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DESIGN

7 Best-Designed American-Made Products

Eat your heart out, Apple. Introducing the winners of Inc.'s inaugural Best In Class design contest.

When it comes to design, Apple may be the gold standard, but these winning companies may well go platinum.

Selected by the Best In Class judging panel from a field of more than 150 nominations, each of these seven products demonstrates exceptional functionality, a top quality design ethic, superior workmanship, and an innovative approach to solving problems--both eternal and modern.

1
HMG UltaMid 4 Shelter
Recreation
HMG UltaMid 4 Shelter
COMPANY Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Biddeford, Maine--designer
DESIGNER Mike St. Pierre, CEO
PRODUCT LAUNCHED June 1, 2013
WHAT IS IT? The four-person UltaMid weighs 1.25 pounds, about half the weight of a conventional, similarly sized shelter. It's made of Cuben, a superlight material that incorporates Dyneema, the strongest manmade fiber on Earth. The fabric is 100 percent waterproof, doesn't lose its waterproofing, and won't wear out when it's repeatedly folded (unlike many other types of outdoor fabric). To simplify setup, the shelter is designed to be supported using the trekking poles most adventurers already carry, which means more weight savings. The shelter's fabric will not rip, even if punctured.

WHY? For backpackers, 1.25 pounds of reduced weight means they can carry 1.25 pounds of something else--food, water, but probably just more beer. The shelter doesn't absorb rain, which also reduces carry weight, more music to backpackers' ears.
"This shelter's singular focus on doing the most with the least makes it a winner. It is designed for high performance and does away with unnecessary comforts and embellishments, focusing on material quality rather than feature bloat."
--JONAS DAMON, EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, FROG DESIGN
2
Zipbuds Juiced 2.0
Audio + Visual
Zipbuds Juiced 2.0
COMPANY Zipbuds, San Diego
DESIGNER Robin DeFay, president; Erik Groset, director of operations; Justin Liu, director of technology
PRODUCT LAUNCHED November 20, 2013
WHAT IS IT? Zipbuds headphones' unique zipper design eliminates headphone tangles. The cables are made of military-grade aramid, so they're built to last. And the company uses proprietary technology to give the earbuds a comfortable and secure fit.

WHY? How do you tie the world's strongest knot? Put your headphones in your pocket and wait five minutes. Headphones snarl. Sometimes, it seems as if that's what they're designed to do. Zipbuds's design is simple and obvious in retrospect, and that's what the judges liked about it.

Sales of stereo headphones in the United States amounted to $2.3 billion in 2013. It's unclear what portion of that was driven by the need to replace headphones whose cables had become impossibly tangled.
"You know a great design when you say, 'Why didn't I think of that?' It's often hardest to solve a simple problem well. This design nails it."
--BILL BURNETT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DESIGN PROGRAM, STANFORD UNIVERSITY

3
Street Charge
Gadgets
Street Charge
COMPANY Goal Zero, Bluffdale, Utah
DESIGNER Pensa, Brooklyn, New York
PRODUCT LAUNCHED May 15, 2013
WHAT IS IT? A solar drop-in charging station that provides free mobile-phone charging. Weighing in at 821 pounds, Street Charge works day or night, sunny or cloudy. It has six connection ports, with a combination of female USB, micro-USB, iPhone 4, and iPhone 5 tips. Street Charge is currently installed in 18 cities.

WHY? After a disaster like Superstorm Sandy, the need for accessible phone-charging stations became abundantly clear. Combine that with the low carbon footprint, social design, and off-the-grid technology of Street Charge, and you've got an amazing device that can enable both mobile communication and face-to-face human interaction.
"I'm a zippy, on-the-go kind of guy and would love the ability to top off my device as I roam. Plus, who knows whom you'll meet as you charge? This could be the next dating revolution."
--JONATHAN ADLER, FOUNDER, JONATHAN ADLER
"The sculptural structure draws people to engage while being unobtrusive in the natural surroundings. One of the features I like best about Street Charge is the social interaction it could activate."
--NEIL GRIMMER, CO-FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, PLUM PBC

4
KOR Nava Water Bottle
Accessories
KOR Nava Water Bottle
COMPANY KOR Water, Aliso Viejo, California
DESIGNER Eric Fairbanks, KOR industrialdesigner, and the KOR Water team
PRODUCT LAUNCHED October 5, 2013
WHAT IS IT? A reusable water bottle that employs a coconut-shell filter with catalytic-activated carbon that pulls chlorine and contaminants from tap water to make it taste better. You push a button to open the bottle and reveal a spring-loaded drinking spout. When closed, a kink in the spout seals the system against leakage. The Nava system features a subscription service that delivers new filters to users every three months.

