Unfortunately, innovation has become an overused term – so what is true innovation? What distinguishes an outstanding product? We take a look behind the scenes of the Design & Innovation Award.
Innovation is derived from the Latin word “innovare” and literally means “restoration” or “renewal.” New ideas and inventions that are implemented in products, services or processes are generally referred to as innovation. You see, with a definition as vague as that there’s a lot you can call innovation, which is why it’s so overused. But what is true innovation as we understand it at the Design & Innovation Award?
For many years, the bike industry seemed to strive for progress for progress’ sake, where “new” was the maxim and manufacturers paid little attention to sustainability and cost-effectiveness. All that mattered was who’s got the latest, most out-there product. But “new” isn’t always better. Only when development solves problems and significantly improves factors such as performance, durability or handling, can we speak of innovation.
The focus should not be on what’s new but on improvement. In this sense, at the Design & Innovation Award, we stand for a tangible and realistic interpretation of the term innovation. It’s often the innovations that are easily overlooked, rather than the products with flashy designs and bold claims, that offer a tangible benefit to the user. German manufacturers Beast Components haven’t reinvented the saddle or the handlebar, but produce extremely high-quality, light-weight components thanks to their extensive carbon fibre know-how. Giro’s Aether MIPS helmet doesn’t rely on a new system to minimise dangerous rotational forces. The idea of two shells twisting within each other during an impact isn’t new but has been interpreted in a completely new way, taking the helmet to the next level – not only in looks but more critically safety.
Our award team is broad and interdisciplinary, which helps it to break free from traditional thought patterns and expectation, and instead analyse products from different perspectives and backgrounds. The jury of the Design & Innovation Award isn’t easily fooled by major brands and elaborate marketing campaigns either, giving the supposed underdogs enough attention to try to convince the jury with what they’ve got to offer.
Some products, such as the Bold Unplugged, were able to meet the jury’s expectations in several respects. The Unplugged combines individually adaptable geometry with a unique design and outstanding riding characteristics. Besides innovation, the word “design” also needs to be clarified. While design is often only referred to in connection with the aesthetic appeal of a product, we think it should encompass technical and functional design as well – after all, the smart implementation of tech and beautiful design are not mutually exclusive, but the goal.
Apart from the end product itself, the method of manufacturing can also qualify a product for the Design & Innovation Award. With Pole’s MACHINE, for example, two machined aluminium halves are glued together to form the front triangle. Previously unheard of in the world of bikes, this production method gives the designers a lot of freedom in rapid prototyping as well as series production.
While considering the criteria that have a direct influence on the appearance or performance of a product, the jury of the Design & Innovation Award also takes into account the sustainability of a product as well as the vision of the developers or a particular philosophy behind a product or a company. The e*thirteen TRS+ Upgrade Kit upgrades your 11-speed mountain bike drivetrain to 12-speed allowing you to continue using the majority of your existing drivetrain components, true to the concept of upcycling. The modular leg&go kids’ bike made of renewable raw materials grows with your child, so they can ride the same bike for several years without having to compromise on riding performance.
In addition to bikes and accessories, the Design & Innovation Award also deals with developments revolving around the mountain biking environment or ecosystem. Smart transportation bags for air travel with your bike, or ultra-light compact bivy bags for bikepacking minimalists qualify for an award just as much as motorised camping concepts do – such as Fiftyten’s pick-up construction.
Not every Design & Innovation Award must apply to a consumer product. Tourism initiatives or services with new approaches, such as the online platform rebike1, for pre-owned eMTBs, are just as worthy of distinction as pioneering and stimulating technologies.
True innovation can be subtle, it doesn’t have to be “the next big thing.” It is reflected in products that add real value to riders’ lives. Apart from groundbreaking and tangible innovations, the Design & Innovation Award also recognizes how well a product actually functions. In short: for a product to earn a Design & Innovation Award it has to be outstanding! Through intensive and in-depth testing, the jury of the Design & Innovation Award has been able to select the actual stars from the dazzlers.