Shimano Coasting, design-thinking applied to the cycling industry
I’m just reading Tim Brown’s article on design-thinking in the Harvard Business Review on June 08, and having a complicated mind, I’m thinking of another subject I love : cycling. In a year-or-so, I’ll have to write my Master and I’m desperately trying to find a way to associate these two passions of mine. Actually, I haven’t found the answer to that very question, but IDEO‘s founder’s article gave me a pleasant surprise that will postpone my reading… just until I finish this post ! An example given by the father of design-thinking to back up his reasoning is the “Coasting”-project led by Shimano since 2004, but let’s come back on it in sequence.
Shimano is world-famous for manufacturing bicycle components, especially shifting and transmission systems (like its competitor, SRAM). By sponsoring numerous professional teams around the world and being official supplier of the UCI, the japanese company proves his leadership in the sector. High-end segments in both road-racing and mountain-bike segments provides solid growth, what leads Shimano to think about the development of a product for a “high-end casual bike“. IDEO is asked to collaborate on the project.
During the first phase of the design-thinking process praised by Brown (Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation), the stakeholders realize that it would be smarter to target a larger audience than the tech-freaks who would by an expensive commuting bike. The reasons are simple : they discovered that a lot of Americans are “intimidated by cycling“, the reasons being various (roads, technology, culture etc.). Long story short, Shimano decided to tackle this problem by proposing “a whole new category of bicycling [that] might be able to reconnect American consumers to their experiences [...] while also dealing with the root causes of their feelings of intimidation“. The concept Coasting was born.
You can find an extensive case study of the project on IDEO’s website, but basically Coasting means that the bike is simple and fun to ride, user friendly and technologies like the automoatic shifting are well-hidden. Branding was built on enjoying life on a bike and promotion was partly based on public relations (local governments, cycling organizations) that promoted safe and easy riding for everyone. At the begining (launch in 2007), only three major manufacturers decided to follow Shimano on the coast path : Giant, Raleigh Bicycles and Trek Bikes.
On Shimano North-America’s website, where the above picture is taken from, there are ten manufacturers listed for the 2008 launch of the Coasting Bikes, Trek being one of them. On the current website of the Coasting project, there are still 7 : Giant, K2 (my bike brand!), Phat Bicycles, Raleigh, Schwinn, Trek and Fuji. However, the idea of designing futuristic but simple-looking cruisers for the masses (at a price of USD 700!) worked : Coasting won the Gold Idea Award for Design Exclellence (Industrial Designers Society of America and BusinessWeek) in 2008 and earned a lot of applause since. Brands like Cannondale are thinking about developping similar concepts, as this “concept-bike” by Dutch industrial designer Wytze Van Mansum shows.