A Q&A with Outdoor Expert Greg Bass

“The market really wants to embrace more types of people”

A Q&A with Outdoor Expert Greg Bass

Spotlight articles shine a light on designers and design materials we admire. Our founder and principal designer Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman has met many wonderful designers in her time in the industry, and in our Spotlight interviews we ask them about their work, their design journey, and what inspires them. In this interview we spoke with Greg Bass, an expert in technical soft goods design and development with over 20 years of experience in the industry.

Greg has developed outdoor, cycling, and sport products for brands like Timbuk2, The North Face, and more. In 2018 he and his wife founded Telegraph Studio in Santa Cruz, California, where they offer product design, development, and strategy along with graphic and logo design. We asked him about what his love of outdoor activities brings to his work as a designer and what he sees in the future of outdoor and sport goods.

Greg Bass is an expert in technical soft goods design and development. Photo courtesy of Greg Bass.

Q: What are you working on that’s interesting to you at the moment?

A: I have a pretty wide variety of projects. I would say the ones that are the most interesting, inspiring, are ones where I’m able to push a brand into a new area. There are a couple of brands I’ve worked with for a long time, helping them to fulfill their mission. There’s a company I work with called Two Wheel Gear that is all about getting people to use their bicycles for transportation. They are looking at the bigger picture of how getting around a city without a car can really improve health, improve the environment, improve your mood for the day. They’re one that I always enjoy working with. I’ve been doing work with CamelBak recently on some new bags that are products they’ve never done before, I think that’s exciting, too. It is always a good challenge to help bring a brand into a new category or direction.

Q: Could you tell us about one of your favorite projects and share why it is important to you?

A: One that comes to mind is the No Reception Club project. My wife and I have a studio together: she does graphics and I do the product side. No Reception Club is really cool because they are a couple with this idea for a brand all about traveling with kids. We have kids too, so the two of us were able to relate and bond with them. We designed their bags, their graphics, the whole package, and it’s been super fulfilling. As a bonus the products have won multiple awards. They sold out on their initial production run quickly. That is a fun success story of a little startup that seems to be taking off, and it’s something that personally relates to my lifestyle.

Q: Everybody has a different way of defining soft goods, what does soft goods mean to you? 

A: There are a lot of different ways to define soft goods. I think of soft goods as any time that you’re using fabrics or other soft materials in designing a product, and that’s distinct from fashion design because fashion design has very specific parameters that make it fashion. There’s a bit of a blurry line between soft goods, product design, and fashion. I think it’s really just about using fabrics or soft materials in making some 3D object.

Q: I know that you specialize in cycling design and I also see a lot of photos of you on bicycles. How has your personal experience made you a better designer for these types of products?

A: I think that anytime that you really know the customer or deeply understand how they’re going to use their product, you can design it better. So I think that being into cycling personally in my free time and then also working with different brands on designing stuff for cyclists,  it helps me to get into the mindset. If you know, for example, with Two Wheel Gear: I don’t commute on my bike very often because our office is a home office, but I know what it feels like to ride your bike to an office or to a meeting. Being able to empathize and really take that experience and think, if I were riding my bike to an office, what would be things that would be difficult and how would I solve those problems? That’s all valuable, being able to understand the experience that you’re designing for.

Q: You’ve worked as a freelancer as well as in leadership. What did you like about those different roles? 

A: There are definitely pros and cons to both being in a corporate setting and being a design leader. It [being a design leader] has some real benefits as far as having a bit more of a defined role, a defined mission. Working in a big corporation, you have a budget and you have very clear structure. Managing people is another challenge for sure. I think designers who get into design leadership don’t think about that. Doing performance reviews and dealing with personnel issues, maybe somebody’s got a problem with somebody else they’re working with. That side of it is a whole other set of skills—that are outside of the design role—that you have to have when you’re managing a team.

Freelancing, on the flip side, has great flexibility and in some ways less flexibility. Being able to take off in the middle of the day to pick up a kid or go on a bike ride: I can schedule that in. But at the same time, my clients have meetings and deadlines that I always have to meet, so balancing that can be tricky. Being a freelancer is one of those things where, even when you’re busy, you have to be thinking about what your next contract is going to look like and who you can talk to. You don’t have the stability that you have in a corporate setting where you’re just focused on getting stuff done, getting the products out, and managing your team.

Q: Are there manufacturing techniques you are especially excited about right now?

