I am writing this blog post on an Easyjet flight from Marrakech. A beautifully designed Apple iPad is allowing me to record these words and, because I was low on power when I started, it is plugged into a Goal Zero Sherpa battery pack which is another product I have consistently admired for its creative and efficient design. If a sign of a designers mind is to enjoy the beauty of a product's form and function then I am, despite being a mountaineering instructor, a potential designer too. I know I'm not alone however. So many outdoor people are similarly potential designers. Equipment use in extreme conditions is a sure way to separate the designs that work from those that are flawed.
I find myself investigating a lot of products and earlier, as I munched through my Easyjet meal deal, I even found myself pondering the design of the planes seats. They are a perfect example of simple efficiency with padding that is adequate but not over thick, rails that raise the seat from the floor (presumably to allow easy floor cleaning), covers that fit well and yet can easily be removed, tasteful adherence to the Easyjet corporate colours, removable seat belts and durable materials. I have no doubt that extensive trial and error product testing went into every design aspect of these seats before they made it into production, but the result of all that is we have been left with a product that appears, from brief inspection (and my use during a 3 hour flight), to be very fit for purpose.
American clothing company Patagonia have a design philosophy based around simplicity. I remember an interview with company founder Yvon Chouinard where he said the company weren't happy with a product design when nothing else could be added - they were actually only happy when nothing else could be taken away. I love Patagonia clothing and that simplicity is undoubtedly a big part of the attraction. I realised some time ago that although I like design I mostly like design simplicity.
Maybe in a different life I will have the opportunity to follow a designer path but I accept that, for the moment at least, guiding and running a couple of businesses will stay my primary focus. Luckily, however, outdoor equipment manufacturers realise the benefits of having their products trialled by people with a broad equipment knowledge and those who are using the products very regularly. Mountaineering Instructors are ideal.
From my perspective I enjoy reviewing production models but also love getting involved in product testing of pre production designs. The chance to offer views that will influence final production makes me feel more than ever like a 'proper' designer. Over the years I have been delighted to test both pre and post production products and have built relationships with a number of prestigious brands and a range of online and in print sources.
Having said that, there is nothing worse than testing products and expressing views if you don't feel those opinions are taken onboard. I don't always know the production limitations that must be considered when I suggest an extra pocket be added here or a zip be moved to there and so I appreciate that not all ideas are possible, but I only want to work with companies that at least take feedback into consideration.
It is also important to me to work with brands or media outlets that allow me to express my views freely. There is concern with consumers that some sources are reluctant to share negative viewpoints because they rely on the advertising income the manufacturers offer them. I have certainly stopped working with more than one of these resources where I felt that was a problem in the past.
As an example, I have recently been delighted to be able to provide support to premier brand Rab. Rab have a long and prestigious history and, as well as making fantastic outdoor clothing, they are also a local company and I value that too. Years ago I tested a Rab down jacket for a leading outdoor website and provided some feedback on a few features that I felt could be improved. I was delighted to soon receive an email from the Rab design team saying they were going to look at the points I had raised. It was fantastic to feel both that they were monitoring online reviews but even more satisfying that they bothered to respond. Part of my recent relationship with Rab has included giving input to the design team on both fabric performance and garment design and I it is a great part of my work.
For a number of years I've also been able to make contributions to a number of magazines. It's great to pass on information about products, travel destinations and techniques and, despite the obvious recent growth in online media, there is always something special about the moment that magazine with the article you wrote dropping through the letterbox
In terms of online reviewing I was pleased to recently join premier online resource Outdoors Magic's newly formed review team. This role involves trialling certain products and offering written feedback. I have worked with Outdoors Magic for years and have happily watched them grow into one of the largest outdoor online resources. It is great to work with them in his new context and I particularly like the fact they are happy for feedback to be honest and detailed.
We also have some great links with PR companies and various smaller manufacturers and distributors that ask us to review products and I hope there will be more in the future. Consumers make a big investment in their equipment and want to know it will offer them the performance and longevity to match their outlay. If we can play a small part in making that happen that is time well spent. Maybe one day I'll get the chance to even design that new airline seat!
If you are a product manufacturer or have an item you'd like Peak Mountaineering to review, please email Cal on firstname.lastname@example.org with details. We don't take on everything we are asked to review, but we'll try our best to help.
Posted by Paul
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