The Designers Speak

Some board ideas for 1999/2000.

John Moore, Sims Snowboards

After five years developing hardgoods for Sims in Canada, Europe, and the United States, John Moore has settled into his position as snowboard product manager in its Seattle, Washington headquarters. His job includes dealing with every part of the board design from the artwork to the economics of the business. SNOWboarding Business talked design trends with him recently. Here’s some excerpts from that conversation:

Where do your board design inspirations come from?

We have a vast amount of resources to draw upon for that, including riders, reps, retailers, and anyone who’ll give us feedback. I know I’m in a vortex here in Seattle and don’t travel that much-maybe three months out of the year-and I put a West Coast spin on designs because we ride big mountains. So I have to rely on people in other areas to give us feedback to see if a board works in different parts of the country.

Our team riders give us a lot of feedback, but for a while we had the same riders and they were saying the same thing over and over and things stagnated. Now we have some new riders and some of our mid-level riders are giving personal feedback like I’ve never heard before.

It’s tough because everyone can give feedback, but you can’t compare what one rider says to what another rider says because it’s so personal. So you have to take it all individually. We try to get riders to say what the problem is with a board, and not just say that the board doesn’t turn well so it needs more sidecut. They aren’t accounting for all the variables that will make a board change.

Board shapes have stabilized right now. Snowboards have become almost a commodity with them all looking the same, and that will allow us to get ahead on the design front. All the shapes are the same, but the materials aren’t the same and there’s a lot to be done with those, flexes, and torsion.

What are some of the trends for next year?

Companies have been defining their boards as freeride, freestyle, and carving. Recently people have started calling their boards freeride/freestyle boards because riders are doing both. We’re calling the category fullride. It’s basically all-mountain riding and it’s what everyone needs and wants now with their boards.

I think the trend with boards getting longer has about peaked and we’ve hit the optimum size. Boards won’t go over 160, but will stay around 158, 159, or 160.

But we’re seeing it grow just a little bit more with one of our boards, the new Project Hex FC. It’s a super high-end, super-light, super-stiff board made of carbon. It’s so light and stiff that riders need to ride a longer version of it than what they’re used to.

I think there will still be a lot of changes in the flex of boards. I’ve studied it a long time and think that most boards right now have similar flexes. They have softer tips to initiate turns and stiffer tails to ollie. With Mark Fawcett, we developed the Burner race board that had a really stiff nose and soft tail. We’ve now taken that to the Daytona, a freeriding board, that has a centered stance, with stiff nose and softer tail. It’s meant to be ridden forward. There’s still a lot to do with camber, torsion, and flex of boards.

John O’Conner, Ride Snowboards

After working at Ride for four and a half years, John O’Conner recently became Ride’s product line manager for snowboards. In the past he worked in conjunction with Ride’s board designer Jason Kasnitz, but took over full-time with Kasnitz’s recent departure from the company. SNOWboarding Business asked him a few questions about next year’s board trends.

Where do your design inspirations come from?

We have one person, Bernard Gervasoni, working full-time on the future, looking for the next best thing like the Timeless board was. He’s trying to find the best thing in design, materials, whatever. He has his own budget and sometimes wastes a lot of money going down a dead-end road.

Then he shows us the ideas and our group will see if they will work from a marketing and team-rider perspective. We’re constantly working on things like the tip-to-tail woodcores, swing weight, and other ideas.

We have some new ideas that we’ve put on the snow already but if they were out now they would get laughed right off the hill because they’re so far out there. There definitely has to be a progression with the designs.

What are some of the changes in the line for next season?

We’re making more specific shapes in tune with what riders need. If they have larger feet, want to ease into a turn, want something that turns faster, or is stiffer, we’re trying to design it. We’re pretty much splitting hairs on the shapes now.

But have you over-specified and forgotten to make a good all-around board?

You still have the classic all-around shape, but riders and retailers are more educated and are aware of what boards do and how they perform. If someone has big feet, he knows he needs a big board. But he still wants a board that will float through powder all day and won’t get too heavy, but still has a good sidecut for turns and will still be able to handle in the park at the end of the day when the powder is all gone.

Materials in boards are changing so much that it takes a long time to test them and see if they work. We’re also changing the shapes at the same time, but they’re a bit easier to figure out if they work or not. An accomplished rider will know after the first run or so whether a shape works. But you have to work at both simultaneously.

It sounds like it can get pretty complicated.

I’m probably making it sound more like rocket science than it really is, but that’s why every company has a house at Hood all summer.

What are some of the basic trends for the next season?

More full-length woodcores, what we call three-dimensional cores, dampening, torsional stiffness. These are some of the different buzz words you hear people talking about now.

We’re also working more on sidecuts and getting away from radial sidecuts. You’ll see a lot more quadratic sidecuts, similar to what skiing did a couple of years ago with their super-sidecut skis. These will put the fun back in the sport and just make riding easier.