A: I think that one of the things that’s not fully exploited yet—but I think we’ll be in the next five years—is computerized stitching and robotic operations. With the push to manufacture domestically or closer to home, labor costs are going to be such an issue that investing in a machine that can do a lot of sewing or a lot of the operations will help companies to be able to afford manufacturing stuff closer to home. I’ve seen factories in Asia where they didn’t want to invest in a CNC machine. They do and then, within a couple of years, they have banks of CNC machines because they save so much time and are just so much more accurate. So it’s good and bad.

Robots are going to replace people at some point but at the same time, companies are always pushing to have great quality and lower costs. I think that it’s the world we’re living in with 3D printing, with circular knitting, with all these different types of production that you can do that are more computerized and less hands-on. It’s going to open up new possibilities and I think it’s a give and take like anything else. It’ll be great to be able to manufacture things in North America more than we do now, but there won’t be as many people doing it. 

Q: How do you work with sustainable materials when designing for outdoor and sport?

A: That’s been a huge change over the last five to ten years. I would say 10 years ago we wanted to be using more sustainable materials, more recycled materials, and they were either really difficult to find or really expensive. But there’s been such a push from some of the big industry leaders, like Patagonia and REI and The North Face, that the fabric mills and the suppliers are all investing in it. These days, even if I’m working with a small company, it’s much easier to find recycled material or something that has natural content that will work. It’s not crazy expensive. That was always such a challenge; we would find a really cool material but it was three times the cost of something that wasn’t recycled. Now you can find something that’s maybe 50 cents a yard more, which is pretty easy for most customers to absorb.

I’ve seen more and more brands, even small startup brands, that want to use sustainable materials. It just wasn’t a consideration for people a while back. I think that definitely in outdoor and sport, people’s mindsets have shifted to be much more attuned, looking for sustainability as a benchmark or baseline.

Q: At this point in your career, what are your favorite kinds of problems to solve?

A: That sort of gets back to the first question. I think it’s about new innovation or doing something that is pushing a brand or a category. That’s always fun, you know? And it’s not always a big success because sometimes you’re pushing into something that’s too new or you’re ahead of the market. When I was working for Specialized [Specialized Bicycle Components], we did a collection of bags for bike packing. It was not a niche thing but it was just coming up at the time and we did a nice collection. It didn’t take off in a huge way but now, every brand has bike packing bags. That’s interesting; being able to know when the market is ready for your new innovation, or what you’re doing.

I like adventurous brands or somebody who’s willing to push their boundaries. I’ve worked with some brands that didn’t make soft goods, and helping them to imagine what a soft goods line would look like for their brand is sort of fun. Oh, you make Watches. What would a brand that makes watches do for travel? 

Q: Could you talk about what you see in the future of outdoor products?

A: The interesting thing that I see with outdoor products is that there are two divergent directions. One is to bring more people in and really expand the market to be almost anybody. There was an article I read the other day about how REI is going to take the word adventure out of their marketing and it’s going to be more about experiences, because some people are intimidated by climbing a mountain or, you know, freezing, or some of those adventure things. I can see that the market really wants to embrace more types of people and I think that’s great, being able to embrace different backgrounds, different body types, different abilities. I see that as a really big trend in a lot of brands.

The other side is the push for innovation and being super technical, things that use the highest tech materials and the newest manufacturing processes. Like a NASA level thing for climbing Mount Everest, which most people are never going to be able to appreciate, but for the people that do, it’s important to them. I remember when I worked for The North Face we had these Himalayan products that you only really need if you’re going to be sleeping on the side of a mountain, but we would sell a ton of them in Manhattan.

Q: Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to add or questions you wish you’d been asked?

A: One of the things for students or people who are just getting into soft goods design is being able to understand the various processes because, like I said, it’s sort of a gray area between fashion design and product design. That is sometimes intimidating for people. I’ve had people who are trained as industrial designers reach out to me and say, I don’t even know how to start designing a suitcase or a backpack. There aren’t a whole lot of programs out there for people who specifically want to do this kind of stuff. There are a few that steer that way, but I think that that’s something for people to dig into. There are resources online where you can see how bags are made or luggage is made or shoes are made, and those are all really good ways to start in the field.

What is Wearable Technology?

What is Wearable Technology?

Here at Interwoven Design our design niche is the intersection of soft goods and wearable technology. We love the challenge of making rigid components work seamlessly with body mechanics, which is an area of design that pushes for innovation in materials and construction as well as in electronic components and integration strategies. We explained what soft goods design is, but what do we mean by wearable technology? What does anyone mean by it? 

