A Legacy of Design
An inside look at Bombardier Recreational Product’s rich history of innovation and industry leading industrial design.
In October, the company celebrated 50 years of having baked industrial design deep into its corporate DNA. To get a peek inside that design process and philosophy, Design Engineering chatted with BRP’s Senior VP of Design, Innovation and Creative Services, Denys Lapointe.
DE: BRP recently celebrated 50 years of innovative industrial design but how did it originally become a central tenet of the company’s culture?
Lapointe: The entire story started with my dad being the first designer hired by the company. He had a design consultancy in the 1960s and one of his clients happened to be a Bombardier Recreational Products. At some point, there was so much growth that Laurent Beaudoin asked him to join the company. He was hired in late 1968 but really started putting a team together in 1969, hence the 50 years of design. At the beginning, he was manager of design but then became director of design for Ski-Doo snowmobiles for quite some time.
I joined the company in 1985 as a junior industrial designer to work on a car project. That project fell through but there was an internal design competition for the 1988 re-launch of Sea-Doo watercraft and the theme I submitted was the one selected to bring to production. At that point, I only had three years in the company, but since the Sea-Doo had such great success from 1988 onwards, I was asked to take on more responsibilities and become chief designer for Sea-Doo and then eventually Ski-Doo as well.
In 1989, we developed our design philosophy which focuses on creating highly innovative products that provide a new experience for the consumer. As part of that philosophy, we focus on creating not only highly functional products that are well-designed from an ergonomics perspective but also contain a high dose of emotion so that people are seduced by the product.
DE: For BRP, does product design start with an aesthetic and ergonomic outer envelope into which the mechanicals are designed to fit or do you build the mechanical platform first which your team then wraps in an alluring shell?
Lapointe: For us, as a company that is really consumer-centric, it’s more the former scenario. People aren’t compressible or stretchable, so the key is to start with the end user – and the experience you want to create – and then design the elements around them. That’s where we’ve had so much success with many of our platforms, whether it be the creation and relaunch of the sit-down watercraft, our REV platform in the snowmobile industry or our three-wheeled Spyder and Ryker products.
In contrast, I remember in my early days designing the relaunch of the Sea-Doo, one of our competitors had designed their product so it fit better in its crate. They were more concerned about how many of their product they could ship than designing it right from an ergonomics perspective. We’ve always put the customer at the center of everything that we do. Today, our team is much larger and impressive than it was then, but it currently includes a doctor in bio-mechanics who makes sure we design to create the right experience for the consumer.
DE: What’s the process BRP goes through to ensure that right consumer experience?
Lapointe: It starts with preliminary ideations of various design concepts, including sketches that elaborate what would be the best ergonomic positions. Of course, you can design a lot of things on paper – and we are using augmented reality techniques to validate certain hypotheses – but nothing can replace sitting on something physical.
So, as soon as we can, we build what we call a “mule” prototype that encompasses the dynamic behavior and the ergonomics. When you combine those two with the sketches, then you can start imagining what the product could be like. From there, the sooner we can get to the road, land, water or whatever the product is designed to do, the better, because then we can validate our ergo hypotheses and assess if the rideability, and the way you interact with the machine, are going in right direction.
DE: When a company invents something category defining, like the snowmobile and the Sea-Doo, it’s all too common for it to rest on its laurels and allow competitors to overtake it. How has BRP managed to keep innovating and avoid the
Lapointe: We’re fully aware of other companies where everything went well but then someone else introduced a new paradigm and changed the dynamics of the market. So, we’ve put in place governance, within our company, to make sure we dedicate money toward evolutive products and incremental improvements to existing products.
At the same time, we also know someone could invent a new paradigm, but the best defense against that is to create yourself. We’ve also identified that the best way to challenge the paradigm is to have a team that is dedicated to only doing that. So, for a percentage of my group, their sole role is to think and create experiences that are five to 10 years out.
When you want to re-invent a category or create a major disruption, you have to remove the invention from the critical path. So, our advanced concept process isn’t linked to a production date. Rather, it is tied to proving that the category could exist. This is the best way to remain innovative. Otherwise, like anything, nobody wants to introduce risk at the start of production.
Once we have the opportunity to validate a new product idea with consumers and they are eager for it, then we put the big machine behind it. That’s our method for making sure we are the ones creating the next paradigms rather than having someone else force us to follow their paradigm.