Pro: Form, Function and Inspiration
GoPro refers to a form of a tiny, professional camera which captures HD footage and which is extremely lightweight and extremely versatile. It is marketed most strongly to adventurers and travelers along with professional and semi-professional athletes who engage in extreme sports. The brand is American and the personal cameras are high definition, and are lightweight, rugged, wearable and mountable in places where ordinary people generally aren’t used to placing cameras, such as outside cars, planes, watercraft or even army tanks. Nick Woodman, the founder of the company, was inspired to start it as a result of an Australian surfing trip that he took during which he hoped to capture quality live action photos of his surfing, but couldn’t. This was a result of the fact that non-professional photographers weren’t able to get close enough, and the equipment that they needed they just weren’t able to rent at the most accessible prices. Ultimately, this paper will explore how the content and footage produced by the object of the GoPro camera is an extension of the object itself. The form and function of the GoPro camera inspires a very small community of users: but it is a highly engaged community. The content produced by the GoPro camera becomes as important and the object itself. This paper will examine how the form and function of the GoPro camera creates a practically symbiotic relationship with the community of users. The users help the camera brand to thrive, and vice versa. The users create a thriving community of sharing viral videos and pictures which one can even argue becomes an extension of the original product itself.
Thus, part of the invention of Go-Pro cameras were strongly related to function: there just wasn’t a camera on the market which was able to capture professional angles in such extreme environments. Part of the philosophy which underscores the company in general is that of organic form to fulfill function. For instance, Woodman was initially able to raise the money for his company by selling bead and shell belts out of his vehicle — an act which inspired him to offer a strap with each camera that was more fashionable and more durable than the awkward straps that came with most cameras. Thus, in this case, need had influenced the form and function that the design embodied. In many ways, this company was the first camera brand company to consider form and function in the fabric used with their brand straps. “Coated woven fabrics have been used in state-of-the-art structures for over 40 years yet their design is not codified and relies heavily on experience and precedent. The mechanical behaviour of fabrics is non-linear and time dependent… The shape of a tensile fabric canopy is fundamental to its ability to resist all applied loads in tension” (Bridgens & Birchall, 2012). Essentially, the GoPro takes nothing for granted, understanding the importance of material properties and structural geometry in design and analysis.
Hence, a combination of function and need turned out to be extremely influential in the overall design and creation of the go-pro camera. “Nick Woodman: Before GoPro, if you wanted to have any footage of yourself doing anything, whether its video or photo, you not only needed a camera, you needed another human being. And if you wanted the footage to be good, you needed that other human being to have skill with the camera. The result was that most people never had any footage of themselves doing anything” (Cooper, 2013). Go-Pro has allowed its camera’s to be attached to hula hoops, vultures, kayaks, and even helium balloons: it has a wide angle lends that can take photos, record time lapses and journeys. The function of the camera is not just capture this extreme footage in a succinct, vivid and meaningful manner, but to capture it so that it can be relived and shared with others. Fundamentally, Woodman was able to take a snapshot of the needs of the industry and meet those needs through a design function and form which fit the bill (Bucolo et al., 2011).
The materials which make up the camera are both simple and complex, echoing the occasional contradictions between form and function found in literature (Hendrix, 2013). The camera is made up of a lightweight, durable metal and the glass which makes up the lenses is also lightweight and durable. Thus, the camera in many ways is a living contradiction: it’s so small and delicate it looks like something at first glance that one has to treat with kid gloves. However, it gets its strength from its compact size and its durable materials. In a sense, the camera is a manifestation of the inherent contradictions in founder. Nick Woodman, the founder, is often described as a type of “man-teenager”: a man who looks young and acts even younger (Mac, 2013). That is precisely the type of mentality which has informed and influenced both the form and function of the GoPro camera: it’s a camera that’s not just durable, but which is so durable and which can withstand an intense amount of stress, impact and the elements. The inherent youth (and some might say immaturity) of Woodman, the founder, is one which has had a huge impact on what the camera can do and the entire functioning of the machine. As one journalist explains, “Kids these days don’t film their wave rides or half-pipe tricks. They GoPro them, strapping the $200 to $400 cameras to helmets, handlebars and surfboards. The cinema-grade, panoramic ‘point-of-view’ footage that comes out of a GoPro transforms mere mortals into human highlight reels, without blowing a huge hole in the budget” (Mac, 2013). Thus, so much of the form and function of a GoPro is informed by this sense of youthfulness and wild abandon.
In fact, even the price of the GoPro demonstrates that its marketed for those who are young at heart: it doesn’t have the thousand-dollar price tag which is generally attached to professional cameras, but it still manages to capture images which are just as high-caliber as any of them. “Shaun White, who says he used to tape old cameras to his hand, used GoPros on his runs during the Winter X Games. Hollywood directors, including Michael Bay, keep crates of them on set. The NFL has tested them in their end zone pylons to capture touchdown replays. The Rolling Stones deployed them on stage. Police forces and the U.S. military have started to incorporate the cameras into training exercises” (Mac, 2013). Thus, what this indicates is that the camera has been embraced by a range of active professionals: they have been able to harness the inherent capabilities and death-defying aspects of the camera in order to capture footage that would previously have been impossible or too expensive to capture. Woodman appears to have done his own market research in terms of product design and was able to tap into the veins of the industry and the needs of the professionals there in a way that any strong brand needs to (Creuson, 2011).