-John Stouffer

Boots Preview

Where do designers find inspiration?

By Sean O’Brien

Maurizio Molin is the primary snowboard boot designer for Northwave. He initially got into the footwear industry after winning a design competition held at his school in Padova, Italy. He started snowboarding eight years ago, because “I was getting tired of skiing.” Five years ago, Molin went to work at Northwave in Montebelluna. He’s 29 years old.

How far in advance are you designing boots?

Molin: We have prototypes going for ’01/02-so usually about two years forward. It gives us the time to fully develop and test the boots.

Do you start entirely from scratch or do you update the previous year’s models?

I start by planning a collection for the year. Then we begin development on the most complex boot, and work our way from there. If we decide to change construction or cosmetics on an existing boot, we look at the collection as a whole and then see how those changes affect the line.

What are your primary considerations when designing a boot?

We listen to a lot of rider feedback. I get together with a group of riders over the season, and gather their feedback on the different boots. We want to make boots the riders are going to like, before we begin thinking about the marketing and sales.

What design influences do you use to choose the look and colors of the models?

I think I’m pretty lucky because designing shoes gives me the opportunity to take in all kinds of design and form as my inspiration. I’m always painting, drawin
g, and going to museums whenever I can.

This year it was a lot of car colors and designs-like the new Audis and Mercedes. I try to go inside the mind of the designer and figure out the essence of their concept. For me, I try to put a lot of art into the design of our boots.

Is there a balance between good style and performance?

Yes, because all of our technical pieces have a design to them that becomes the basis for the boots’ style.

Does binding shape and type affect your design?

Yes, especially with Drake. You can see the same design perspective in the boots as in the bindings. We exchange a lot of ideas about shapes and colors.

What are the major design and performance trends retailers will see from Northwave when they attend the SIA Las Vegas show?

To make a boot that shows its technical performance features in the overall design of the boot. We’ve taken a lot of the internal performance features and brought them to the outside as design elements. I like clean shapes and geometric designs.

Jamie Meiselman, Burton’s soft-boot product manager, has been tinkering with snowboard boots design since the late 80s when he experimented with a hard/soft-boot concept that was years before its time. Before taking the job at Burton, Meiselman worked at TransWorld SNOWboarding and SNOWboarding Business and was the North American sales manager for Generics and Blax.

Who comes up with new boot models at Burton?

Meiselman: It’s truly a team effort-there’s never just one person who comes up with everything. We have our industrial-design team, our graphic-design team, and then, of course, our team riders.

The team is probably the most influential group and we definitely bounce a ton of ideas off them about style and fit. Burton makes a point to talk about how the company is rider driven, so it makes sense to have them extremely involved.

Boot design definitely starts with the last, which means our industrial designers are responsible for getting the process started. We keep the different groups pretty separated-mostly because the engineering behind the designs is becoming incredibly sophisticated. The graphic design team handles the color combination and details like lace pulls and logos, but it’s the industrial design team that actually comes up with the shape of the boot and how it fits.

How far in advance are you designing boots?

Paul Maravetz, the director of the advanced product development team, works on ideas and technology that are more than two years out. It’s pretty amazing to see some of the things he’s working on. But officially, we’ve already been working on the 2000/01 line for quite a while now. But we also have the flexibility to make last-minute tweaks and changes. Production starts in January for delivery in August, and we really can make some changes as late as November.

How important is fashion to snowboard-boot design?

The trend we’ve been working on is definitely away from fashion. In the last couple of years, the entire snowboard market has been trying to capture and define the latest fashion trend. This year, our emphasis is on engineered solutions and a more scientific approach to flex. We’re really devoting time quantifying the flex patterns of boots.

Why is flex so important, and what are you doing differently?

What we’re actually going to be doing is still kind of secret, but the approach we’re taking is that it’s like a snowboard, you want even, consistent flex. We’re working on individual flex pattern for different boots. Most patterns have been the result of the how the boot was put together. We want to actually build a boot with a specific flex pattern that will maximize power and control-and yet be durable and supportive.

What other trends will we see from Burton?

Things are really moving quickly. Really, it’s the board market that’s pretty stagnant. But with the advancements in footwear technology we’ve seen from Nike and other companies, the future is wide open for boot development.

Another direction is the integrated development of boot with binding, where the highback will match the boot and prevent pressure points. Of course, you could ride any boot with the binding, but the models that integrate with the binding will obviously fit better.

In terms of style, there are a couple different directions we’re going. We’re seeing demand for the conservative plain-leather look and several markets still want skate-shoe detailing. But to be honest, from a philosophic point of view, we’re over the whole skate-shoe direction. We’re capable of better. We shouldn’t be following anyone, we should be melding different looks and leading-no blatant modeling.

