Student Team Spotlight: University of Oregon

Spokesperson: Christian Freissler, Senior Industrial Designer, Ziba Design

How was this team put together?

When the idea of including schools came up, I got the message through mutual friends at Ziba. I’m teaching at U of O, and I’m quite interested in bikes. Ziba is teaming up with a builder (Signal) in the collaboration format, so there was a lot of talk about Oregon Manifest. When I heard about the student teams, I asked around at U of O. The response was fire and flames.

Who is involved in this team – students, instructors, builder consultant?

I’m partnering with James Mollyneux, a designer with the Innovation Kitchen at Nike. I’ve been an adjunct professor at U of O for a while, and James is a longtime friend who’s absolutely into bikes and has good connections into the local bike scene. I asked him, and he said yes straight away.
This has to be a learning task and also have a knowledge and craft part. We’re working with Dave Levy of Ti Cycles as our builder consultant. We’re not designing the bike; we’re just directing the group.

How are you integrating the competition into your curriculum?

It was a little tricky, because it’s over such a long stretch of time. The university is organized by terms, so we had to stretch this over the spring and summer terms, plus a few weeks. Spring term we covered the general history of bikes, deep-diving into the whole topic. We broke down into groups and researched what makes a commuter bike, an urban bike, when women began to ride, the current urban bike scene, the custom-bike scene in Portland. We made builder visits to see the passion and craftsmanship of handmade builders.
At the end of spring we started forming stories of the modern utility bike, and came up with early concepts for the design. In the summer term we’re consolidating into one big team, with one final theme, direction and story. The effort right now is to refine the design, working with Dave Levy. He give us tips on real-world geometry, and later this term he’s going to let 10 students into his shop to go crazy with his tools.
We try to be with the students twice a week, whether it’s reviews with small groups or the full group.

What kind of questions are you asking in the design process – what is your approach?

This is an amazing chance to infuse product-design thinking that we use to solve everyday problems with products – to use that thinking on bike design. Dave Levy brings a unique perspective of 25 years in the craft; we bring the experience of consumer-centric product design. We’re looking for relevance in the market – fusing it all together, making the collaboration really specific.

The competition stresses fresh and modern – how will that affect aesthetic decisions?

Of course we’re striving for fresh – a design school should produce fresh designs – but it has to be relevant. We’ve been building a story around a specific target persona, with specific needs, and creating a bike experience for that specific persona. Rather than just saying “We’re going to make something modern,” it will be refreshing but parallel to classic bike design.

What does true flexibility in a modern utility bike mean to you?

It’s a way of painting the life of this persona. We’re using a well-known tool called making a 360 around this persona. We go through a day in the life, all that person’s specific needs. This guy has particular needs: tasks he needs to accomplish daily in his work, he rides to work, he rides with friends for fun on weekends – we’re bringing it all together and painting a 360-degree experience of his world.

At its heart this is a competition – how do you feel about the competitive aspect?

Competition keeps it exciting for the students. Competition among students is perfectly normal – you don’t want too much, but it’s healthy, it keeps them going and growing. Not that it’s about competition every day – we’re really making a statement about what a utility bike is for the U of O. We’re not trying to be better than anyone else – just trying to bring our vision forward. Yes, there will be a winner in each category, but really it’s about a good exchange of design philosophy.

Why do you think innovation is important for the everyday citizen cyclist? How can it change why and how people ride bikes?

One of our goals is to throw a design out there that promotes the joy of cycling. Our consumer target will embrace it, but in general we want to promote cycling. One idea from a student standpoint is that cycling is a big part of campus life – so we’re working from a fairly unique perspective. Our design will revolve around students riding.

What is the most enjoyable part of working with a student team?

I love bikes. I love working with students. Product design is my life.
I have a passion for bikes, so the chance to do something that will be seen and received around the country… it’s a great opportunity for me and for U of O as well.