On the surface, wearable technology is exactly what it sounds like: technology that is worn on the body. That said, as with any product category, there’s a bit more to understanding it than that. At least these days, technology here usually means smart electronics, or electronics that can ‘talk’ with other devices. Wearable tends to mean close to or actually on the skin, allowing for the detection, analysis, and transmission of information about the body. Smartwatches and fitness trackers are popular examples of wearable technology, or wearables, for short. For their smart technologies to function, you have to wear them throughout your day.

A baby wearing the WithMe device. WithMe is a small, repositionable sensing unit designed by Interwoven that works with a smart-enabled device to deliver vital information about a baby’s wellbeing to a phone or tablet.

How does wearable technology work?

The capabilities of wearables are all over the place, ranging from basic to complex, which means that how they function varies a lot, too, and often depends on the product category in question. Usually they use micro-sensors to gather information, and some combination of microprocessors, batteries, internet connectivity, and bluetooth technology to be able to sync with other devices. This synchronization is most likely in real time, providing immediate biofeedback in the case of a wearable collecting biometric data, like a fitness tracker, or location services in the case of personal safety devices. They are an important and growing category in the Internet of things that creates an ever-expanding network of devices around us.

What is wearable technology for?

The applications for wearable technology are numerous and growing. Wearables might be medical devices, clothing or clothing accessories, fitness devices, jewelry, or something else entirely. They might be assisting with navigation or rescue, providing biofeedback to refine athletic performance (like the Remo Haptic Training system), facilitating medical monitoring (like the WithMe baby monitor), providing entertainment, as with AR and VR headsets, offering consumer convenience, as with smartwatches and wireless earbuds, and much more. As they are worn on the body, they are hands-free devices that offer the wearer unencumbered movement along with the service they provide. 

Interwoven Wearable Technology Case Study:

Delta Gloves

a figure lifts weight wearing smart technology fitness gloves: Turn reps into results faster with gloves that track your workout.
The Delta Gloves track your workout in real time and transmit the data to an app on your smartphone.

We worked with PureCarbon to develop the Delta Gloves, connected strength training gloves that track people’s workouts, including exercise performed, sets, reps and weight.  All the information is transmitted to an app on your smartphone.

We considered a wide range of criteria,  including fit considerations, strength, breathability, insulation from the electronics and moisture management. In the case of this specific wearable, an electronic circuit contains sensors to detect weight. That circuit is printed onto a flexible film that’s laminated onto fabric and placed in the lining of the glove.

A figure lifts a weight wearing smart technology fitness gloves
A circuit is printed onto a flexible film that is laminated onto fabric and placed in the lining of the glove.

One of the key innovations in this project was the developing a fit for the glove that would allow for high athletic performance as well as high electronic circuit performance. Circuits printed on flexible TPU film allow for a greatly expanded range of applications in wearable technology, being flexible, washable, and durable. They don’t offer much stretch, however, and they don’t breathe. We worked through these limitations by applying the film only to select areas between the lining and the shell, and by using materials with moisture-management properties. We added mesh ventilation inserts between the fingers to release heat accumulating within the glove. 

Mesh ventilation inserts between the fingers allow heat accumulating within the glove to be released.

What are some more examples of wearable technology?

Medical, Health & Fitness

Using wearables to track health and fitness metrics is incredibly popular. Devices that track metrics like heart rate, blood pressure, calorie intake, and menstrual cycles are increasingly prominent in the market, in part boosted by the rise in personal health and hygiene caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Devices developed specifically for use in hospitals and the medical community are a growing subcategory.

Smart Clothing

Smart watches, shoes, clothing, and jewelry fall into the category of smart clothing, also called intelligent fashion. These are wearable devices that offer service and fashion in one, integrating technology to provide useful data, or perhaps to create a dramatic visual statement, as in the case of the Fiber Optic Tutus we created for the Brooklyn Ballet. 

Gaming

The gaming and entertainment industries were key pioneers in exploring wearables like smart glasses, VR and AR headsets, and specialty controllers. These remain at the cutting edge of what these industries have to offer, and aim to create increasingly seamless interactions between the user and the media experience. 

There you have it!

Wearable technology is our wheelhouse, so we could talk about it all day. Wearables are devices that incorporate smart technology and interface with the body to generate data that can be used in a number of ways, from medical health and daily fitness to virtual entertainment and fashion innovation. Check out our Insight posts to learn more about what we do at Interwoven Design. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

What is Soft Goods Design?

What is Soft Goods Design?

Interwoven specializes in soft goods design but… what are soft goods, anyway? And what is soft goods design? We’ll walk you through how to define and identify soft goods and some of the important design considerations behind our favorite products to make.

So…what are soft goods?

