Industrial Design Students “Sprint” With E-Bikes

Students and faculty with e-bike

Assistant Professor Joyce Thomas of Auburn’s School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) recently led a group of third and fourth year industrial design students in a design sprint focusing on electronic bicycles, also known as e-bikes. This fast-paced design challenge was suggested by industry professional Brian Case, design director at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham. The Barber Museum hosts a collection of over 1,600 motorcycles as well as many unique cars and e-bikes.

Thomas’ students completed the design sprint in less than two weeks this past June. They began by researching the e-bike industry, studying user groups, aesthetics, time frames of trends and areas of focus like recreation and transportation. After a presentation by Case, the group visited the Barber Museum for additional design and trend research. They spent the following week sketching designs which they then printed at full-scale. Thomas says that taping the full-size print-outs to the wall gave students the opportunity to visualize the impact of their designs and to revise their prototypes by folding or drawing on their paper designs. “Most of the bikes put up on the wall were too tall and some were much too long as well,” Thomas stated. “We were really able to see that full scale matters!” After refinements, the full-size print-outs became part of each student’s final presentation.

In addition to Thomas and Case, several others were involved in helping students to craft their designs. SIGD Assistant Professor Ben Bush accompanied the group to the museum and offered feedback during initial sketch and design work. Industrial design graduate student Ian Lee, who works in a bike shop and is developing a thesis project on e-bikes, visited the studio to participate in critiques and even brought an e-bike for students to try out. “His collaboration was really valuable to the students primarily because of his first-hand knowledge but also because of his connection as an Auburn student,” Thomas stated. Lee attended final presentations via Zoom, as did industrial designer Pierre Terblanche, a South African motorcycle designer who has worked for Ducati.

Thomas said that the studio provided an outstanding opportunity for students to do a rapid exploration of design and style with a product that most people are already familiar with. Because their initial visit to the museum had exposed them to good examples of e-bikes, students were able to develop their proposals fairly quickly. “This project was a super-fast design sprint,” Thomas explained, “aimed toward getting the students to jump into the project quickly, do rapid ideation considering specific users and period styling and produce full-size and scale renderings of their ideas.”