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INTERVIEW: Design by Julien Fillion

You’re the second designer we’ve interviewed who is also a musician. Does your creative musician side help you with your work as a designer?
When you have to travel a lot, there are a lot of lonely times. Those have always been the moments when I’m writing music. When I’m home in Montreal, I can kite a lot, but not all the time, so having music helps balance my life.

I’ll be working on design in the office for half the day, and then I’ll spend the other half of the day playing music. It’s just a good way to split your life. I’m so into kiteboarding and all these watersports that I need another passion to keep me from getting sick of it all.

What is the starting point of a new product?
Usually choosing what to make is related to what the market needs and what our retailers, distributors, and customers want. We don’t try to reinvent the wheel with all our products every year. What we try to do is to look at what people love about our gear and then work off that.

We also look at what people might not have been crazy about and we try to make it better. Between August and October, we ask a lot of questions. What do they love about our gear? What do they love about other brands? What do they want next year? It’s not always the same year to year. Then we create a product line based on what people want and we get to work on it. I’ll be in Montreal doing the drawings and trying the gear, and when the kites are ready, I start mailing these kites everywhere so I can get feedback.

Usually the kites are approved by March or April, and then we have to produce and ship them. It’s not a long window and where we’ve been really good in the past few years is to imagine what people will need next year and to nail it. When we knew that three strut kites would come on strong, we made the Envy and it has killed it. This year we have the MaxFlow and people love it.

When you are introducing a brand new product like MaxFlow, what’s the testing process like to make sure consumers won’t have problems?
It’s crazy. It took us more than two years to make it happen. We knew for many years that using an 8mm valve is a horrible way to inflate your kite. There have been wider valves on the market, but we were never crazy about them.

A few years ago, a friend was working on a crib for babies that used bladders to create the structure of the crib. We have a lot of knowledge of working with TPU bladders, so we worked with him to make his crib really good right away. He’s a very good engineer and was working on this valve that would make it very easy for anyone to use and quick to inflate. I grabbed two of the valves and put them on the leading edge of a kite.

After being used for a year, they had no problems. Everything was perfect. People who were using those valves told us they would get mad when they couldn’t use those kites and had to rig kites with small valves. We had to work on the valve a lot to get it right for kiteboarding.

It has to go on the leading edge, which is not flat, and it has to work in all kinds of weather. Once we were done with the valve, we used it for a year to make sure it was perfect. We knew we were on to something big and everybody loves it.

Photo Darren Edwards

How do you decide which ideas to pursue and which not to?
Usually before we waste our time on an idea that people may not like or want, we investigate it with our close retailers and distributors. Usually we get instant feedback if we’re on to a great idea or not. People either tell us, “Yes, I want it now” or “Umm, I’m not so sure.”

We usually don’t waste our time on the not-so-sure ideas and we put all of our energy into ideas that people want. When I was younger, I would waste a lot of time on ideas that people were not into. It’s much better to ask before wasting hundreds of hours. A long time ago I was a pro kayaker and I worked on some crazy ideas. I worked on a brace to use inside the kayak and everything was mechanical. I wasted almost a year on that idea and it never went anywhere.

Do you pay much attention to the products from other companies?
I try to know all the product lines to see what the other companies are promoting because that’s a good gauge of where the industry is heading. We have our own way to design our gear and we have our own ideas. I don’t go around and fly all the kites, unless there is a product that everyone is into and I don’t understand why.

Then I’ll try to ride that gear, just to know what people like about it. I’m really not into using other people’s ideas; it’s just not my thing. I’d be really bored if I was just copying other people’s ideas all day.

Liquid Force has an image of being a very wakestyle-oriented brand. How do you make sure your kites will satisfy the larger market while keeping the wakestyle riders happy?
That’s a really good question. We’ve been working really hard for years to get the masses to ride our gear. Our gear is not core wakestyle gear. OK, we have bindings, but that’s because we have a crew of wakeboarding people creating the craziest bindings on the market. Everything else is made for the masses.

Sometimes our wakeboarding image works against us. Liquid Force is the largest wakeboarding brand in the world. We have an amazing kiteboarding product line which we create for the masses and we constantly have to tell people. Some riders think Liquid Force kites are only for really good riders or riders who use boots, but we design the gear for all riders. People are usually surprised when they try our kites.

For example, the Envy is a really easy kite to fly and a lot of people love it, but some riders don’t even try it because they think it’s only for wakestyle riders. The Liquid Force team riders ride bindings because they love bindings. They love to land hard and to have complete control of their boards. When it comes to the kites, control bars, and everything else, we design them for the everyday rider. A lot of us do a lot of wave riding and a kite that works well in the waves will work good for everything.

It needs to have a lot of depower, a lot of power, a super quick relaunch, and to be able to roll around in the waves and come back up. This is what our kites are designed to do. We have to educate people though advertisements and demos that our products are not only for wakestyle riding. Of course, the products work amazing for wakestyle, and we don’t even need to promote it. All those riders already know it.

Can you give us any hints about new stuff you’re working on?
It’s still too early to speak about what we’re doing for 2012. All I can say is that we will have three models of kites next year and there will be some new areas that we’ve never explored before.

There are crazy new ideas coming that we’ve been working on for more than two years. MaxFlow was a huge idea for us this year and we have one or two more big ideas coming for 2012. You’ll see.

For more info about Julien Fillion, check out http://julienfillion.com or the website for his band, http://trustedwaters.com.

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