A Chi­nese stu­dent wins a con­test in Lon­don with his func­tional de­sign. Chen Nan checks out Yu Ke­han’s “hid­den per­for­mance” cycling jeans.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY STYLE -

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 chen­nan@chi­


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.

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