Coming out in a public forum acknowledging a car design's influence on other categories, the first Volvo Sports Design Forum at the ispo trade show in Germany last week filled a day with talks by creative directors and designers speaking about the need for innovation and thinking outside of the box.
Henrik Otto, design director for the Volvo corporation, kicked off the day with a keynote talk that stressed the need for companies of all kinds to think more about the emotional impact of their designs, as well as about a human's need to feel more from a design.
"Sports is not only about performance, but also about pleasure and enjoyment," Otto told the audience. "You have to stir people's emotions up first. Anybody who says they buy something for rational reasons first is lying."
Using a sports car as an example (Ed. Note: What else did you expect from a Volvo-sponsored forum?), Otto says people don't look at the car and think, "Oh, look at how well-positioned the seat is or the controls are or how safe the doors are made, but rather they look at it and feel a passion about how it looks, then they may think about practicality and function."
His suggestion and, perhaps more aptly put, call to action: Question yourself and your company and your designs. And look around at what is NOT happening in your product category.
"It's daring to look outside the box," he said. "It's daring to be passionate. You should not look at what your competitors are doing, but rather at what they are NOT doing.
"If you throw common sense out the window and go by your hearts, sometimes there might be something that gives you that emotional 'Eureka' experience," he added. That something may seem impossible at the moment, but can often become possible over time "since mankind didn't give up," Otto said, pointing at an image on a screen behind him of an airplane.
"What you do," he said, "is give people emotional wings."
SNEWS View: Whether it's treadmills, ski boots or watches, all categories in the fitness, outdoor and sports arenas should take to heart the basic theme of Otto's talk. Time and time again, we hear creative thinkers, designers and advertising specialists say we should speak to a human being's emotions first. But too often companies get too wrapped up in features and techno-geek functions. We think it would be better to think so far out of the box with a design as to have people laugh, then to pull back a little, rather than just to churn out yet another (yawn) elliptical trainer with a different drive system or another (ho-hum) backpack with some ye-haw-new stash pocket. OK, the techno-functions may appeal to all the industry geek-oids but what draws a normal consumer to one product over another when he or she walks toward a shelf or into a store? Mostly likely, an appealing color, a sweep of a line or some other unspoken feature that is felt and not necessarily logical. We should all step back for a moment and think about our own reactions to products and environments that are not within our industry then carry that feeling back to the industry.