DESIGN THAT FITS
A Chinese student wins a contest in London with his functional design. Chen Nan checks out Yu Kehan’s “hidden performance” cycling jeans.
Growing up in a country known as the world’s bicycle kingdom, Yu Kehan has watched people riding bicycles in his hometown in Heilongjiang province since childhood. When he went to study in London last year, he also chose the bicycle as his means of transportation.
And the simple daily tool inspired him to come up with a design, which won the prestigious D&AD Yellow Pencil Award recently in London.
The 20-year-old, who is in his first year studying product design at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, took part in the contest organized by Oakley, one of the leaders in sports gear and equipment manufacturing in the world.
Participants were tasked with creating a product for urban commuter cyclists.
“It’s a task that I feel so much for because I grew up with bicycle and am using it every day,” says Yu, the youngest student to win the award.
As a regular cyclist, Yu wants to make his cycling experience as easy as possible. But a lot of cycling products in the market that are designed to solve problems had more gears to carry and are complex and inconvenient.
“I am not only designing a product but also a using process. I want something that replaces and reduces the use of equipment and makes the cycling process easier and simpler,” he explains.
He spent a month interviewing nearly 100 cyclists about the problems they face while riding bicycles.
After six weeks of researching, testing and producing, he finally found a solution — a pair of trousers to minimize cyclists’ burden and make them comfortable for both cycling and working.
Yu calls it “hidden performance” denim cycling jeans that eliminates the need to change into specific cycling attire while focusing on practicality, comfort and style.
He added a hook fastener at the bottom of the trousers to keep the trouser leg opening from flapping against the chain. He also attached a reflective fluorescent fabric at the trouser leg to increase visibility.
To reduce the weight of the trousers and increase comfort, he borrowed the design of traditional Chinese knotted buttons to replace the conventional denim buttons that are usually made of metal.
After repeated testing, Yu also found two kinds of fabrics, “event” and “3X Dry”, which are waterproof and breathable at the same time.
“I didn’t use the fabrics to make the whole trousers for the sake of eco-friendliness,” says Yu. “Like constructing the ceiling of a house (as shelter), I only use the fabrics on the areas that are directly facing the rain — the front and the back of the trouser legs.”
Yu also wanted the convenience of accessing all pockets with only one hand and to avoid objects from dropping out without having a zipper or button for the pockets. He spent a week testing out three models he made before coming out with the best position for the pockets.
“He has lots of good ideas and what he needs is to develop it to the edge,” says Charlotte Lo, Yu’s tutor at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
“The most exciting part for a designer is when the consumers use the product, they benefit from the revolutionary design of it,” Yu says.
Studying painting since childhood, Yu has great interest in inventing and making objects.
He made a small parachute when he was in fifth grade. He also likes making models, such as ships and small buildings.
“I read many books, various kinds of books. Half of my bed was packed with books,” Yu says.
His early training in painting laid a firm foundation for the young man’s future study in product design.
He says the traditional Chinese culture, the aesthetic values of painting and the way of observing influenced him in design.
“I like using simple materials to make things. Sometimes limitation can inspire me,” Yu says. “For example, some cars were designed for very tough conditions, like snow mountain roads and cliffside roads. I believe a good design is to solve problems and reduce unnecessary burdens for the users.”
Both Yu’s parents are teachers at local schools and they have never limited their son’s choice in career. “His desk was always full of knife scratches,” his mother says.
“The greatest happiness in life is having the career that matches your interests,” adds Yu’s mother.
After graduating from high school, Yu enrolled at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where he attended many lectures by veteran designers from companies like Apple Inc and Samsung Inc.
According to his tutor Tu Hanbi, who was also a graduate from the product design major at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, the first thing that impressed her was Yu’s painting skill.
“He is open to lectures about various subjects and is very keen on independent research,” says Tu, who spent three months with Yu to prepare his application materials at the Beijing office of the University of the Arts London.
“She gave me a book, Designing Design by Japanese designer Kenya Hara, which inspired me a lot,” says Yu. “It deepens my understanding of design.”
Tu points out that product design is still a new major for Chinese students, though the number of students studying it is growing.
“For most Chinese students, product design is limited to image design but it’s not true. The simple explanation for product design is to find out a problem and solve it,” says Tu.
She says Chinese students are not lacking in creative ideas. “What they need is the link with the market and clients,” she says. Contact the writer at email@example.com.
The trousers Yu Kehan designed won the D&AD Yellow Pencil Award in London. Participants for the competition are tasked with creating a product for urban commuter cyclists and Yu’s design minimizes cyclists’ burden and make them comfortable for both cycling and working.
Yu Kehan majors in product design.