One aspect of the camera which is built into the form of the product is the fact that it has inherently evolved into an extremely social camera, and one which has been able to harness the love and adoration of its fan base. Because the product was created and marketed for an extremely niche audience — extreme athletes — that core base of users were the ones which have been able to leverage the camera into a higher arena of success. The small size and overall functions of the camera mean that it was innately going to appeal to a more specific segment of the population and that this segment of the population was either going to embrace it or reject it. The marketing of GoPro was able to speak directly to the brand and was able to address directly the needs of their users (Luchs & Swan, 2011).
GoPro users have helped the product to evolve, by contributing to its success by their promotion of it over social media. “Perhaps even more impressive than the revenue growth is the passion GoPro’s users have for its products, as expressed by the flood of GoPro videos spreading across YouTube and Facebook. GoPro’s Facebook fan base grew from 50,000 to more than 1.3 million in 2011 alone” (Foster, 2011). In comparison, Canon USA only had 135,000 fans and Panasonic USA only had 134,000 (Foster, 2011). However, because the form and function of the camera is so specific, it appeals not only to a niche audience but the “niche-y-ness” of the audience and how there is an inherent desire among the niche audience to bond and to share with one another. This has been an undeniable aspect of the success of the brand (Byrne et al., 2011).
The form and function of the brand have appealed to an audience which has demonstrated that it inherently wants to engage with one another. In part, this is because of the high quality content. Videos created by these cameras create a level of content which is inherently high quality, even rivaling that of professional content (Foster, 2011). This means that what’s even more pivotal is: “the viral possibilities that kind of content unleashes. The more authentic and immersive the video, the more viewers get sucked in and feel as if they’re experiencing the moment themselves. ‘It’s like a teleportation device,’ Woodman likes to say. GoPro thinks not just about its customers, in other words, but also about its audience” (Foster, 2011).
In part, this high quality content creates a situation where the fans want to engage — and thus promote the brand even more. This fosters a scenario which can’t help but result from the original form and function of the item. This is a form of innovation within the both the brand, form and function of the object (Bucolo, 2011).
If one examines the BARE ratings of GoPro, it becomes apparent how the form and function of the item have fostered a more intensive sense of usership, and how that usership has helped to create a greater level of inspiration through user engagement and a strong sense of community. The creator of the company believes that the audience of GoPro users is more socially engaged than any other consumers for any other brand in the world. “The company uses a metric it refers to as a BARE (for brand audience rate of engagement) score to track the activity of its Facebook audience. The score is simply the number of fans Liking, Posting, Commenting, or otherwise interacting on the GoPro Facebook Wall divided by the total number of fans” (Foster, 2011). The BARE rating for this company is 5%; the BARE rating for Lady Gaga was 0.9% and for Fox News was 1.9%. This demonstrates how the viral videos that have been created by the users of the product are in a sense part of the mystique and success of the product. The content created by the product are an extension of the function and form of the product. Thus, the image of someone white-river-rafting down a river in the Amazon which is created from a GoPro camera strapped to his helmet means that this imagery is now an extension of the form of the camera. Thus, all this death-defying footage becomes connected to the original product: the edges of cliffs, the clouds in the blue sky, the ocean waves — all of these things become extensions of the original camera and the form and function which had stemmed from it.
In a sense, this success orbits around the fact that visual design is an inherent part of brand management (Creusen, 2011). GoPro has been so successful because the brand has been managed in part by the users: and the visual design success has been in part connected to the consistent sharing of user videos. The brand is more than just the cameras and the accessories: the brand is the viral content that becomes possible to make once one has communed with the cameras and the community. This has equaled to a form of self-sustaining design strategy that allows the brand to become stronger through its devoted class of followers and users (Battistella, 2012).
In conclusion, GoPro is an object whose form and function has been able to meet the needs of a very specific section of the market of amateur and professional photographers. In meeting those needs, they have created a fanbase and audience of users who have helped to both promote the actual product, and create viral content which has thus become an extension of the product. The form and function of the GoPro camera is so perfect for the needs of its market that it has allowed both content to be created, and a community to be created that is an extension of the prodcut itself.
Anderson, C. (2013, November 10). GoPro’s video revolution. Retrieved from CBS news: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/gopros-video-revolution/
Battistella, C. (2012). From design driven innovation to meaning strategy. Journal of Management History, 718-743.
Bridgens, B., & Birchallb, M. (2012). Form and function: The significance of material properties in the design of tensile fabric structures. Engineering Structures, 1-12.
Bucolo, S. & . (2011). Design Led Innovation: exploring the synthesis of needs, technologies and business models. Queensland University of Technology.
Byrne, J., Fenton, M., & Hemberg, E. (2011). Combining Structural Analysis and Multi-Objective Criteria for Evolutionary Architectural Design. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 204-213.
Creuson, M. (2011). Research Opportunities Related to Consumer Response to Product Design*. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 405 — 408.
Foster, T. (2012). The GoPro Army . Retrieved from Inc.com: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201202/the-gopro-army.html
Hendrix, J. (2013). The Contradiction Between Form and Function in Architecture. New York: Routledge Press.
Luchs, M., & Swan, K. (2011). Perspective: The Emergence of Product Design as a Field of Marketing Inquiry*. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 327 — 345.
Mac, R. (2013, March). The Mad Billionaire Behind GoPro: The World’s Hottest Camera Company. Retrieved from Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2013/03/04/the-mad-billionaire-behind-gopro-the-worlds-hottest-camera-company/
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