4ormfunction 8 Les Mills SmartStep
Design DirectorDavid Lovegrove
Team MembersDarryl Best, Ross Dawson
ContributorsVaughan Schwass, Barbara Anderson, Adam Lazarus, Lara Tihi, Emma Barry, Bryce Hastings
ClientLes Mills International
The International quality of the SmartStep design is further evidence of Les Mill’s commitment to great design and a determination to not just compete against global brands but to lead the market with a strong design language integrated with ergonomic and usability improvements that revolutionize the total exercise experience.
It has been 25 years since Les Mills first implemented its concepts for BodyStep and BodyPump exercise programmes. Les Mills International is, of course, the successful company founded by Philip Mills, named after his father, Les, which has gone on to become the world’s largest provider of choreographed exercise-to-music group fitness classes. Currently, Les Mills runs programmes across 80 countries and 15,000 clubs worldwide.
Since its inception, Les Mills has proven itself as an innovation-seeking company. More recently, it has looked to pursue innovation through design. As you might expect from a company with a core vision of creating a “fitter world”, Les Mills International is a motivated, results-driven company. Its ambitious product design programme with 4ormfunction, where it has sought to redesign key pieces of gym and exercise studio hardware into contemporary formats, has spanned many years. The SmartStep and the SmartBar are the results of that collaboration.
The Les Mills SmartStep is an adaptable platform – a ‘step’, basically. Les Mills’ original step was invented 25 years ago, and two major-brand products that have changed little have since dominated the commercial fitness market. 4ormfunction undertook user and stakeholder research to identify opportunities to create a better product from scratch. SmartStep’s design resolves a number of inherent paradoxes: it needed to be light and stable, but robust and durable. It needed to be adaptable and safe and, importantly, it needed to be stackable, so that it could be stored easily and neatly.
In its expression, the resulting product consists of a deck and independent risers that allow for variation of height. The multi-directional top surface improves grip under foot yet remains comfortable when in contact with hands and on the back. The red target line and indicators improve foot strike and positioning, aiding increased muscle activation, and acting as a coaching reference.
Throughout the development process, 4ormfunction developed prototypes that were laboratory tested with users to ensure the achievement of proven exercise benefit. This allowed the deflection of the deck and risers to be finely tuned, providing an elevation of muscle activity but at the same time reduces the potential for joint injury. The step features circular risers, intuitively located, and the SmartStep can be picked up and moved as one piece, making transitions fast and seamless, an important factor given the tempo of exercise classes. The product’s other area of innovation is in the simplicity of achieving a stable and secure incline – allowing an increase in exercise resistance for propulsion work (one riser high) and incline/decline options for bench work (up to four risers high). For gym and fitness club owners, perhaps the most important functional aspect of the product is in its ability to stack neatly, which allows clubs to save up to 20 per cent of over existing steps.
In conjunction with all its performance improvements, the designers also looked to solve weaknesses in the device’s appearance, introducing a modern-toned and sculptured athletic aesthetic. The surface design indirectly references influences from Maori and Pacific Island patterns and motifs in homage to New Zealand cultural synergies and origins.
Launched in March 2013, SmartStep sales have exceeded expectations, and a licensing deal with fitness giant Reebok has been undertaken for retail distribution.