One of the more interesting accessories to come out recently for the MINI is the new Outmotoring Arc Armrest. The armrest was designed and engineered by the owner of Outmotoring Aaron Cornaby who is also a product designer by trade.
The Outmotoring Arc Armrest is very unique in it's design and construction and seems to be quickly gaining in popularity with MINI enthusiasts. However it's such a radical yet simple design that some who only see small pics on the web inevitably come away with questions about it's design and construction. So in an effort to bring more information about the best MINI accessories on the market we recently took some time to chat with Aaron about what makes his design so unique and it looks like it does:
MotoringFile: Why did you feel it necessary to create this armrest?
Aaron/Outmotoring: After living with my MINI for a few weeks I realized that an armrest would make the car a whole bunch more enjoyable. I had seen and purchased a few that were on the market and after reviewing them realized that in my mind were just downright poor solutions with little or no design appeal. Basically there was not an armrest on the market that I was content with. As a designer my mind is always moving a hundred miles a hour trying to find out how things could be better, thinking through user interaction scenarios, etc.. So, the ARC armrest project was started. I guess it would not be fair to mention that It's been a long time dream to 'invent' something and retire at 30, and while the retirement is most likely not going to happen in the next 2 months, the invention part of my dream has and it's just as rewarding!
MotoringFile: What inspired the unconventional design?
Aaron/Outmotoring: The MINI is such a unique car, styled for an emotional reaction and has such a strong design flavor that nothing but a emotionally charged armrest would be at home in the MINI. A block of foam was not going to work with soft, round/oval simplified interior styling of the MINI. So, the ARC armrest uses design language that is built into the car already. The round details that are so prevalent in the MINI dash are directly translated into the rear cup holder shape. The oval shape of the pedals and foot rest are seen in the overall shape of the metal ARC shape and the oval arm pad. The inner rings on the ARC armrest cup holder are very similar to the gaskets front 'cupholders'. The oval door panel insert is echoed in the side view of the metal structure. It just didn't make sense to follow any other form language.
MotoringFile: Why not go with something more conventional like the MINI FINI armrest?
Aaron/Outmotoring: Actually, before the MINIfini Armrest came out, I was heading in that direction; a simple vertical element that uses the rear cup holder as a base and a horizontal element that holds the main pad. I was actually working on a design that had vertical and front to back adjustability within these two axis', but the whole thing felt static, conventional and overall had too much of a functional/engineered look that was just not at home in the MINI. I also did not want to compete with the MINIfini product. I started focusing on the design as an extension of the car, which is where I migrated, finally reaching the current design. One of the main restraints was how to actually connect this thing to the car. There are no easy ways to do this without damaging the car or asking the consumer to do too much work to install the thing, so the rear cup holder was chosen as the mounting location. It sort of springs out of the center console in a sort of kinetic energy stance. The adjustable oval armpad (with over 13 inches of front to rear adjustment) allows drivers of varying heights to find a comfortable spot. The ARC armrest is energetic, sparks an emotional response and has character, just like the MINI.
MotoringFile: What all went into the process of designing and building it?
Aaron/Outmotoring: You know this is the most shocking part of the whole deal. I am a Product Designer specializing in consumer products and sporting goods for some of the most respected companies in the world. I do it day in and day out, those are are the skills that I have learned. I love it and enjoy what I do, but I have never had to make a product into reality by myself. I've never designed, 'engineered', prototyped, coordinated manufacturing (nightmare!!) marketed, done cost analysis, packaged, photographed, made instructions, etc., basically done everything that I rely on my clients to do behind the scenes, using, in some case, hundreds of people. I mostly just design the stuff. It is INSANELY difficult to get everything to come together with different vendors, price issues, as well as time and money constraints. So, to everyone out there that is part of this process for other companies, congrats!! As is the norm, this project went from a 2-3 month deal to a 8-9 month deal once you add in design, design refinement, prototyping, production logistics, packaging, testing, vendor delays, etc. Compound that with a full time job, family, etc., and you can see where the time goes. For me, the most fun part of creating products is the beginning, the 100's of sketches, doodles, quick mock ups, researching materials, testing functionality, figuring out pricing, etc. The design development was not a 'sit down and do it' kind of thing, it just evolved and was refined, letting the ideas bake a bit as it moved along. In the end, I got a product that I am proud of and so far has been very well received by MINI owners all over the world.
MotoringFile: Where is the armrest manufactured?
Aaron/Outmotoring: Right here is Columbus, Ohio. We use one vendor to do the Stainless Steel laser cutting, forming, welding and assembly of the main structure. We use a second vendor to laser cut the wooden base/insert of the oval armrest. A third vendor is used for the foam and upholstery of the oval pad. A fourth is used for the two die cut rubber rings on the rear cup holder. A fifth vendor does the stickers. A sixth vendor supplies the hardware, and a seventh supplies the boxes. In the middle there are a few steps that I do and in the end, the rubber rings need to be glued and final assembly and packaging takes place. Yes it is a headache, but it's working so far.
MotoringFile: Did you have any inspirations when designing it?
Aaron/Outmotoring: I was mostly inspired by the car itself. The interior design team made up of the Designworks staff, Frank Stephenson as well the original Rover team (before it got to BMW) have all contributed to a fantastic interior. Why try to compete with it? There is plenty of inspiration as one sits in the driver seat and looks around. However, I did throw in some spice to make the product feel like it was jewelry. The structural grace that makes it sort of magically be where you need it, while allowing maximum adjustability and the brushed finish that accents the MINI turn signal stocks, facias, etc. It has a sort of sculpture-like effect that accents the MINI styling. I guess one could consider it usable sculpture.
MotoringFile: What other products are you working on at OutMotoring?
Aaron/Outmotoring: Well, this one just got ironed out and while there is a world of potential products out there I am looking for things that NEED design to increase their value, appeal and functionality. I could have sway bars made, springs can be spec'd out, stuff can be private labeled, but that does not interest me at the moment. The market is saturated with 'low hanging fruit' products so I am working doing stuff that no one else is doing or or can be vastly improved through design. So, there are a few small things in the works, but I'm not in a rush. I am just having a good time. After-all, I'm not retiring anytime soon!
A big thanks to Aaron for agreeing to take time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions. It's not only a glimpse into the making of a great product but a fascinating look at what it takes to create a professional MINI related product.
The Outmotoring Arc Armrest sells for $169.95 and is available at Outmotoring.com.