Soft goods are a growing market in the US, with influencing factors that include the rise of homeownership and the general rise in consumption witnessed since 2020. The largest market players are driven by innovation (that’s us!), eco-friendly business practices (that’s us, too!), and product line expansion (we do that!).

The dictionary definition of soft goods is:

“goods that are not durable —used especially of textile products”

~ Merriam-Webster

The term was first used in 1798 during the industrial revolution. Soft goods are primarily made with soft, non-rigid materials, though rigid materials can be incorporated into the design as well. Their characteristics tend to include comfort, cushioning or impact resistance, wearability, ergonomics, and aesthetic appeal. Think of your most beautiful and treasured belongings: how many of them are soft?

The materials that make up soft goods include not only textiles but paper, foam, rubber, gels, and other yielding or flexible materials. While they may last for decades, they are still understood as having a limited lifespan due to the gradual wear and tear on the non-rigid material components. 

a warehouse worker wears the Apex Exosuit and lifts a box
The HeroWear Apex Exosuit by Interwoven is an example of a soft goods design.
a model wearing the apex exosuit holds a large box
The Apex Exosuit, like many soft goods designs, blends hard and soft components for comfort and performance.

If this definition may seem broad and somewhat vague, that’s because it is. The open description reflects that soft goods are a large category, encompassing a wide range of products. Some people think first of functional apparel when they think of soft goods but this is not the primary usage in the industry. Many soft goods incorporate solid or plastic components like backpacks, bags, tents and other sporting equipment, and medical devices. The easy way to think about it is that soft goods are made primarily with ‘soft’ materials, but it’s only useful once you’ve understood the deeper definition.

Wait, what are soft goods not?

While soft goods have some overlap with non-durable consumable goods, they are not quite interchangeable terms. Non-durable goods are considered those purchased for immediate or near-immediate consumption with a lifespan of three years or less. These include household goods like laundry detergent and sponges, apparel, shoes, cosmetics, and gasoline. Compare these with durable consumer goods, which include things like vehicles, furniture, and household appliances. At Interwoven we makes a distinction between functional apparel and soft goods, apparel being such a massive category that it is more useful to consider it separately – they are a completely different sector of our business.

While some soft goods are considered durable, the term is more closely associated with non-durable goods. Hard goods are, in comparison, closely associated with durable goods, which include products like tools, appliances, electronics, and jewelry. Hard goods are manufactured with ‘hard’ materials like plastic, wood, metal, stone, and composites. We specialize in incorporating hard materials into soft materials, to make them wearable and functional on the body.

How are soft goods manufactured?

As one can imagine given the size and diversity of the category, soft goods can be made with a wide range of manufacturing processes, and often multiple processes would be needed. These include ultrasonic or heat welding, sewing, knitting and weaving, mechanical fastening, injection molding, and bonding. These processes might join multiple soft materials or a combination of soft and hard materials.

Okay, but how are soft goods designed?

As the market is competitive, with many options available to the consumer, companies look to have soft goods custom-designed to stand out and appeal to their customer base. The design process can vary from one company to another in terms of the naming of the steps, the number of steps done in or out of house, and the time spent on any given step, but the structure tends to be some kind of iterative design cycle. There are often issues around fit and comfort that are specific to the soft goods product category. We can’t tell you how any given designer might do it, but we can walk you through how we do it.

the interwoven design process phases: research, design, prototype, manufacture & launch
At Interwoven our design process goes through four main stages: Research, Design, Prototype, and Manufacture & Launch.

Research

The research stage is about understanding people. The design process begins with determining the most important considerations for the desired product, which involves understanding what those considerations should be and why. This phase often involves observing and interviewing the intended audience about their needs and challenges as well as having conversations with the company about brand identity and project goals. It also includes determining the scope of the project, for example if the designer will be developing packaging and marketing materials as well as the product itself. Great designs empathize deeply with the people they are designed for and put them at the heart of the process.

Design

technical drawings of the apex exosuit outline the design concept
Schematic drawings of the Apex Exosuit back and strap outline the design concept.
a thigh sleeve prototype for the exosuit worn by a model
A thigh sleeve prototype for the Apex Exosuit leads to refined ideas about construction and form.

The design phase is about ideation and conceptualization. Ideation is the generation of ideas or concepts. A typical goal of this phase is to think creatively and generate a large quantity of ideas from which to draw. There are many strategies for both groups and individuals to use, including brainstorming tools and games, sketching, and model-making. Innovation and playfulness are powerful drivers for this stage. This phase is continually revisited to further explore and refine each prototype.

