The Hardest Part Of Design with Grant Delgatty of URB-E – Ep7


“Form follows function” is a statement that I’m sure many of you are familiar with. It states that a product’s shape it dictated by its function.  In my latest podcast interview with Grant Delgatty, who is the inventor of the URB-E (a foldable electric vehicle), an educator, and designer, explains his approach to designing the URB-E, or how to approach designing any new product.  He also discusses how to define what the real problem that you are solving is and how best to get started with designing new products beyond following function.

Grant has a very interesting background and he has shared some great advice for designers and entrepreneurs for any point in their career into this podcast.  Listen in to hear the full interview…

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Transcription (AI Assisted)

Grant Delgatty 0:02
I think the hardest part of the design process is determining what the problem is in the first place. Make sure that you spend money, enough time to really identify the pain points of the consumer and identify how you can create a product that has a enough point of difference that allows you to be the product of choice that the consumer is going to want to go after.

Cliff 0:27
Hi there. This is the SOLIDWORKS born to design podcast, a podcast of inspiring stories about those who create, build invent an engineer new ideas into actual new products and by the way, they all use SOLIDWORKS. I’m your host Cliff Medling in this episode is titled The hardest part of design I will be talking with Grant Delgatty at SOLIDWORKS World. Grant is an inventor and educator and chief executive officer and co founder, at URB-E Grant has a very interesting background and some great advice for designers and entrepreneurs at any level in their career. Let’s jump right into my interview with grant.

Grant Delgatty 1:03
My name is Grant Delgatty and Chief Creative Officer for Urban 66 Urban 66 is the parent company of a product called URB-E stands for urban electric. And we make a folding personal transportation vehicle that’s designed really to address the micro mile kind of first mile last mile transportation scenario for urban commuting.

I came up with the idea for the URB-E back in 2012. And where where essentially came from was I’ve been teaching, I’m an industrial designer, I worked for many different companies doing many different things. But one of the things that I’ve done for now about 10 years as I teach, and I graduated from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I have been teaching this now for over 10 years. And I also teach at USC in the ivy Young Academy teaching product design as well. And at art center, I’ve taught a number of different classes, different courses, all within industrial design. So product design, transportation, design, environmental design, and in 2012, I was starting to see a trend that was happening where car companies would come in, and Sponsored Projects at art center. And I was part of the faculty on these classes and the car companies, it was kind of like back to back. I mean, I think it was three or four semesters in a row where the car companies were looking at this problem that they had identified as the first mile last mile scenario where Millennials are, are not buying cars at an alarming rate compared to the past generations. And really kind of why that is.

And it turns out that, you know, there’s this kind of this paradigm shift this mind change, where there’s so many different ways and options that are available now for transportation for millennials that there they don’t really see the need to have the expensive owning a car. So yeah, so you have, like, you know, you have the cost of the car itself, you have the insurance, yeah, the parking, the gas, you have the maintenance, and when you combine all those things. And if you’re living in an congested urban environment, inside a city, and you’re working in a city, you know,

there’s so many other ways to get around public transportation, trains, buses, you know, rideshare programs like Uber and Lyft. And because of that, there’s really no need for these individuals to have a car. And, but there is still this need for having perfect transportation, you know, something that you can easily just open up and go to the corner store a couple blocks away, maybe only have a, you know, 2030 minutes for lunch, and you want to go to a restaurant that’s, you know, 10 blocks down the road, and

Cliff 4:15
it’s too big to carry your bike onto the train sometimes.

Grant Delgatty 4:18
Yeah, exactly. I mean, and then, yeah, if you’re living outside the city, and you’re taking the train into the city, you know, obviously, you can do that with a bicycle. But when when the train is, you know, during rush hour, and it’s standing room only, it’s, it’s kind of difficult, even folding bikes are still

Cliff 4:36

Grant Delgatty 4:36
A little bit,

Cliff 4:37
you’re going to be the guy with the bike.

Grant Delgatty 4:39
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Right. So. So that was the, that was kind of where we started with, as far as the, the problem that was, you know, at hand and having a vehicle that was small enough that when you folded it, you know, literally go between your legs and not take up any more space than your, your person.

