After diving deep to find the design stories behind some of the world’s biggest brands in sport, the design directors at Speedo and Billabong reveal some of their successful design strategies.

Curve spoke to designer Sean Hastings, vice president at Speedo International, for product design and development, who heads the central design team for Speedo worldwide, based in Nottingham in the UK, and designer, Scott Boot, Global Wetsuit Manager for Billabong who is based in Burleigh Heads, Australia.

Speedo is one of the most innovative sports brands in the world and has a rich history of breaking the mould and introducing new technologies that bring unprecedented levels of success. Hastings and his design team are responsible for the design and development of swimwear, watershorts, apparel, equipment, footwear and licensed products for Speedo.

Speedo’s global research and development facility, Aqualab, is also based in Nottingham. The Aqualab team work with sport science and technological innovation to create swimwear, equipment and apparel. The team works with experts from diverse industries including aerospace, engineering and medicine, fabric technology and garment construction.

The resulting innovations are rigorously trialled and tested with partner athletes and the developments and outcomes are filtered back to the design team to help inform the design of swimwear and clothes.

Sean Hastings, vice-president at Speedo International for product design and development explains that, as Speedo products are sold worldwide, having a core seasonal creative direction is essential to ensure the brand is consistent in their product and presentation.

“A clear focus for Speedo is to have a ‘design handwriting’ and product offer which is globally consistent to our brand values and ‘DNA’, while at the same time being relevant to our consumer and markets at a local level – given Speedo product is sold in over 170 countries worldwide this can be challenging,” says Hastings.

“To meet the need for brand consistency for our global creative direction, a seasonal colour palette and core product line are developed by the central product and design team based in Nottingham, UK. We work collaboratively with our network of creatives worldwide to make sure the direction is appropriate for a global brand and a global business.”

“Where the market need exists, we add to the central range with product designed to cater specifically for local trends, tastes or needs – this product follows the brand’s creative direction but ensures the Speedo offering is relevant to all of our markets and consumers worldwide.”

“Australia, for example, is a special market for Speedo, being both the birthplace of the brand and having such a strong swimming and beach-oriented lifestyle. An exclusive range is developed specifically to meet the needs of the Australian market, in line with Speedo’s global vision and ‘design DNA’.”

Over the course of more than eighty years, Speedo has proven its expertise and dominance in the water and has enjoyed an unrivalled heritage as the leading swimwear brand. “We have pioneered technical innovation in the sport through the use of ground-breaking materials and techniques.”

Hastings says the design team’s biggest challenge comes from within. “As our elite athletes consistently raise the bar with their performances, as designers we must raise the bar by constantly innovating in the product we design and develop.”

Speedo is the brand responsible for heralding the introduction of next generation technology in swimming. In 1992, the S2000 was the world’s first ‘fast swimwear’ fabric, followed by the Aquablade in 1996.

The new millennium saw Fastskin, a revolutionary new design based on the contours of a shark, debut at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Four years later, Michael Phelps set new standards wearing the Fastskin FSII.

The launch of the Speedo LZR Racer suit – possibly Speedo’s most talked about and controversial innovation yet, followed in 2008. Built with the assistance of NASA, the suit has been described by some as the most technologically advanced swimwear of all time. Swimmers wearing the LZR Racer suit broke eighty-four world records after its launch in February 2008.

But in July 2009 FINA announced changes to competitive swimsuits. As of January this year, swimmers are only allowed to compete in textile suits so the latest generation of LZR suits have been re-engineered to be compliant with this new legislation and are made using advanced textiles with a combination of high power fabrics, design and construction for a smoother shape, reduced drag and greater flexibility.

“Fabric innovation is central to what Speedo does and we work with the best fabric suppliers to develop superior, cutting-edge and high-performance materials. Speedo invests heavily in the research of fabrics and is constantly innovating; however, these developments remain confidential, “ says Hastings.

Designed for those with an active lifestyle, Speedo BioFUSE footwear is another example of Speedo technology at work. The unique design offers flexibility and support, with cushioning and comfort. The footwear features drainage holes and rubber pods for grip on wet or dry surfaces.

The BioFUSE range is designed to be an extension of the wearer.

The training goggles give close contact to the contours of the eye socket; the Rift training mask is designed for open-water swimmers and triathletes and has antifog-impregnated lenses for clarity of vision in the water; the hand paddle is designed to improve grip and reduce hand fatigue and the fins feature a stiff blade for more power in the water, and a soft foot pocket gives comfort.

“While some products or categories are more technically challenging than others (for example, developing our elite suits is far more technically demanding than developing a bikini!) we have to be demanding of ourselves in everything we design because our consumers are savvy and demanding of the products they buy.

"This is true across the entire range, whether it’s a LZR Racer suit for our performance consumer who wants innovation, or a parent who wants their new child’s first armbands and knows they can trust Speedo,” says Hastings.

“Styling is a key element in our design; and important for our consumers too. We use many elements and reference points when designing a range – user feedback, colour and design trends, historical sales data, technology, consumer research, new trends in sports and lifestyle.

"We work with respected key trend and prediction agencies to understand long-term consumer trends and ensure our product and marketing strategy is in line with these.

“Our designers draw inspiration from a huge range of external influences including architecture, automotive design and innovations, and seek ideas from inspirational environments such as art galleries and design museums.

“Our clear aim when designing any Speedo product is that it should give the consumer confidence when they wear or use it – that’s true whether it’s confidence to perform at a big swim meet and turn in a personal best or confidence to look good on the beach.”

In the world of wetsuit design Scott Boot and the global wetsuit development team at Billabong are constantly meeting and communicating to discuss the particular design requirements for each region of the world.

“The Billabong wetsuit line has been built to accommodate these needs. All of the design is undertaken in-house at our Burleigh Heads office on the Gold Coast in Australia,” says Boot.

“However, we have test pilots dotted all around the world – people such as ‘big wave’ legend Mike ‘Snips’ Parsons, Shane Dorian and Mike Brennan, who all test cold water suits in some of the coldest, most testing conditions. We also have laboratories that conduct independent tests on materials and construction to work out what’s best suited to different environments for us.”

“We make a full range of core products such as leg ropes, traction pads, boardbags. Each of those products is designed to meet the standards of the best surfers in the world, such as Joel ‘Parko’ Parkinson and Taj Burrow. So core products such as these help to define the brand as an authentic surf company,” says Boot.

“Our design ethos is to – first and foremost – make our products totally functional and of the best quality for not only top athletes but all surfers of any standard,” explains Boot.

“Wetsuits are the most challenging and demanding product category to design for by far, as the demands are always changing and innovation is incredibly important.

"The combination of materials versus function versus price – and each has a bearing on the end product. We aim to find a fine balance between the highest quality and best workmanship to meet the demands of every surfer.”

“Recently we’ve been enlisting the help of CORE Orthopaedics, a sports medicine institute based in California. We work with them on a number of posture and support mechanisms in wetsuits, as well as anatomical design.

"This helps us to place the seams, materials and panels in the right places to the best effect for surfers. We are constantly working on improvements to maximise the enjoyment for all surfers.”

“And we are constantly working with various suppliers all over the globe to find new materials and components. We always have several new developments under testing and these include everything from environmental improvements to function and performance improvements. We test and re-test to be sure a product meets the standard and quality we expect.”  

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