Prototype

a designer corrects a cad drawing
A designer incorporates feedback from a previous technical drawing into the new drawing.
A figure wears an exosuit prototype
Prototyping the Apex Exosuit back and straps helps with concept development and refinement as well as testing.

A series of prototypes of the most promising ideas are created to further explore their validity. Each prototype is assessed by the designer and client together to determine what changes might be needed or desired, and a new iteration is prototyped. This process might take months or even years depending on the complexity of the product. Considerations for a textile product might include details like the specific type of material to be used. Should it be knitted or woven? How much stretch does it have, if any? Is it moisture-resistant, insulating? Does it need to meet any health and safety requirements? How much does it cost? Where can it be sourced? Likely several materials will need to be combined, each with their own list of properties required for the application and target price-point. How will they be joined, and what manufacturers are able to do the necessary processes? How will the desired form be constructed? Testing and assessment occur with each prototyping phase.

Manufacture & Launch

the components of the apex exosuit are arranged around a travel case
The Apex Exosuit is a system that has multiple sizes for various components and a traveling case.
a model wears the apex exosuit, showing the back detail
A model shows the fit of the final look-alike prototype for the Apex Exosuit.

After multiple rounds of review a final prototype is approved, at which point the final technical drawings and material selections can be finalized. We create technical drawings and outline the material specifications so the order can go out to the manufacturer. We leverage the new product to capture industry market share.

So…what is soft goods design?

To return to the original question, soft goods design is a specific subcategory in the design industry that specializes in the design of products made with primarily but not exclusively non-rigid materials. It is a major category that makes up a significant part of the US consumer market and is driven by innovation, form, and aesthetics. The design cycle at our studio goes through four phases: Research, Design, Prototype, and Launch & Manufacture.

Interwoven Design is a design consultancy that is positioned at the intersection of soft goods and wearable technology, creating products that function with the body and offer comfort as well as the superb performance that arises through the innovative incorporation of rigid, often electronic and responsive elements. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

Design News N.022

Design News is your tiny dose of design, technology and other important news, curated monthly by Interwoven Design. In this series we share the latest on our favorite topics, including color, technology, design history, and textile design. In this issue: Pantone’s Color of the Year, mid-century modern history from R & Company, and playful textile innovation from amgs design studio.

Color of the year 2022

Pantone's Color of the Year Very Peri
Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2022 is 17-3938 Very Peri. Photo courtesy of Pantone

Pantone’s 2022 Color of the Year is a cool, medium tone lavender blue, 17-3938 Very Peri. Pantone explains, “The Pantone Color of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that color can hope to answer.” While previous colors of the year have been selected from Pantone’s catalog, this year the color was custom-made for the purpose. Pantone’s color matching system is a critical tool used across many industries, including textiles, plastics, paints, and more, which puts them in a unique position to understand how color impacts design and consumer choices. The color of the year influences design and marketing trends going forward, with hundreds of designers challenging themselves to incorporate it into their designs for the year.

via Pantone Color Institute

Verner Panton exhibition in NY

A colorful carpet with a bullseye pattern designed by Verner Panton
Verner Panton Carpet ca. 1970. Manufactured by Tisca for Mira-X, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of R & Company

R & Company is featuring almost 50 of the iconic mid-century Danish designer Verner Pantone’s furniture and lighting pieces. Panton is known for his use of bold colors and clean, geometric forms and his layering of color and pattern has been influential throughout the design world. The exhibition focuses especially on Panton’s lighting fixtures. Evan Snyderman, the principal designer at R & Company, shared with Wallpaper, “With this exhibition, we are creating a space of escape and respite – a place where the imagination can wander, even if briefly, away from the stresses outside. This is very much in alignment with Panton’s vision, to produce objects and environments to excite, inspire, and compel people.” On view until January 27th, 2022.

*While no longer on view the exhibit coverage is well worth a look for design history enthusiasts.

via Wallpaper* Magazine

Knotting Knitting

A person holds up a pink and green quilted blanket, obscuring their body.
Gómez’ Oruga module. Photography by Alexandra Colmenares Cossio, courtesy of amgs.

Colombian designer Ana María Gómez has created a playful collection of bedding designs that lie somewhere in the middle of the concepts of quilt, pillow, and floor cushion. The pieces can be folded and reshaped for many comfortable body positions, doubling as bedding and furniture. Her design studio amgs explains, “Each separate band can be knotted together to completely change its appearance and feeling. It’s a dynamic and creative piece open to the needs of each person and space.” The related Ciempés project takes those same bands and allows them to be woven or knotted as separate strands for even more customization.

via Surface Magazine

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