Cliff 4:58
Right, exactly. So what when did design come about? How did it you know, how did it evolve? How did you guys

Grant Delgatty 5:08
so, that, so, in, like I said, back in 2012, when this this opportunity that I saw happening to solve this problem, I kind of took it on myself to say, Okay, well, you know, what would, what would a product look like? What would it need to do? What would it need to be, and how would it function and, and it was sort of, you know, right time, right place, you know, the technology now, with lithium ion batteries, the way they are how much energy they can store in a very small and lightweight, you know, kind of a scenario makes it really possible for something like our product to, to be in existence.

And so, literally, I mean, just started building prototypes, you know, like, the, like, I’m sure thousands of other companies started, you know, out of my garage, just building and I’ve worked with my next door neighbor who had a welding machine. And, you know, we, we just kind of started cutting aluminum and, and drilling holes. And I got some parts sent to me from some factories that make batteries and hub motors and things like this. And, you know, we just went at it, and it took about, I don’t know, a couple years to develop really,

Cliff 6:28
right, yeah,

Grant Delgatty 6:31
you know, having something like this, instead of walking, you know, you can get there so much quicker. So, you’re, you know, the amount of time that you’re out in the cold and expose to the to the to the inclement weather is a lot nicer, you know, it’s just makes it more pleasant?

Cliff 6:48
Absolutely, absolutely. Why I didn’t know you were teaching at the Art Center, the Art Center in Pasadena is like, the top program in the country. So what’s the main advice? Or what’s the main goal for your students out there? What what’s your big advice for them?

Grant Delgatty 7:04
You know, I yeah, it’s a great question. I, I think the hardest part of the design process is determining what the problem is in the first place. And knowing if it’s a problem that’s worth solving is another big one, a lot of, I think a lot of students, you know, in this day and age, they, you know, they know that they have to design a product for a certain class. And, and, you know, within the first week of the, of the term, you know, you have this kind of this light bulb idea, and it’s like, oh, I’m going to design this, you know, toaster that’s going to toast socks to make them more. And when I put them on the morning, I just thought of that right now, by the way, that’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

But, you know, you can, you can have kind of these moments of epiphany, and, and, you know, might seem like a really great idea, but unless you can really validate it and, and understand that you are essentially solving a problem for a consumer. And, you know, knowing if that consumer really is on the same page with you takes, there’s a lot of upfront work that you have to do to determine whether or not you know, you should be putting all your effort and time into, into taking on this project. So, I would just say, you know, make sure that you spend a good amount of time enough time to really identify the pain points of the consumer and identify the competition and what the competition is doing right and what they’re doing wrong, and how you can how you can create a product that has a enough point of difference that allows you to be the product of choice that the consumer is going to want to go after.

Cliff 8:50
Right, right. That’s great advice. That’s why I was Todd school as well, make sure it’s a problem we’re solving. But then there’s the other camp, you know, Steve Jobs, you said, develop something, some people don’t know what they need. Yeah,

Grant Delgatty 9:03
yeah. And, in fact, it’s interesting, because that’s kind of what the URB-E is really you know, we we knew that or, I know, I knew that this problem existed that was kind of based on a lot of the research that I was privy to, but, you know, not only these car companies that were coming in and telling us what they were finding, but even even just hearing what the students were finding when they did their own research, and then I did my own research and even, you know, proved it even more. And what’s interesting with their URB-E is that, you know, it’s really, it’s one of these types of products, that’s kind of, it’s sort of cutting edge, in a, in a, in a new area that a lot of people haven’t really considered when people see the URB-E it’s interesting, because a lot of people it’s sort of you have this light bulb moment where use the light bulb turned twice now, which is not good.

