All products start off as an idea in someone’s mind. An idea that takes shape as a solution to a problem, or as a flash of unexpected inspiration. The process between the idea and the finished product is an interesting one, and different for each design.
There are many things to consider, and often many twists and turns in the design process before the final product comes into being. In this post we’ll look behind the design of one of our newest products at Neko, the Leaf cycle lane divider.
A protective barrier between cyclists and cars is not a new concept; but it is one which we’ve seen a lot more about recently as more people turn to cycling.
During the pandemic pop-up cycle paths appeared all over the world, and authorities started to look at ways to make them more permanent. People often contact us about one of our previous custom design projects, a lane divider for a city government. They especially like the clear, yet unobtrusive design.
We started to look at what people are looking for in these types of products and found that many existing options are often described as ‘visual clutter.’ The International Transport Forum says: “there is some sensitivity about the effect of light segregation features on the aesthetic qualities of the street, and this matter should be thoughtfully considered in context.”*
On the roads, there is already so much to be aware of – lines, signs, lights, adverts – adding even more can just lead to information overload. We knew there was a need for a cycle lane separator designed thinking about both aspects.
How could we provide greater protection for road users, yet at the same time make it fit well with existing urban elements?
The first stage of any design is fun and intensive – a brainstorming session!
We have only one main guideline – there are no ‘bad’ ideas at this stage – anything goes. We are firm believers that you never know what an initial idea might turn into after everyone gets involved.
A lot of sketches later, and after consulting with cyclists and mobility experts, we decided on an asymmetrical design. Vertical on the car side and gently sloped on the bike lane side to maximise the protection. This dual function makes it much more visible to motorists and less of a hazard to cyclists. We also went for a curved design, eliminating any sharp edges or corners which could be a danger to people or vehicles.
We are often inspired by nature, and Leaf, as the name suggests, is no exception – a fallen leaf was one of the initial sketches.
With the general shape in mind, the next stage was to define the size. We decided on a length of 80cm, which is manageable enough to facilitate transport and installation. We considered the height very carefully, as it’s crucial to get the right balance between it being big enough to see, but not so big that it becomes an unnecessary hazard.
Ideally, a lane divider should discourage motorists from crossing into the bicycle lane, but not be a danger in the case of accidental impact. The lower height on the cyclists’ side is important to reduce the pedal strike risk. We settled on a final height of 15cm – the height of the average kerb or pavement – as the perfect mid-point.
Defining the final size and shape often goes hand in hand with the material, as the production process sometimes restricts how big (or small) it’s possible for a product to be. We wanted this to be a 100% recycled product, tough enough for urban use. For us, it makes sense to use sustainable materials to promote sustainable mobility. Injection moulding in recycled PVC is perfect for this, and ideal for pieces up to 1m long.
We collaborated closely with our suppliers on the detailed calculations to optimise the design for the tooling and manufacturing process. The result is an 80 x 20 x 15cm lane divider weighing 8kgs, injected in one piece, in 100% recycled PVC from post-consumer cables.
The details make the design, as Charles Eames famously said.
Road elements often look worse for wear, with peeling reflective stickers. We knew that we needed something more robust. As always, urban products should be resistant enough to endure outdoor use well beyond installation day. Reflective paint with glass beads is tough and extremely resistant, perfect for use on the road. The curved lines help to differentiate it from other road markings. Once bolted to the ground, white caps are placed on the screws, creating a seamless visual finish, and adding extra protection. We added our logo and can offer the optional extra of a personalised logo, something our clients often ask for.
So, that’s the journey of Leaf, from idea to execution. If you’d like to see Leaf installed in your urban mobility projects, contact us or your nearest distributor to find out more.
Interested in a bespoke design solution? Read more about Delta, a custom lane divider design
*Deegan, B (2018), “Light Protection of Cycle Lanes: Best Practices”, Discussion Paper, International Transport Forum, Paris.