Wallpaper* & Bugaboo: Max Barenbrug
Wallpaper* rolls with Max Barenbrug, company co-founder and chief design officer at Bugaboo
Wallpaper*: The Bugaboo Boxer is a revolutionary, mobile, modular luggage system. How did Bugaboo go from designing strollers to creating a brand new suitcase concept?
Max Barenbrug: The processes for each product were actually remarkably similar. We changed the stroller business by changing the way you move. We made it nice to move with your child, to give your child a comfortable ride; we made it possible to go anywhere – shopping, vacations, mountains. You could pull the stroller as well as push. The Bugaboo surprised you.
W*: So, with the Boxer it’s basically the same process?
MB: We always try to rethink products and come up with smart solutions. The Boxer changes the way you move. You don’t have to carry it or force it in a direction. You don’t have four wheels moving in different directions – you are in control. The product has strength and functionality.
W*: The Bugaboo Boxer certainly has a distinctive look – its lines, materials, finishes, the way it rolls…
MB: This is very important and it took us a long time to get right. Because of the spread and distribution of weight, the angle and precision engineering of the frame, your Boxer can be carrying 50kg of stuff but it will still feel effortlessly light to the touch and highly manoeuvrable.
W*: The Boxer was in the research and development stage for eight years. Did that involve pulling apart and testing out the competition?
MB: Not really. I’d seen enough cases and I was well aware what was wrong with them. The average suitcase is just a shell with wheels attached, running behind you noisily. It has no relevance, no beauty. You can add an integrated USB port or a place to charge your phone, but these things will be outdated after a year. What we are offering is an experience, a way to change the way you move. Every time you travel, the performance and the experience of the Boxer will confirm that you have made a good purchase, that it is worth the money you have invested in it.
W*: Tell us a little about the way you design.
MB: Most designers work from a brief. I don’t do that. I just have these ideas constantly going round my head – that things could be better. I have functional ideas where technique and beauty find each other and become integrated. Solutions are visualised. Problems are solved. I don’t make a design sketch. Ideas cross-fertilise. Things are improved and modified. With the Boxer, the finished product is actually very close to the original concept: a frame, three modular parts…and wheels!
W*: You graduated with double honours from the Design Academy Eindhoven back in 1994, with two projects: an innovative Dutch bicycle and the original rendition of the Bugaboo stroller. Did you try to get the Bugaboo stroller into production soon afterwards?
MB: The original stroller could be changed into a two-wheeler and mounted onto the back of your bike. You could go shopping but also to the beach. We tried to sell it, but all the major manufacturers turned us down. They said that Mummy wasn’t interested in this sort of thing.
W*: The Bugaboo stroller eventually went into production in 1999 and is now world-renowned. How difficult will it be to convince people that you are now making products for adults too?
MB: It’s a little bit like Apple going into music. No one understood it at the beginning, but now music and Apple are very closely connected. I always thought it was a shame that you buy a Bugaboo stroller and have it for, what, a six-year period in your life – probably when you are in your mid-thirties? Then it is gone and you will never see that brand again in your life. How could we change this? A suitcase is different. You buy a suitcase when you are 20, 40 or 70 years old.
W*: So, Bugaboo is now a mobility brand?
MB: A mobility brand communicating performance innovation. Bugaboo is about products that make you feel free and invoke a desire to explore. If we succeed in bringing the Boxer to the market in a positive way then we will have achieved our goal – things will open up for us and people will accept us as a mobility brand.
W*: The Boxer very nearly didn’t happen at all, is that right?
MB: Well [back in 2008], Bugaboo almost went bankrupt! We had to recall a vast amount of old, low-quality stock, which was then worthless. And we had to fire our board. We turned things around pretty quickly but those problems stopped me working on the product for almost two years. Then I left the company. I had a kind of burnout. I went away, built a house in France. But leaving my project was very difficult for me. When I returned to Bugaboo, I came back energised.
W*: Aside from the Boxer, what else are you working on?
MB: We have eight projects on the go right now. One of which is almost ready, but I cannot show you yet. It is a very nice product, with wheels, that will help you travel from home to work, to and from your car. You don’t need to park it on the street because you can just take it into a shop or a café with you. It has dignity and integrity, and it looks fantastic. Really, I am just a guy who is crazy about wheels and how they can make life better.