But anyways, you have this moment where where you go, well, that actually would make sense like that, actually, I could see myself using that, that could make my life a lot easier and would allow me, you know, I, I’ve been wanting to take the train or, you know, find other sustainable ways to get into the city. But, but, you know, I have this problem. And, man, I didn’t think that, you know, there’s a product out there like this. And so, you know, to your point, you know, I always I love the Henry Ford quote, you know, if I had have asked, you know, my customers what they wanted, they would have said, a faster horse, you know, so, you know, that, that’s kind of the same scenario. I think we’re kind of in this day and age now, where there’s, there’s such a shift happening and how people get in and out of cities that it’s, it’s sort of like, this is this space is maybe the, where the new automobile is, you know,

Cliff 10:56
exactly. So, how is the product evolved from the first or be model.

Grant Delgatty 11:02
So, so, we came out in 2015 with the very first what we now call the URB-E classic. At that time, it was just the URB-E and it was a you know, as a great product. solve the problem the way that we were hoping it would fold it and became very compact.

But we also had customers that now we’re buying our product that love the product that would give us insight, they would say, you know, I love this, but I wish it did this, or, you know, can you do, can you do this, or we’d have some customers that would really want it and say, you know what i i i see it, I see the value of it. But it’s just a little bit too expensive. You know, I wish I wish you had a less expensive model, I’m going to wait and see what happens.

And so what ended up happening was we we sort of identified that we had kind of, to, from the very from the first model, we sort of had two camps. We had a camp that that loved it for what it was and didn’t have a problem with it, but just wished it was less expensive. And then we had another camp where that, you know, customers, they love the product, they were buying the product. But they kind of wished it did even more. And they were willing to pay even more to do these things.

And so where that kind of came about was we took the original design and we improved on it. And we so one of the things that we got was, you know, customers, they originally came with this very small eight inch wheel. And the rubber the tire itself was was solid rubber. So wouldn’t go flat, which is a great benefit. But it also was kind of a bit of a refers different ride. And a lot of a lot of our customers say, Man, I wish that the wheels were just a little bit bigger. I kind of live in rough streets with portals and ride this, you know, on the grass or in dirt paths and things like that. And if it had a bigger, a bigger wheel with more power, and I could go faster, that would be a really great thing and I’d be willing to pay more money for that.

And so what we did was, we took the original URB-E and we adjusted it so that it had bigger bigger wheels, bigger tires, 10 inch in there. A pneumatic now is that air air feel. So they’re a little bit more comfortable of a ride. And at the time, that URB-E had a front wheel drive motor, and we actually then moved to the back. And so now it had more traction when you’re on dirt paths and things like this. And, and now it went about the same distance, but it was faster and had more power and climb hills better. And so what we when we came up with that product, we then called it the URB-E Pro, and so then we had two models of that we had the pro and the pro GT and the difference between those was that the pro gt was just quicker, it had like acceleration at felt faster, really, the top speed of them both is about the same once you get up to top speed.

But what we also then did is we came out with a completely new model called the sport the sport line. And why why we came out with that was we wanted to address this lower price point question that a lot of the customers are giving us. And, you know, we’d learned a lot of lessons and, you know, how to build efficiencies into the production method of the URB-E, the original URB-E. And we ended up developing the sport in a different way, the way that was pretty so it looks very much when you look at it, they look very similar. They look like siblings, which is, you know, one of the the main things we wanted to get a across

Cliff 14:49

Grant Delgatty 14:49
it still looks cool, looks like the same type product. But we we we were able to figure out some really interesting manufacturing efficiencies that allowed us to build the product for a lot less, because we build these products here in California. These aren’t coming from overseas. And so we do all it’s all made with the best American made 6061 aluminum, aircraft grade aluminum and carbon fiber, anti corrosive, you know, since lightweight, super strong. And but with the Sport model, instead of it being these extruded tubes that we had the CNC mill for different sides, which is, you know, that’s a pretty robust process in manufacturing. It’s it’s very common in the aerospace industry. And, in fact, the fabricators that we use to build our products are fabricators for aerospace.

But with the Sport model, we were able to kind of do it differently so that all the all the actual frame parts were cut out of laser cut out of flat material, and then Ben into position. And so it’s a much quicker method and more efficient method of producing the vehicle. And therefore, we were able to cut our costs down, which we then trans translated into the customer and being able to save money.

Cliff 16:14
Right, excellent. That’s good.

