A Quick Look at Harley-Davidson Styling and Design
Daily Slideshow: Behind-the-scenes with the Motor Company's product design and development.
Creating a design that will please thousands is a next to impossible task. In 2006, Signs of the Times, a leader in sign-industry news, interviewed Louie Netz, Director of Styling at Harley-Davidson, and Graphic Designer Ray Drea. Here are some highlights from that conversation — one that is as relevant today, as it was over a decade ago.
If the names Netz and Drea are familiar, there is a good reason — they have everything to do with the way your bike looks. Netz, co-designer of the seminal 1984 FXST Softail, is now the Vice President and Director of Styling. In a tough act to follow, Drea took over for Willie G. Davidson as Chief Styling Officer in 2012.
Photo courtesy of Maxim.
Harley-Davidson is more than just a brand. For many, the 'Bar and Shield' is a core part of who they are, and how they interact — after all, the 'H.O.G. Family' welcomes you after buying a new motorcycle. For the Styling Department, getting a new motorcycle out the door falls into two general categories — derivatives and new designs.
Old vs. New
Derivatives are spin-offs of existing models, while new designs involve the Engineering and Manufacturing departments. As Netz stated, “We are intimately involved in the development of new products... and anything that affects what these motorcycles look like.” While Styling does not work with mechanical internals, they “work closely with engineers, and design the covers for those components.”
New Harley-Davidson motorcycles are planned well in advance. As Netz said, “All of our product plans extend five years and longer.” At the start, the “plans are vague...and flexible...but become quite fixed and rigid when we're only two years away from production and distribution.” Maintaining a development cadence without dramatic changes is vital to the design process.
While part of Styling, graphic design is separate from the product-development process — with updates occurring every three to five years. Netz explained that design is a bit of a juggling act, “Harley-Davidson offers a highly emotional product, with a strong image and a very loyal customer following. We need to be sensitive to these issues, yet we also need to upgrade and improve our product.”
The Styling Department is small by choice. At the time of the interview, Netz said that there was a “total staff of five, plus an administrative assistant.” That intimate group followed a design ethos laid out by Willie G. Davidson who said, “We believe that form needs to follow function because first and foremost, motorcycles truly need to work.”
Willie G. Davidson recognized that “both form and function report to emotion.” Part of that emotional response is based on color. In a bit of an unusual move, Ray Drea explained that Marketing lets Styling choose new colors. As Drea stated, “We're out with the customer all the time at motorcycle rallies and other engagements. So we have a good sense of what our customers like.”
Harley-Davidson is a trailblazer in combining automotive fit and finish, with artistry and craft. This is most evident with the type styles and logos used on gas tanks. As Drea explained, “rather than using something from a computer that's readily available...I use a brush and paint the original lettering and graphic, just like a sign painter...I'm faster working by hand.”
Customizing is one great aspect of owning a Harley-Davidson. Netz and Drea acknowledged that personalizing is part of enjoying a motorcycle, but like artists true to their cause, they “still prefer to see bikes stock...without any custom detailing on them.” Appearance aside, Netz closed the interview with an important imperative, “Get on a motorcycle and ride!”
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