Product designs from 20 Wisconsin companies and much more will be featured at the second annual DesignWisconsin event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 13.
Attendees also can tour Trek bicycles, which is hosting the event at its headquarters in Waterloo, east of Madison. Trek is a key sponsor of DesignWisconsin along with University of Wisconsin-Stout and the Milwaukee chapter of the Industrial Designers Society of America.
One person excited to talk about the importance of product design in Wisconsin is Hans Eckholm, a 1994 UW-Stout graduate who is head of design at Trek. “Wisconsin is an underappreciated hot spot of design. There’s some really great product design happening in Wisconsin, and Trek is in that mix,” Eckholm said.
Along with Trek, companies with displays will include Milwaukee Tool, Kohler, Fiskars, Polaris, Ashley, Oshkosh, Colony Brands, Mercury and more. UW-Stout, which has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in industrial and product design, will have a booth featuring student work.
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An outdoor car show will feature Nash and AMC cars designed by Richard Teague and made in Kenosha. Food trucks and Wisconsin-made Jolly Good soda will be available. The event also will include several speakers.
Attending DesignWisconsin is free, but organizers request that attendees register in advance.
“We’ll be giving tours of Trek, so you’ll be able to see products that are being worked on in the factory and see the prototype shop. Trek is doing a lot to make the experience fun. It’s a great building with a lot to look at,” Eckholm said.
David Richter-O’Connell, UW-Stout assistant professor in the School of Art and Design and a former designer at Kohler, is the event founder and co-organizer. The first event was held at DELVE in Madison.
“DesignWisconsin showcases the impact of industrial design and industrial designers on Wisconsin’s culture, commerce, community and brand — past, present and future,” Richter-O’Connell said. “It’s a well-kept secret that Wisconsin is a hub for product innovation.”
Eckholm overseeing bicycle design and more
Eckholm has worked at Trek for 19 years, starting as an industrial designer, and was promoted to director of design about a year ago. He oversees a team of 60 to 70 designers, including one group in the Netherlands.
In addition to designing bicycles for Trek, the team works with other Trek brands to help create bike accessories such as lights, helmets, tools, pumps, car racks and clothing. “Hundreds of products a year come out from our staff,” he said.
Trek is “one of the biggest players in the bike world. What’s maybe surprising is that we do more business outside the U.S. now than inside,” Eckholm said.
Eckholm, who grew up in southern Wisconsin in Orfordville, came to UW-Stout for the industrial design program once he realized his interests were somewhere between engineering and art.
“I didn’t realize at first there was a career that combined those things. I’ve been trying to get the word out ever since,” he said.
UW-Stout’s program in industrial and product design is part of the university’s School of Art and Design, the largest in the Upper Midwest with more than 1,200 students and eight programs. In the industrial design studios, students research and create 3D models of a wide range of products.
“It’s been a great career for me, to be able to be part of a team that brings products to market. I love being able to see people use the products we make, to see someone get on a bike and be indirectly responsible for that,” Eckholm said.
Trek has long been a major sponsor of professional cycling teams. Eckholm’s design credits include two road bikes used by Lance Armstrong.
Along with Eckholm, Trek employs other UW-Stout graduates, including two industrial design managers, a packaging manager and several designers. Trek is also represented on the university’s industrial design advisory committee. UW-Stout has a Bachelor of Science program in packaging.