Grant Delgatty 16:19
So yeah,it’s a good way to good way to solve that problem.

Cliff 16:21
Right. But, you know, listening to your customers to find out what, what they were looking for. Right.

Grant Delgatty 16:25
Yeah, exactly. You know, and then now, you know, we and, and that, and that’s the Sport model still has the smaller eight inch, you know, solid rubber tires, which for a lot of people, actually is a good thing that they don’t want to have to worry about, you know, potentially, you’re writing over a nail and having a target flat,

Cliff 16:44
right. So, so just curious, which sells more?

Grant Delgatty 16:49
What’s interesting is for both models that the more expensive the faster version of the model sells more, and then I believe it’s, it’s, it’s pretty close between the sport gt gt Okay, we still sell more of the pro gt Oh, interesting. Yeah, you know, a lot of people, they get the sport and they love the sport, and they just, that’s it, that’s all they need is all I need. We get other people that buy the sport, and then they try the pro and then they end up selling their sport on Craigslist and buying. So it’s, it’s, it teaches out, I guess,

Cliff 17:23
yeah, exactly. Good, good. So now, let’s, you gone through the process, any any advice you give for them for starting their own business, or taking their ideas to the next level?

Grant Delgatty 17:32
I am seeing kind of this the shift and an entrepreneurial, you know, aspirations and, and that’s, it’s great. And, and, and honestly, the, I think, you know, when, when you and I were in school, we didn’t really have the technology to support that, you know, now,

Cliff 17:52
it’s true

Grant Delgatty 17:53
now, with, you know, desktop printing and 3d modeling, and, you know, all these all these ways of actually bringing, bringing a product to market for relatively little cost, and, and not, you know, yes, obviously, have to have a certain amount of skill to be able to do that. But, you know, it’s, it’s completely there for the taking. And so, you know, I think these these students are realizing, you know, I can actually just make I can make a widget and sell it,

Cliff 18:21
right, right. Oh, yeah, you can start a business for for cheap these days, right? Because you don’t, you don’t have to have brick and mortar, you can have your online business, you know, how, like, how much does it cost to make a website, that’s not much so, you know, a few few other tools near your offer on it, you know, yeah, so, what’s been your favorite thing about SOLIDWORKS this year,

Grant Delgatty 18:38
this actually my first year to solidworks world we were, we were invited by SOLIDWORKS to come and participate. And, and we actually sort of a case study for a new program that they’ve developed called solidworks sell. But what’s really cool about this, this solidworks sell is they’ve developed this thing for this kind of on the fly customization where it can be embedded into our website.

And without needing any special programming or anything like this, our customer is able to, to actually look at our product in 3d and completely on the website itself, customize that they can look at it and all the different colors that we offer it in all the, we have these like these sleeve inserts that you can, you know, have the kind of the accent color change. And so that’s something that our customers can order already. But for them to be able to visualize it on the on the screen is is kind of takes it to that next level.

And then they also can, you know, add all the different accessories that we have. So we have like baskets and lights and vendors and all sorts of stuff and they can see what it looks like you know, on the vehicle and then when they’ve got it kind of dialed in the way they want it they basically just add it to their cart and the thing updates are our website and puts in a PO and we don’t even have to do anything it’s just it’s done

Cliff 20:04
right it’s great what we starting to see where SOLIDWORKS Sell started was customers are asking for that you know they want customization they don’t want to just order one simple thing on the website and you know they want to customize it and people get to stay within brand and it still has your brand on it but it’s customized to whatever they want so yeah that’s great yeah we’re we’re glad you guys are are are doing that and seeing the benefit so I will grant this was great.

Grant Delgatty 20:32
Thank you for me.

Cliff 20:33
Yeah, that’s good stuff. Thanks for listening today and please know that if you’re interested in having your customers can figure and customized products and place orders online is grant mentioned check out SOLIDWORKS Sell. Just go to That’s S-E-L-L. We will be back again soon with more great born to design podcast stories, ad or wherever podcasts are readily available. Until then, keep on designing.

Cliff Medling

Cliff Medling is a Senior Marketing Manager at SolidWorks and the host for the Born to Design Podcast.