Airstream: Re-designing an American icon
For me, they embody two of our most human desires… the freedom to explore, and a place to belong. But how do we have one without losing the other? Luckily we can unite these two simple desires in the iconic Airstream trailer... a vehicle that unites independence, mobility, and community in its trailers, clubs, rallies, and global excursions.
The process began in 1999 when I began to notice something interesting happening. I was living in San Francisco at the height of the first dot-com boom. I noticed that those same ideals of independence, mobility, and community that Airstream embraced were gaining momentum in the digital and on-line world.
"Why not connect the dots between trailer culture and digital culture? "
With the advent of the web and wireless technology, suddenly people were free to work anywhere and anytime. I had an idea...I thought why not connect the dots between trailer culture and digital culture? My concept was that the Airstream trailer would make a perfect platform for this new digital freedom, and in the process of a re-design we just might revitalize an American icon.
As a test-of-concept I remodeled a trailer for Wilsonart, which inadvertently set off a wildfire of interest in Airstream trailers. I stripped the trailer down to its essential elements, removing the interior vinyl to reveal the aluminum skin. I developed smoothly curved panels that blurred the hard connections of cabinetry to the shell and that demarcated zones in the trailer. I directed the eye in the space with the use of color, and I emphasized horizontal lines to make the space feel longer. I also raised cabinetry off the floor to make it feel as though there is more square footage. It was the first time that a trailer had been valued as an object of high design. The attention that design received lead to Airstream asking me to design a new concept trailer to capture that interest and momentum.
Airstream gave me almost total freedom to build the prototype. The concept was one of reductive detailing, where basically I remove material to give a something its function and character, for example a hole for a handle. Again I emphasized the horizontal lines, used aluminum on the interior to both bounce more light around as well as reflect the colors of the surrounding landscape into the interior of the trailer. It was beautiful, but when we showed the design to the network of Airstream dealers their reaction was "We can’t sell this to our existing customers", and my response was EXACTLY! We were trying to create a design for a new audience of tech and design savvy customers.
Long story short, we started production with one model length, then three, then 5, and now there are 7 lengths under my signature name plates, the International CCD, Signature Series, and Sterling. Sales of my designs now account for almost 50% of Airstream’s overall sales and we doubled the size of the company in less than 3 years. In the end, what I hope to have accomplished is to have designed a well-balanced tool for travel, a design that connects you to adventure rather than insulates from it.