is that Utah State University has just introduced a new Bachelor of Science program in Outdoor Product Design and Development – the first of its kind.
The new program has been widely embraced by students, who will graduate with a stronger ability to develop careers in the steadily growing outdoor recreation industry.
In addition, this product design degree will offer students experiences and learning in a variety of concepts: engineering, sustainability, business development, and more. These are all important aspects of building a career as a product designer, especially as our world becomes more connected and manufacturers, designers, engineers, and others all work even more closely together.
According to the university’s website, Utah State launched the program because outdoor product design continues to be a high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand field. The numbers bear that claim out: according to a 2012 report by the Outdoor Industry Association, the outdoor recreation economy accounts for $646 billion in spending per year. Today, that number may be even bigger.
We’ve worked on a couple of outdoor products ourselves, like this solar-powered portable battery, so we know that developing outdoor products can be a really fun process. There are so many unique aspects to creating products that will work under the most extreme conditions. Here are a few of the things we think about when it comes to our outdoor product design ideas.
Items built for use in the outdoors have to withstand all kinds of conditions that your average consumer product never does.
Take clothing, for example. Your average shirt may get worn for 8-12 hours at a time, with at least some of that time spent in a climate-controlled environment. When it gets dirty, it’s washed in a washing machine. Then it’s folded (or maybe stuffed) in a drawer until its owner wants to wear it again.
This is a very different life from that of a performance camping shirt. The designer of this shirt has to take into account a whole variety of factors, like the effect that water and dirt will have on the garment.
If the owner’s on an extended adventure trip, that shirt might get worn for 4 days straight. Sweat, rain, snow, the movements of the body wearing it – all these things will affect how the shirt performs.
When it comes to adventure and outdoor gear, the mantra is usually “the lighter the better” – as long as you don’t sacrifice utility or performance, of course.
For hard-core backpackers, skiers, kayakers, and other athletes, gear simply has to be lightweight. When you’re out in the wilderness for days, after all, every ounce counts.
For product designers, this means exploring unique and cutting-edge materials that combine low weight and high durability. This can be one of the most interesting aspects of outdoor product design, if you’re of a scientific bent, at least.
Finally, comfort is vital when it comes to outdoor clothing and wearable gear. A backpack can be as lightweight, durable, and roomy as you like, but if it’s not comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, it’s not going to succeed in the market.
This is where product engineering comes in. With the right materials and engineering know-how, outdoor product designers can create gear and clothing that’ll take outdoor enthusiasts through days of hard paddling or tricky climbing.