Meet the minds behind babyark
As someone who has spent his entire adult life designing some of the world’s most iconic vehicles, it must have been somewhat surreal to sit down and talk about babies.
But according to Frank Stephenson, babyark’s director of design, and the man behind such design icons as the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, Ferrari GranSport and Maserati Gran Turismo (to name just a few), whether you’re designing for speed or for safety, design is about desirability --
It’s about love at first sight… But it also needs to serve a purpose.
When meeting Shy Mindel, babyark’s founder and CEO, in London for the first time, Frank was more than impressed; his mind was already racing on how to design what they believed could eventually become the world’s safest car seat.
He was presented by Shy with the highly innovative SafeCoil™ steel coil shock-absorbing system that would be the engineering basis of the car seat; a system that had previously been pioneered in armoured vehicles and that greatly limited the exposure to impact.
The need for change
Unlike the ever-changing world of cars, baby car seats had remained largely unchanged for 50 years. Frank recalls entering a baby store and being struck by just how clunky and unappealing all the car seats appeared. Everything looked just the same. None were actually designed to protect a tiny passenger in a moment of need.
Form equals function
“Most designers talk about form following function, but I’ve never believed in that — for me, form equals function,” says Frank.
This couldn’t hold more true for a product specifically designed to protect life’s most precious and vulnerable being.
Nature knows best
In design, as in life, it’s easy to overcomplicate things and it’s difficult to simplify.
When it comes to design, nature knows best. “I’ve always looked to nature for answers. From speed to protection, nature always has the right answer,” says Frank. “Nature is not a trendy thing. It's timeless.
babyark’s unique egg-shape not only visually sets it apart from any other car seat, it lies at the heart of both the design and engineering philosophy.
“On the one hand, the egg shape is nature’s most robust structure. The egg protects the life that is growing inside it. It is a perfect shape for designing safety. But it also is a symbol of fertility…of life itself.” It is also what first grabs the eye and creates that immediate bond between the new parent and the product.
Design vs Engineering
In the creation of any product, there is a constant tension between the design and engineering; between form and function; between fantasy and reality; between experience and economics. Ultimately, engineering has to bring the design to life. It has to both look and function great.
Having worked for the automobile industry with some of the world’s most innovative engineers, Frank understands how valuable harmony is between designer and engineer.
“Most products are first engineered, then the designer has to find a way to work around that. With Shy, the process was much more seamless. We had a constant back and forth of great ideas, feeding off each other’s creativity. I ended up thinking like an engineer and Shy like a designer.”
“From the get-go Frank perfectly understood the mechanics and performance we were aiming for. He designed the product and then our engineers jumped through hoops to come up with the needed solution to any given design,” adds Shy. “It took us 3 years of hard labour and over 200 different safety tests, most of them not even required by regulation, but eventually it was worth it. It was really all about setting a new standard for safety.”
New benchmark. New materials
In addition to superior design and engineering, and a tireless approach to safety testing, one of the key components to the process was adopting materials that had never been used in a safety seat before.
“With babyark we pioneered the use of carbon fibre, the world’s sturdiest, lightweight material for the frame,” says Shy. “Instead of traditional foam, we looked at the protective gear of extreme athletes where they use D3O™ , the world’s most technologically-advanced impact absorbing polymer. If it’s good for them, it’s worth using here…it’s definitely a significant upgrade from what was previously being used”, adds Frank.
There were no shortcuts on this journey. Both Frank and Shy didn’t just want to make slight improvements to the existing alternatives, they wanted to push the boundaries on what’s possible.
After winning the CES Innovation Award, and gearing up towards pre-sale of the seat in the U.S, both Frank and Shy are extremely excited about the future, and the impact their work will have on the safety of future generations.