TEKTON Question Convention / Joey Ruiter | Jan 2019

"I want to make things people have never seen before." Joey Ruiter, Designer  

We set out to find stories of craftsmen who inspire us—people who believe that well-made hand tools support a life of authenticity and meaning. Today we're featuring designer Joey Ruiter from our hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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"Speculative Everything" Japanese Edition BNN | Feb 2016

Moto Undone was included in the Japanese edition of "Speculative Everything"


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discovery channel canada / dailyplanet | Sep 2014

Watch the Reboot Buggy with some behind the scenes shots-


Episode 133 - September 15th 2014


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supercompressor.com, off-road dodge a/t | Sep 2014


Posted on 9/3/14

By Aaron Miller

The Off-Road Dodge Challenger A/T. Because America.

For Dodge, the Challenger has become quite a versatile vehicle, ranging from an entry-level large coupe to a freakish, 707 hp destroyer of tires. Now, designer Joey Ruiter has developed the Challenger A/T. It's an all-terrain Challenger so badass even the Dukes of Hazzard would have no answer for it. The best part? Ruiter claims if you've got the dough, he'll make it for you.

The design has essentially followed traditional off-road vehicle protocols, adding longer suspension arms for increased wheel travel over rocks and sand dunes. There's also some body armor so you don't completely ruin the thing if you happen to get stuck on a boulder, which tends to happen.

To help you avoid said boulders, if you happen to find yourself in harsh terrain at night, there's a proper light bar mounted into the lower grille.

He's also paid attention to the finer details: moving the exhaust so it doesn't get crushed during a hard landing, adding an extra spare to the trunk, and ensuring there's plenty of space to store all your tools. Why? Because AAA isn't exactly going to come pull you from a sand dune at 3 a.m. in the middle of nowhere.

Aaron Miller is the Rides editor for Supercompressor. If he ever gets his hands on one of these he's going straight to White Sands, New Mexico. Jump dunes with him on Twitter.

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95Octanechallenger  Am

95octane.com Dodge challenger A/T untamed | Sep 2014

Dodge Challenger A/T Untamed Concept
August 30th, 2014 by Paul Strauss - See more at:


If there’s one thing I never really thought of, it was taking a Dodge Challenger off road. But that’s exactly what product designer and builder Joey Ruiter has dreamed up with his off-road modded Challenger concept. Most recently, Ruiter gave us his stripped down Reboot Buggy, so he knows a thing or two about tearing up the dirt.

The Dodge Challenger A/T Untamed Concept is envisioned as an amped-up muscle car that’s been equipped with an off-road capable suspension, flared fenders, and appropriately massive off-road tires and wheels to go with. You won’t have to worry about ground clearance with the Challenger, as it’s been jacked up several inches over the standard car.

In order to keep the vehicle’s weight balanced, Ruiter envisions a V6 power plant, rather than a HEMI or a Hellcat, though you’d probably want an all-wheel drive system. I can only imagine that a rear-wheel drive vehicle would still have trouble in wet or loose terrain. Regardless of the physics, Ruiter hopes to develop an all-terrain kit for modding Challengers and other muscle cars down the road.
- See more at: http://95octane.com/2014/08/30/dodge-challenger-at-untamed-concept/#sthash.PqIo5Iiq.dpuf

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AUTOBLOG, Challenger A/T concept | Sep 2014

Challenger A/T Unlimited Concept could be your next Hellcat-powered ORV

by Seyth Miersma. posted Aug 29th 2014

This past June I spent an excellent day hanging out with Joey Ruiter, driving and discussing his Reboot Buggy project. Before heading home, I let him know that he was more than welcome to keep me abreast of whichever new automotive project he'd get into. You can never have too many car designers and one-off fabricators in your Rolodex, right?

Ruiter recently made good with the follow-up, emailing me with details on this Dodge Challenger A/T Untamed Concept that pushes a lot of hot buttons for the muscle car and off-roading enthusiasts.

This all-terrain Mopar is a lot more than a Challenger body dropped on a truck chassis, too. A materialized version of the A/T would included a completely new, long-travel suspension, skid plates, body armor and rock sliders, and obviously flared fenders to help accommodate a hellacious set of off-road-ready tires. The dramatically revised underpinnings would be topped with a slick graphics package and a killer lower light bar, all making the A/T look quite cohesive in its own, radical way. And the result would be a car no longer limited to mere road-driving.

