Designers tend to be opinionated, aesthetically conscious and self-professed perfectionists. So when a designer like Eric Heiman selects a PUBLIC bike for his life, we feel especially complimented.
Eric and his business partner, Adam Brodsley run Volume Inc, a design agency that “specializes in creating artifacts, systems and experiences that activate people.” Eric has a background in architecture and music and teaches at California College of The Arts.
Eric has been a part of the PUBLIC family since early on by contributing one of his designs to our PUBLIC works project, and recently designing my new book, See for Yourself. But long before I knew Eric, he knew PUBLIC. He was one of our first customers back in 2009 and still commutes daily on his PUBLIC bike.
Eric was game enough to let us interview him about all things bike and design related.
Read on to learn more about Eric, one of the top talents in design today.
PUBLIC: How long have you been riding bikes?
Eric: Since I was a wee pup growing up in small town Pennsylvania.
PUBLIC: Do you remember your very first bike? If so, please describe it.
Eric: Yes. I was 5 or 6 and it was a red Schwinn with a banana seat. My dad put me on it a bit prematurely, and I proceeded to have a traumatic wipeout out on the sidewalk in front of our house. I worked my way back via training wheels for the next few months.
PUBLIC: How did you come to love bikes?
Eric: I think it was more out of necessity than anything else. If I wanted to get from point A to point B (especially in the years before I could drive) outside of walking the bike was the best option. When it wasn’t winter, anyway.
These were the days when we kids could run wild as long as we were home by dinner. It was good exercise, too! I also went through the inevitable “dirt bike” phase of popping wheelies, ramp jumps, etc. Had a few mishaps there, too, and I’m amazed I didn’t get seriously hurt.
Those were the days of ignorance-is-bliss parenting, which needs to come back! Eating dirt as a kid builds character! (Then again, I’m not a parent.) I had a classic blue Schwinn ten-speed all through high school, and then got a Bianchi mountain bike (which, coincidentally, the first design firm I worked at created the graphics for) in college. A bike has been a preferred form of transportation all my life, really.
PUBLIC: How did you come by your PUBLIC bike?
Eric: I actually have two. When the first PUBLIC bikes warehouse moved in across from our old studio space on Harrison Street, I walked in one day and was struck by both the bikes and the congenial staff. I had been looking for a new commuter bicycle after years of riding in the city on my mountain bike. After one test ride I was sold!
The second one I received for contributing one of the PUBLIC Works posters, and it is the one I ride now. The first one has become one of the communal bikes we keep around the Volume office for anyone to use.
PUBLIC: How does bicycling fit into your lifestyle?
Eric: Cycling is my main way of getting around town. I usually bike to and from work plus everything in between, client meetings included. It’s my main form of physical exercise. The hills in SF are no joke. I’ll take the fresh air and a little traffic over a gym any day. My car is almost 13 years-old now and has barely 45,000 miles on it. I should probably just sell it already.
PUBLIC: How often do you ride?
Eric: Almost every day, weather permitting. I’ll sometimes do longer rides on weekends, like to the beach and back.
PUBLIC: How does your PUBLIC Bike reflect your personal style?
Eric: I’ve never been a “flashy-style”-type of person—I would never ride a “fixie” bike or wear tennis shoes with a suit, just to name two things that come to mind. (Though I do like to sport orange pants every so often…) But, obviously, I do care about good design and for me that’s always been about a balance of style, function and accessibility to more than just an elite cadre of the high-minded. The PUBLIC bikes check off all these boxes.
PUBLIC: Describe your perfect day on a bike?
Eric: A day when I don’t have to wear layers! Haha. Any day I’m on my bike—minus riding through a rainstorm—is a perfect day, really. I’m easy. It’s such a great grounding and stress-alleviating activity for me.
Also, one of my favorite things to do when I travel is try the bike share programs in other cities. The last time I was in Paris, New York and Minneapolis, I barely took the subways or cabs. Even late at night. You see so much more a bike.
PUBLIC: Are bicycles an important part of the community you live in?
Eric: Relative to other American cities, San Francisco and the East Bay have pretty great bike cultures. But compared to some European cities—Amsterdam, Copenhagen—we have a long way to go before biking is as embedded into everyday life as it is in those cities. Most drivers here still seem to view us as nuisances that are in the way, not as equal partners on the road.
PUBLIC: How would you describe your creative style?
Eric: Modern (in the classic sense) and understated, but always with a flash of the idiosyncratic, unique and current. The Steve Zissou-like red cap I often wear and our YBCA campaign from a few years ago both fit this description, I think. Personally, I don’t like to call attention to myself too much. At the same time I don’t want to be like everyone else. I want to feel free to express myself as I truly am. So, yes, I will dance like a mad fiend if the right music is on. Or take the karaoke microphone if it’s handed to me and there’s a song I want to sing. In my work, I want to create something unique and engaging, but not at the expense of what it was originally commissioned to do. “Authentic” is a word that is way too overused today, but that’s the ideal I try to hold myself and our work to.
PUBLIC: Where do you find inspiration?
Eric: I tend to be a sponge in terms of inspiration, and the internet age has wrought havoc on my ability to actually stop absorbing and start making things. But I definitely gravitate more towards populist narrative forms—literature, film, music, graphic novels—than I do rarefied art and design (though as a graphic designer, my love of visual culture is hard coded into my DNA). I’m as much interested in the emotional and experiential potential of my work than I am the object nature of it. Getting it out to audiences beyond just other creatives is important, too. At Volume we always like to say, “It’s not what the design is, it’s what it does that’s important.” I like a beautiful, well-crafted item as much as the next person, but I’m equally interested in how design can enable, inspire, and provoke. I love the physical and visual quality of vinyl LPs and sleeves, but I still buy them primarily to enjoy the music. I love my bike because I can ride it (plus that awesome gear-shift mechanism!), not just ogle it behind a showroom window.
Inspiration also comes from just doing the work. It’s harder for me these days as the co-principal of a (depending on the day) 7-10 person studio to focus as much on the actual doing of the work. But when I do get the chance—even if it is just throwing ideas around in our weekly collaborative meetings or doing rough sketches—the best feeling in the world is watching design manifest through making. Today, it feels like there’s never been more books, seminars, email subscriptions, websites, and conferences on how to be happy in life and how to be inspired in your work. I realize I’m very fortunate to have this creative life I’ve made for myself, but for me the solution has always been simple: Figure out the work you want to do and then just do it.
PUBLIC: Any upcoming projects/partnerships/designs that you are excited about?
Eric: We’re doing a lot more environment and exhibition-related work at Volume now. Even though the scale of these jobs makes them tough to wrangle at times, the larger scale and experiential possibilities are really appealing. I also think the design we collaborated on with your founder Rob Forbes for his book, See for Yourself, turned out well and I’m excited to see go out into the world. (Yes, that was a shameless plug, but I really am proud of that work!)
On a more personal note, I’m trying to get a writing project about my love of music off the ground in the coming year. Not sure what the format will be yet, but I’m guessing it will be influenced in equal parts by Nick Hornby, Chuck Klosterman, the “33 1/3” book series, and “Freaks and Geeks.”
If you enjoyed this interview with Eric Heiman, check out our interview with designer Erik Spiekermann.