In the tech world, Apple is renowned for its product design. Hell, in the world world, Apple’s design is applauded as bordering on flawless. It only follows that, if the company were to work with an athletic brand on a collection of products to be sold exclusively in its stores, it would have to be one that shared similar aesthetic values.
That brand is Rapha. The London-based cycling house is similarly known for its minimalist designs (and jolts of electric pink), and it’s applying them in a limited edition luggage collection sold exclusively at Apple. Included in the launch are a convertible backpack tote, a mini messenger bag, MacBook and iPad sleeves and a tech organizer.
“We wanted to create something that was elegant and not overly-complicated, but then you instantly saw functionality and beauty once it was in its final form,” says Rapha’s Creative Director, Alex Valdman. Valdman has been using Apple’s iPad Pro as his primary design tool — instead of the more traditional pen and paper — since it came out in late 2015. Below, he tells us how the new collection came to be, how Apple and Rapha are similar and why minimalism is essential in product design.
Q: How did you approach the design of this collection?
A: Apple came to us maybe a year ago and they said they’d love for us to create something for them. I was instantly taken back to a place in the 90s when, growing up in San Francisco, Apple was kind of a symbol for people that were in graphic design or making music. You could identify with that tribe. That was the inspiration point — take inspiration from that moment and create something for our cycling tribe.
We approached the project by empathizing with our tribe, which is, for the purpose of this project, the commuter. So someone that has to ride four miles or 40 miles. This lead us to create a system of luggage that can be worn on the back or attached to the bike. The Messenger Bag can attach to the bars or the top tube or your waist or it can be worn over the shoulder as a sling.
We all got into the design studio and just started cutting up paper and experimenting and playing around to figure out what the direction was. We spent a lot of our best energy and best people on this project and what the result is, is a product that represents the design values of Rapha.
The one thing that I keep thinking about is this quote that’s always stuck in my mind — Steve Jobs said that an Apple computer is like a bicycle for your mind. What I would add to that quote is that the bicycle is also what gives your mind a space to think. When you ride, you wind up going into this more relational, organizational part of your limbic brain and I think that’s where you reflect on a lot of things that are happening in your life and you come up with a solution on the bike. The values between both brands are very similar. Apple wants you to think with something and I think what we want to do is vocalize all the benefits of cycling and one of those is reflection.
Q: Why does a collaboration between Rapha and Apple make sense?
A: It’s an interesting one. As a company, our standards are super high. It’s part of our culture to always strive for better and question everything that we do. And we try to get to perfection even though it’s an impossible journey. I think that when you have two companies with similar values you kind of push each other. For us it was an opportunity to really get close to that organization and one, to be inspired by it and learn from it, but also to offer something to them that they were interested in as well.
Q: Has Apple influenced you as a designer?
A: I think it’s one of the influences. How can I say this without sounding like I know what Apple’s design philosophy is? I’m assuming that Apple’s philosophy is about simplification of complex ideas or complex forms to create the desired minimalist product that has an extreme platform of functionality. And that’s really hard to do, that takes so much iteration, so much patience, so much dedication. And that’s the bit about their process that inspires me.
Q: Why is the iPad Pro your primary design tool?
A: It’s more sustainable for one. The amount of nice notebooks that you could go through is ridiculous. But the reason why it’s a good tool is because you’re able to have a quick thought, sketch it out, and share it right away. For me, it’s all about sharing and informing other people and over-communicating. When you have a design tool that also has 4G, I mean, man, it’s kind of a miracle, so to speak.
Q: How long did it take to go from the first sketch to the final product?
A: Basically within the first three months we went from idea to final product, which is fast. Usually that takes us 18 months. But what we did is we basically spent the majority of that time on the project, where typically we don’t necessarily do it all in one go. We space it out and iterate every six weeks where in this instance we iterated every single day. Instead of having 18 months’ worth of ten iterations, we have three months’ worth of 20 iterations. And then we spent three months wear-testing it and lab testing it, the packaging took about three months, and production took about three months.
Q: Where does simplicity fit into your design philosophy?
A: There’s a guy named Buckminster Fuller. I don’t know if he was the first smart architect, but he was one of the first locally-celebrated architects that preached sustainability, and this was back in the 40s. He has a philosophy called Spaceship Earth, which is, we’re on this spaceship, it doesn’t have infinite resources so we have to be more sustainable with how we build. His architecture was based on the theory of less is more. So, how can you make the world’s lightest building? He veered toward simplified geometry and high-tech materials.
He mentored a man called Norman Foster who lives here in London and is a friend of the brand. I think that philosophy is probably one of the most appealing philosophies for most designers. Being in the world that we are in today, being influenced by the Paris Climate Accords, being influenced by having a child, quite frankly, and thinking about what the future holds for her, influenced by becoming a much more sustainable practice here at Rapha — that design language just makes a lot of sense.
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