The Best Effect on business

The fitness brand's Smartbar took out the only hard-nosed business category at the NZ Designers Institute last week.  

Sweaty fitness centres are the last place one expects to find examples of award-winning design.

But the creators behind the latest Best Effect award winner at the Designers Institute of New Zealand awards have proven their creativity has had a huge financial impact on client Les Mills.

The fitness brand’s Smartbar took out the only hard-nosed business category at the NZ Designer’s Institute last week.

The Best Effect award ignores physical aspects and looks at how much cash a design can generate.

Les Mills Enterprises chief executive Vaughan Schwass says the Smartbar created by 4ormfunction along with the Smartstep will earn Les Mills over $5 million in export revenue this year.

The key innovation in the Smartbar is a patented claw, which enables weights to be quickly changed over. It had paid for itself within five months, a quarter of the time it was expected to take.

While the company is well known worldwide for its exercise classes, the producing equipment has opened up a whole new revenue stream.

Mr Schwass says Smartbar has already sold 25,000 sets in over 45 countries. It will also be co-branded with Reebok following a sponsorship deal.

He declined to comment on how much the Reebok deal was worth, but said it provided strong marketing power for the company.

Mr Schwass says the decision to embark on to vigorous design programs began four years ago.

4ormfunction design director David Lovegrove says the original brief was to create something which was innovative, reflected the fitness classes, and was “cool”.

He says after extensive research the designers realized barbell classes could be enhanced by speeding up transitions of weight levels on the bar.

As well as the easy fastening mechanisms to put weights on the bar, the designers recreated the weight plates for more ergonomic design. In particular, women were having trouble gripping the weights with ease.

Mr Lovegrove says Les Mills took a risk in investing in design and is a company which is less constrained and more “gung ho.” 

“I would love to see a lot more New Zealand companies use design as a weapon. That’s how you become valued on the world stage.”