How Collaborative Design Enhances Product Development

Speaking with Chris Williams of New York-based Union Surfboards, there’s no mistaking the brand’s devotion to building enduring creations that resonate with each customer’s needs. But, as Williams points out, creating a custom-built speciality product can’t just incorporate aesthetic considerations – and in the case of Union’s surfboards, it’s all about the surfer’s usage habits, their confidence carving waves, and how it moves with their build. Combining close consultation with a finely-tuned evaluation of each surfer’s habits, Williams and partner Jeffrey Schroeder are shifting from traditional custom builds to collaborative design.

And it’s not just wave-riding wanderers that benefit from this openness: brands will find that fostering relationships to keep production processes domestic or in-house makes for more manageable quality assurance and altogether more seamless experience. Read on for Union Surfboard’s take on how building relationships on both sides leads to a higher quality product.

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What are the key pressure points of building quality surfboards?

The quality of a surfboard is defined by how successful we are at creating a design that aligns the customer’s ideas with our understanding of who they are. It’s a dialogue that occurs between the shaper and the surfer. We build a profile of them that considers their skill level, the types of waves they intend to ride, their physical build and so on. Establishing that level of communication is critical to the ultimate quality of the finished surfboard.

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How did you refine your overall aesthetic?

First we had to define the aesthetic, which is a reflection of our own taste and style. From there we are constantly refining it based on our goals and brand vision. The more time we spend being surfers in the Northeast, particularly New York City, the more our overall aesthetic continues to evolve.

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What, in your experience, are the benefits associated with Made in America?

In our experience it has to be the relationships that we have made in our production process. The relationships in a lot of ways help to define our business. Also the production quality and control gives us the confidence that we are giving our customer the absolute best product possible.

What materials are required to make these surfboards, and who else do you work with apart from the surfer?

We shape each surfboard using polyurethane foam, which is then wrapped in fiberglass and hot-coated with resin. We then outsource the fiberglassing process to Keith Natti at Twin Lights Glassing based in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

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