I asked Ruiter if his concept was rocking a theoretical Hellcat V8 under the hood, and while he agreed that the supercharged engine would make the A/T "the most insane ride ever," he thinks a tuned V6 would make more sense from a weight standpoint. Ruiter also told me that he "wanted the passion given to the Hellcat to be pushed into more areas."

That's a sentiment a lot of you should be on board with, considering how many "Hellcat Grand Cherokee NOW!!!!" comments I read, every time we run a new HC piece.

Which is important to know, because, while the package isn't ready yet, Ruiter really would like to offer something like the Challenger A/T for real customers. He's working to develop a kit that could A/T-ize Challengers, Mustangs and Camaros. We're all for it.

Do you think the Challenger A/T Untamed should transition from concept to reality? Have your say below, in Comments.


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GQ FRANCE NOV. 2013 | Dec 2013



On Monday, December 9, 2013 by Alexandre Lazerges

A frame, a bigger engine and two seats: Reboot Buggy oversimplifies the principle offroad vehicle. You're on the Dune du Pyla?

Reboot Buggy ou l’extrême simplification du véhicule tout-terrain

"I'm tired of cars with all their gadgets, their varied audiences and unnecessary options." Joey Ruiter, the American designer of this impressive Reboot Buggy, is determined to swim against the current. "What interests me is the pure and simple as driving in his car when control was not so sanitized now, when he had to listen mechanics, check the oil pressure and we truly lived the road behind the wheel. " After two years of work, the result is surprisingly straight silhouette and doors rolled sheet. "This car is the result of my research on simplicity, just like Lego constructions or Meccano."

Reboot Buggy ou l’extrême simplification du véhicule tout-terrain

Yet it is not a toy but rather a true powered by a V8 Corvette chosen for its reliability, easily serviceable and conveniently placed just behind the two seats of the vehicle unique buggy. With its huge knobby tires Yokohama 1 m in diameter, no obstacle can resist him. The absence of roof recalls the first cars of the early twentieth century, which were only open to motor carts. Delicate attention, a windshield protects the occupants to compensate for the lack of fender crucial detail when we know that this modern reinterpretation of the buggy - exposed to the art of Grand Rapids (Michigan) Museum until February 6 2014 - is for sale against a check for € 150,000.

Reboot Buggy
GM 6.2L V8 engine 470 hp
3-speed automatic
4 m long
Price approx. € 150,000


Le Lundi, 9 Décembre 2013 par Alexandre Lazerges

Un châssis, un gros moteur et deux sièges: le Reboot Buggy simplifie à l’extrême le principe du véhicule tout-terrain. On se retrouve sur la dune du Pilat ?

Reboot Buggy ou l’extrême simplification du véhicule tout-terrain

"Je me suis lassé des voitures neuves avec tous leurs gadgets, leurs assistances variées et leurs options superflues." Joey Ruiter, le designer américain de cet impressionnant Reboot Buggy, est bien décidé à nager à contre-courant: "Ce qui m’intéresse, c’est la conduite pure et dure. Comme à l’époque où maîtriser sa voiture n’était pas aussi aseptisé que maintenant, quand il fallait écouter la mécanique, vérifier la pression d’huile et qu’on vivait véritablement la route derrière le volant." Après deux années de labeur, le résultat surprend par sa silhouette rectiligne et ses portes en tôle laminée. "Cette voiture résulte de mes recherches sur la simplicité, exactement comme les constructions en Lego ou en Meccano."

Reboot Buggy ou l’extrême simplification du véhicule tout-terrain

Pourtant, il ne s’agit pas d’un jouet mais bel et bien d’un vrai buggy motorisé par un V8 de Corvette choisi pour sa fiabilité, facilement réparable et idéalement placé juste derrière les deux uniques sièges du véhicule. Avec ses énormes pneus à crampons Yokohama de 1 m de diamètre, aucun obstacle ne lui résiste. L’absence de toit rappelle les premières voitures du début du XXe siècle, qui n’étaient que des carrioles ouvertes à moteur. Délicate attention, un pare-brise protège les occupants pour compenser l’absence de garde-boue, détail crucial lorsqu’on sait que cette réinterprétation moderne du buggy – exposée au musée d’art de Grand Rapids (Michigan) jusqu’au 6 février 2014 – est à vendre contre un chèque de 150.000 €.

