Coming Full Circle
Written by guest blogger, alumni Tim Stoepker ('07, Industrial Design). You can find him at filterstudio.com.
When I first met Mark Groendal, founder and inventor of Alter Cycles, I barely knew the difference between a mountain bike frame and a road bike frame. During our first conversation it almost felt like he was speaking a different language. The amount of precise detail in a bike is a direct reflection of the many years bikes have been around. Everything has an exact purpose and function. However, when someone comes up with an innovative thought that works, but goes against those hundreds of years of development, you are bound to get push back. But Mark Groendal was doing just that, stirring up the industry with his innovative bike concepts (see what makes Alter different in the video below).
A look inside Alter Cycles' unique design process
Mark and I first connected when I was an industrial designer at Steelcase, working on the Turnstone design team. The office furniture product line that I was working on (Bivi) offered the option to hang bikes from the side of the desk. Turnstone’s main focus was on small companies, and at Neocon 2011 we wanted to live the small company story by incorporating products from local businesses into our display. I was tasked with researching if there were any bike builders in West Michigan. After a bit of digging, I had a small list of names. The second name on my list was Mark’s, and he was more than happy to let us borrow a couple of bikes to display on our product line at the convention.
The Bivi office furnture line, complete with one of Alter Cycles' bikes, highlighted Steelcase's 2011 Neocon display
But after four and a half years at Steelcase, I had other life goals that I wanted to pursue. One of those goals was to have my own design studio. So during the summer of 2011, I put in my two weeks notice and opened Filter Studio, a product design consultancy that takes a hands-on approach to the design process. During the initial development phase, I decided to see if Mark and Alter Cycles needed any help with product development.
I didn’t know much about bikes, but that did not stop me from pursuing Alter Cycles as a client. I always say that if I’m able to be creative, productive, and active, then I’m working my dream job, and bike development seemed like a perfect fit for my emerging studio that would allow me to do just that. Since our first meeting in Mark’s shop two years ago, I feel like I’ve gotten closer to understanding the world of bikes. I can almost speak the language.
Mark Groendal welds a custom frame for Alter Cycles
As a graduate of the Industrial Design program, I’ve long believed that KCAD has the same opportunities as any other design school in the country. One of the reasons I say that is because of how well KCAD connects with local companies. I was able to get my first two internships and first full time job because of those opportunities, and I am thankful for all the local professional industrial designers that mentored me. So when KCAD Industrial Design professor Tom Edwards contacted me to ask if I knew of any local bike companies that would like to partner with the Industrial Design 2 class for the fall 2013 semester, I had just the right connection: Alter Cycles. This was my chance to give current KCAD industrial design students the same kinds of opportunities that I had so greatly benefited from myself.
For the students, the presentation of their ideas was equally as important as the designs themselves
Mark, Tom, and I put together a design brief for the class. We decided to focus on the commuter bike market for a couple of reasons. For one, this was an avenue that Alter Cycles had not yet been able to fully explore, making it a perfect opportunity for the students to pursue innovation in their designs. For another, almost all of the students have had some experience commuting to school or work (and if they did not, they knew people who had).
As soon as the students started their research and concept work, we could tell we were on to something. Mark and I frequently stopped into class and offered up our knowledge to help the students make sure their concepts were viable for the Alter Cycles brand and target market. We were both beyond pleased with the results. With bike helmets, storage bags, commuter clothing, and bike components, the Industrial Design 2 class had a lot of great ideas that had tremendous potential to be used by Alter Cycles in the future.
A collage of slides from the different projects. The students presented their design process from start to finish,
After wrapping up the project up with the final presentations, I realized on a deeper level how partnering students with local companies is mutually beneficial. Both sides challenged each other, and in the end we all benefited from the sense of possibility that our collaborative efforts had inspired.
Stoepker (left) and Alter Cycles' Rick Vaughn (right) take in the students' presentations.
For myself and the Alter Cycles team, it was incredible to see the kind of creativity coming from the KCAD students. For them, the experience of having to present their designs to a client in a real-world setting is something they’ll always remember as they continue to develop their skills and grow as designers. Now that I’ve been on both sides of this kind of partnership between students and professionals, I’ve realized all over again what a great experience the KCAD Industrial Design program offers.
In addition to owning and operating Filter Studio, Stoepker runs an online adventure journal called More Michigan. To see him testing out an Alter Cycles creation with his dog Lola, check out this video.