From a sketchbook to a production line, Product Designer Maggie Chen is used to seeing her dreams come true. She explains why good design is about more than just looking good.
I came from a tech-focused product design background, working on everything from Bluetooth speakers to VR headsets. It was great, but it was more of a ‘pure’ design where I’d only sketch concepts. At VanMoof, I can see my ideas being brought to real, physical, life – I couldn’t get that anywhere else.
We believe in the power of prototyping, and we build way more prototypes than anyone else would. It’s really important we can see and touch our designs. You only know when you’ve got it ‘right’ when you can literally go hands-on for yourself.
I try to take even the smallest detail very seriously. Right now I’m experimenting with texture patterns for handlebar grips. Even though it’s a small part of the bike, it’s something you touch every time you use it. We want to make something that’s uniquely ‘VanMoof’, while still being a practical tool that fits into people’s everyday lives.
I always start with really rough sketches, by hand. Then I convert these into 2D line contours. Then here’s usually a lot of back-and-forth with Job in Amsterdam, as we build these contours into a 3D model. I don’t come from a mechanical engineering background, so I’m always testing the boundaries of what’s possible in real life – there’s a productive kind of tension there.
VanMoof follows a different design ‘language’ to the classic Taiwanese style of bikes. If you look at a typical mountain bike, parts and features are added almost in sequence; nobody is thinking about the design in terms of one, integrated unit. That’s where we stand apart – everything is built to work with everything else, specifically in a city environment.
Good design doesn’t necessarily stand out. It’s more something you appreciate in day-to-day use. When you ride a VanMoof, you’re experiencing the result of thousands of smart design choices. But you shouldn’t notice any of that – you just notice how good it feels to ride.
As a bike designer, it’s important not to limit yourself to ‘just’ bikes. You have to look around you and find inspiration in everything, otherwise you’ll never make anything new. I think you can get just as much from studying a cool building or a beautiful piece of furniture as you can from other bikes.