In a recent N.Y. Times article, writer Allison Arieff laments that industrial designers have created too many precious, useless objects and calls for a return to "problem-solving" design. The article's spirit is right in keeping with the cycling business trend towards commuter, cruiser and cargo bikes.
Maybe one way the recession as good for design is to see it not as a form of punishment for frivolous designers but rather as an opportunity to allow for a rethinking of design itself — and the role of the designer within it.
This rethinking needs to come not just from designers but from the manufacturers, companies and other clients who decide what products and projects will be produced. There’s no excuse not to examine and re-examine what’s made, how it’s manufactured, what materials are used (and which are recyclable), what benefit it’s giving the consumer (or lack thereof) and what contribution, if any, it’s making to anything other than landfill.
Arieff's article places the bicycle industry's reconsideration of its product lines in the context of a larger societal shift towards more sensible, practical products. Anyone who has seen the latest crop of utility bikes can agree that "The work that springs from this sort of questioning does not have to sacrifice beauty for utility, vision for practicality."
By Alison Chaiken
From N.Y. Times on Sunday 12/28:
Wayne Sosin is the president of Worksman Cycles in Ozone Park, Queens, a 110-year-old shop that produces heavy-duty bicycles and tricycles used in warehouses and factories. In October, a manager at the company was worried about rising costs, but confident that sales would remain strong. But orders from automakers and their suppliers have “basically dried up to nothing.”
The Strida as an example of "problem-solving" design
I'm sorry, but I can;t imagine a single person in the world who would see that orange folding bike and go, "Finally! Now I can give up my car!"
The Strida wouldn't have been my first pick either, compared to, say,the Specialized Globe or Bike Friday or Breezer Uptown. Ariefff, the article's author, is a design person, not a cyclist. Nonetheless, the points she makes about what the goals of design should be are worthy of consideration.
But when you see the strida people on the caltrain you have to admit they fold to a much more compact easy to carry footprint than the other bikes...
and that's exactly what Sanders designed the STrida for -- a multimodal train+bike commute.
No doubt it's a good folding bike, but I don't think I've ever heard the excuse "bikes are too big" as a reason for someone to drive rather than bike to work.
Tony, the Strida was designed specifically for solving the "last mile" problem in mass transit, where size and weight of the bike is an issue. It's a tool more to enable public transportation use rather than just bicycle use.
Sour economy hits utility bicycle manufacturer
When money dries up, everyone suffers. The bailout of the banks has had less than stellar results. And not helping out the auto industry retool and ready themselves for the next clean technology will cause a rippling effect throughout.
It's time to get inventive again.
It was also on NPR (and maybe linked here ;) in November http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=97024808
(I notice that the "passive heat" article is still the most emailed from the NY Times, too.)
And tiny little cycling political efforts are showing up, like the "1-mile solution" http://www.change.org/ideas/view/the_1-mile_solution