Backpack

Find out why it takes two years for some packs to go from idea to retail

It takes a long, long time for a product to go from idea to retail. We asked Nathan Kuder, Black Diamond's category director for packs, to walk us through the two-year production process for the company's new line of Launch and Enduro packs.

One to four months: Concept


The process began when Kuder saw a hole in what he considered a stagnant backpack market and decided to create something new. He analyzed what was already on the market, what consumers would be looking for in two years, and also what the product's target price would be. "The costing process plays a huge role even at a product-driven company like BD," he says. "We choose feature sets, materials and even the factory based on the cost." This phase ends with a basic idea of what they want to achieve with the new line of products.

Five to 10 months: Design


With a basic goal in mind, it was time to set the two pack designers loose to create digital hand-drawings of ideas and concepts. In this case, they wanted to design a pack that really moved with the user. "We talk through the ideas to see what has promise and what the market will be able to digest," says Kuder. "We want to lead the market with new products, but we don't want to be too far out." Early engineering tests are completed on the computer and some concepts are physically tested as well.

11 to 16 months: Development


Anything that has promise goes to 2-D and then 3-D, first drawn in a design program and then mocked-up into a prototype. Next it's time for mechanical stress tests and then preliminary field tests of completed packs. Many of the early versions are crude, but Kuder's team needs to get the concept at least looking good before it can start showing something to people outside of R&D. "When we present a concept to another group, if it doesn't look nice they get nervous," he says. In this case, BD used an outside prototyping firm to help them create their early models.

17 to 24 months: Production


With final designs completed and fabrics and materials picked, Kuder and some of the other designers headed to BD's Chinese factory. "Sometimes things that are easy to draw are ridiculously painful to sew in a factory," Kuder says. "We go over to communicate with the factory in ways that you can't with e-mail or phone calls. We translate the aesthetics into something that can be manufactured." For instance, the new line includes bike cable running from one shoulder strap to the other through the bottom of the pack. "Without us there they would have been saying, 'What the hell is this supposed to be.' " The process involves some compromise on both sides dealing with the competinig variables of function, appearance and cost of manufacturing. Several small-batch prototype and sample factory runs will be produced for salesmen, reviewers, testers and to verify quality. Then the line goes into production to create packs for consumers, which will be distributer around the world to retailers by early spring.
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