WHY? Plastic bottles are contributing to a worldwide waste problem. KOR designed a water bottle that filters water to improve taste and reduces plastic-bottle consumption.
"KOR elevates the humble water bottle to a piece of high-performance equipment. Its built-in water filter, handle, and silicone spout are highly functional elements. Satisfying build quality and aesthetic complete the picture."
--JONAS DAMON, EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, FROG DESIGN

5
Solfire Fireplace
Home
Solfire Fireplace
COMPANY Modfire, Phoenix
DESIGNER Brandon Williams, co-founder
PRODUCT LAUNCHED February 15, 2014
WHAT IS IT? Crafted out of one-eighth-inch plate steel, the Solfire Fireplace is designed to use either propane or natural gas and comes in a choice of seven finishes.

WHY? Everyone likes an outdoor fireplace, but Solfire's design takes the typical outdoor fireplace to a new level. Solfire's steel ring is perforated to let light and shadow dance in the environment, encouraging people to gather round, share a story, and stay warm.
"The design is modern yet not stern and invites visual participation with the fire. A very nice execution."
--BILL BURNETT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, DESIGN PROGRAM, STANFORD UNIVERSITY
6
Sphere Workstation
Office
Sphere Workstation
COMPANY Focal Upright Furniture, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
DESIGNER Martin Keen, co-founder and CEO
PRODUCT LAUNCHED February 1, 2014
WHAT IS IT? This "perching" desk, made from 49 percent American-sourced components, is designed by Martin Keen, founder of Keen Footwear, and assembled in Rhode Island. The workstation focuses on a new type of ergonomic principle that encourages a body position Keen says is better than either standing or sitting.

WHY? Recent studies have shown that sitting at a desk for extended periods of time has serious effects on one's health, but standing all day is really tiring. Enter the Sphere Workstation, which solves the problem by allowing you to perch instead. The design relies on an adjustable-height desk and a specially designed stool that doesn't allow you to fully sit.
This was one of the most dynamic and comfortable seating solutions I've ever used. I felt relaxed, elevated, but also engaged. The execution and engineering of the ergonomics was aces."
--PEPIN GELARDI, PARTNER, PRODUCT STRATEGY AND INDUSTRIAL DESIGN, TOMORROW LAB

7
XL3 Hybrid Drive
Transportation
XL3 Hybrid Drive
COMPANY XL Hybrids, Boston
DESIGNER In-house design team
PRODUCT LAUNCHED September 3, 2013
WHAT IS IT? This hybrid drive system reduces fuel consumption through a process called regenerative braking, by which the electric motor helps to slow the vehicle when the driver brakes, charging the battery. When the driver accelerates, the battery releases the energy to the electric motor, helping propel the vehicle. The key attraction is that the system attaches to existing GM or Ford vehicle power trains (it can be customized for other brands) so companies can retrofit their gasoline-run fleets. The technology doesn't require a plug, so fleet owners don't need special infrastructure.

WHY? In the past, greening a commercial fleet generally meant purchasing new vehicles. The XL3 Hybrid Drive changes that. The system helps companies meet sustainability goals and lower operating costs. The XL3 drive system delivers an impressive 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption, 19 percent to 24 percent increase in vehicle power, and 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions. Big customers such as Coca-Cola and FedEx have added the technology to some of their fleet vehicles.
"XL Hybrids provides a clever and easy-to-install solution for reducing fuel use and carbon-dioxide emissions for commercial fleets. It takes a critical step toward reimagining what's under the hood to ultimately protect the planet we drive on."
--LIZ GERBER, BREED JUNIOR CHAIR OF DESIGN, SEGAL DESIGN INSTITUTE, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
"The XL3 Hybrid Drive system gives companies a relatively nondisruptive solution to changing their environmental impact. The power-train components are as brilliant as the choice of target market."
--JESSICA BANKS, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT, ROCKPAPERROBOT



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