What’s weird is that the designs are all over the place. Jason Brown, a young skate-type pro, is riding step-in. It’s all over the place.

Apparel Preview

Input from top designers on what we’ll see next season.

By Robyn Hakes

Jose Garcia is the senior designer for Convert, Columbia’s snowboard line. This is his first year designing for the brand and he’s been at it for over six months. Before taking the job with Columbia, he worked in Fila’s activewear division designing tennis, golf, and activewear. Prior to that he designed custom apparel for hip-hop artists.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing in snowboard apparel for ’99/00?

In general, I’ve seen more technical fabrics, lighter weight with subtle texturing. There’s a lot of fabrics coming out of Asia featuring full-dull yarns that don’t have a lot of sheen. That’s what a lot of manufacturers are requesting. For colors, grays are hot, blues are still in with a few accents in fashion hues-bright, in-your-face. Also army utilitarian colors will be used.

For sizing, there’s more of a technical approach. For backcountry you need a lot of room in the chest so we’ve added chest-entry pockets. And with pocketing, we’re seeing a new interest in utilitarian styles, stacking of pockets, giving them a new twist to keep the interest up.

What are some of the changes to your line for the coming season?

We’re introducing a new logo for Convert for fall ’99. We’ve improved a lot of little things such as rubber pulls and tabs on cuffs that are easier to grab when you have your gloves on. The fit is new also.

We’re adding a hand warmer and utility stash pocket on the pants as well, and internal pockets for goggles and more.

Where do your inspirations and ideas come from for design?

Everyone who works on the product rides, so the design took a big turn this season. I like to research the automotive industry, the fashion industry, and I even look at golf for its attention to detail. I personally try to look at everything involved and look at other industries to get new ideas.

Andy Wightman is the product manager for Sessions snowboard apparel. He’s been working in that capacity for six years and is primarily in charge of implementing and engineering design ideas.

What are some of the trends you see in the outerwear market for ’99/00?

People are really over the oversized, baggy thing. Sizing is more traditional. Not exactly fitted, but closer to the body yet still roomy enough to layer.

Colors are brighter, yet not radically bright like early 80s neon. Brighter blues, yellows, reds, not the earthy or neons-but more primary shades. We’re seeing the sixteen pack of crayons, not your basic eight or your broad 24.

What are some of the changes to your line?

The ’99/00 line offers better value, performance, improved functionality, and overall improvement to existing features.

We’ve taken complaints we’ve heard and re-engineered the clothes to take out that ten-percent nuisance factor to make those improvements.

Customers are getting more for their money. Better fabrics, more functionality, more features in th
e lower-price categories. We’re addressing the specific needs of the women’s and kids’ markets as well.

Where do your inspirations and ideas come from for design?

Styling really comes from a few people within the company. A lot of design and style comes directly from the owners Cindy Busenhart and Joel Gomez because they have great experience and understanding of the market.

Joel and Cindy’s influences come a lot from the sporting-goods industry in general along with the athletic look that’s really popular right now. Any performance-oriented sport out there from car racing to basketball to hockey. But that’s just for the look and style of the garment, not functionality.

Sessions philosophy is to have good clean designs full of life, energy, and visual appeal. Simple and clean, nothing too wacky or crazy.

The team also has a lot of input. The more they’re encouraged and rewarded, the more they’ll offer their input. We’ve implemented an in- house rep program that also helps with design. We get feedback from reps on the spot and they never hesitate to pass along both compliments and complaints from the retailers.

Roger Sgarbossa is the co-owner/designer for Swag, Prom,and Twist snowboard lines. He started Swag in 1991, then Prom in 1994, and this is his second year designing the Twist line.

What are some of the trends your seeing in snowboard apparel for ’99/00?

Cleaner designs that’re more functional, though people have really reached a level for functional outerwear. Almost every jacket in a line has to have functional features.

Silhouettes are more refined, meaning not necessarily fitted but better sizing. Fit is getting better.

We’re also seeing the functionality of women’s apparel really stepping up, as it has for the last couple years.

What are some of the changes to your lines?

Simpler styles. A fewer number of styles. We’re focusing in on one really good piece. Simpler color blocking. And we’re fine-tuning the existing technical features, moving stuff around, but not adding anything drastically different.

Where do your inspirations and ideas come from for design?

A lot of it comes from what we’ve done in the past. We use that of as starting point. We use a lot of our riders input on colors and what works and what doesn’t work. I don’t really look outside the industry much, like fashion or other industries. I think we’ve done snowboard apparel long enough to have fairly well evolved.

We also sent out a survey to kids. I bring all that research together and then put it into my view. I’ll come up with 200 or more designs and then we’ll choose what works. It’s a weeding-out process, fine-tuning the designs.