How to design for a modular product architecture?
Understanding the why:
Initially, we started this project for the IBDC: international bicycle design competition. The Brief for the year was to design a bicycle to integrate lifestyle and technology.
At Analogy, we kick off every project with a unique start. In the first brainstorming, we understood the market and observed that it is overly saturated with a similar product architecture around which a variety of brands make small incremental changes in a graphical manner with stickers and logos. With a deeper understanding from the research, we found that this was closely tied in with the way the product was manufactured, assembled, shipped out, and also after-sales service factors. There is a whole different ecosystem for a product after which its designed and we thought of focussing on that instead of the usual problem designers are asked to solve.
To address all of these factors we came up with a direction: “To design a modular flat packed bicycle for urban lifestyle”
A few things that we set in stone from the beginning:
- Easy to manufacture
- Effortless in logistics and assembling
- Relevant combination of modules for different cycling scenarios
- Smooth service and replacement for upgrades
Explore a variety of scenarios:
Right after defining our design direction, in the creative process, we always ask “What if” questions to come up with a lot of ideas so we started with “What if there was a way to continue using a product that could be augmented with new tech, materials, parts, etc that could be utilized to build a better product every time you upgraded”. To design one, a clear product architecture had to be imagined from the start. Only by understanding the real meaning behind the architecture, we could innovate in the sector of manufacturing and in logistics to design a flat packaging bicycle.
We started by sketching different ideas in A5 layouts to picture the starting point of a concept. We pinned all the A5’s to perform a concept validation exercise where each concept is validated against the brief to picture various scenarios and opportunities offers. It is an intensive group discussion and improvisation in order to explore every aspect of the product. Here we refer back to all the priorities we mention in our design direction and pass through our ideas through the validation filter. At the end of this exercise, we came up with an idea that the frame could be made of a dual frame structure to provide strength and versatility in different modes to perform.
Always build a sustainable product architecture
Initially, we started with different frame designs to dial down to a final architecture and proportion of the bike with rough pencil sketches. These are often done to be fast and just focus on the functional details or the form language. It’s a purely functional bit that fits the overall focus and goals that are set. We then started to plug in various architecture formats to achieve the right kind of form, the flat packaging, and how they would integrate with the rest of the components of the Bicycle. We came up with two identical frames to provide form, rigidity, and modularity. These frames would be derived out of a single mold and can be flipped around to create the strength needed.
The idea was to create a single frame module that could be reused to strengthen the midsection and also provide a variety of options in terms of functionality by switching the orientation or position of the frame. Hence the majority of the refinement was in this direction to create either a combination of the same frame with repeatability built-in or to use a singular continuous frame.
The flat frame design allows for easy packaging of components simplifying the manufacturing process also allowing the package to be shipped directly to the end consumer, eliminating the middle man. The flat design architecture also played a key role in the making of the bike keeping it distinct and highlighted on its core. The flat frame made it also possible for easy storage taking up a minimum amount of real estate space making it ideal for urban environments.
The two frame architecture of the product provides an easy assemble and dissemble of the bike. The structures form a base onto which the rest on the components are fitted in a consistent making the assembly process easy to follow.
Keep it focussed on utility and value
Transform the bike with its single continuous frame design. Customizable parts help you transform the bike to suit any terrain or environment. This helps in providing feasibility to the user also removes the monotonous nature of a bicycle. Switch between urban commute, performance mode, and transport mode creates to provide a distinct functionality and design purpose. Functionality can be further expanded to include a hub of electric motors to convert it into an EV bike for urban mobility as well as add on a smart screen for IoT integration etc. The possibility to collaborate with various companies on sourcing and adapting their products around a well designed and well-built product would only add a great value to the end consumer.
Flatpak was a project that helped us understand how products after design and manufacturing end up being unused as well as do not pave for any incremental upgrades. We have many software updates being pushed to our hardware devices throughout their lifecycle and so why cant a physical product be upgraded with modular accessories and reduce high manufacturing, logistics and inventory costs. Our efforts are in this direction to create a design process that considers these factors and creates value for the brand as well as its end consumers.
Analogy is a Design studio working on crafting beautiful and experiential physical objects and digital products. We work with fortune 500 companies and funded startups to realize their ideas, thoughts, and vision into tangible reality and emotionally connected physical and digital products.
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