Reboot Buggy
Moteur V8 GM 6,2 l 470 ch
2 roues motrices
3 vitesses automatiques
4 m de long
Tarif env. 150.000 €

Dean Van Dis

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REBOOT BUGGY, press release | Aug 2013


Reboot Buggy: Motoring back to basics.

Grand Rapids, Michigan – August 29, 2013 – Deep down, what does a car want to be? In an age of increasingly pampered human-centered design, it’s easy to lose track of pure performance—performance dictated by the vehicle instead of the driver. For JRuiter designer, Joey Ruiter, this question was the beginning of a crazed investigation into what is essential, and what is not.

“It sounds strange, but I wanted the vehicle to determine its design,” explains Ruiter, “Even if it means ignoring the driver’s needs.” To free himself from current automotive conventions, Ruiter went back the beginning. In this case, all the way back to the horse. The result is Reboot Buggy. With its roofless passenger compartment and hulking all-terrain wheels, it’s what happens when a race-bred horse evolves into a modern-day carriage.

Motoring may be the best way to explain the Reboot Buggy driving experience. Equipped with a 470-horsepower small block V8 and a fully independent suspension, Ruiter’s modern carriage is tuned to veer off road at a moment’s notice. “Before there were roads and infrastructure, buggies had to be equipped for all terrains. Capability was essential.” 

Essential is hard to come by in a time when vehicles routinely advertise self-parking and gadgetry that turn driving into a passive experience. “It seems almost novel to want to focus on one thing at a time. In this case, driving—not your smart phone or your air conditioned seat.” 

Though rooted in the past, Reboot Buggy is intentionally timeless. According to Ruiter, “There’s no defining technology to date the car to a particular point in time.” This doesn’t prevent a driver from plugging a phone into the dash and using it to display the vehicle’s instruments and gauges. “The car isn’t burdened with the demands of technology.” Ruiter explains, “If a driver wants to bring their technology along for the ride, it’s up to them.”

Remaining true to its essentials-only ethos, development of the vehicle required little more than basic tools, welding expertise, and a powertrain mated to a 3-speed automatic transmission. The result is almost alien, despite parts that are available in most salvage yards.

Once assembled, Reboot Buggy can tour the countryside by any means necessary. And, if anything goes wrong along the way, the average mechanic can put it back together again. “Folks in just about any town should be able to fix it.”

Reboot Buggy’s aesthetics are equally unfussy. Measuring 14 feet in length and no taller than a Prius, its deconstructed aesthetic is as much about what’s on the vehicle as what’s not. Pointing out the nose of the Buggy, for example, Ruiter questions the need for anything more. “A grille seemed extraneous. Why have one?”

Up next for Ruiter is an exploration of a different kind. “I’ve been rethinking the economy car.” Rather than practicality, Ruiter is in search of attitude, performance, and even a little street cred. “Rolling around in it will make you feel different. You’ll want to take it out.” In other words, it won’t be the eco-box we’re used to. “The economy car has lost touch with inspiration, wonder, and possibility. I want it back.”


Car Type: Carriage Coupe
Layout: Mid-Engine, Rear-Wheel-Drive, 4 wheel independent suspension
Transmission: 3-speed Automatic
Engine: Small Block V8
Horsepower: 470
Wheelbase: 126 inches

Contact: Joey Ruiter

Grand Rapids, MI

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Matthew Carpenter2 Ktm125

Matthew Carpenter's KTM 125sx | Mar 2013

Matthew Carpenter / graphic pack by J.RUITER

moto: KTM 125 sx
rider: Matthew Carpenter

Location: Zeeland, MI
Date of Birth: 1998-12-20
Racing Class: 85 Sr; Supermini
My Ride: 2012 RM85; 2009 Supermini
Home Track: Red Bud redbudmx.com
Crossover Sports: Skiing / Snowboard
Sponsors: J.RUITER, FMF; ProTaper; PitPosse; Lake Cycle

Matthew learned how to ride on 2 wheels by the age of 2 and began riding motorcycles at the age of 4. He began riding in his Grandparents back yard on an XR50 until age 5 when he graduated to a KTM ProJr and began racing MX in the winter of 2004. Matthew is now racing the 85 Sr and Supermini classes and is consistently running at the front of the pack locally. He has developed into a great student athlete throughout his MX career and has been a great representative for his current sponsors both on and off the track.

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kendall | winter issue | 2012, PORTFOLIO | Jan 2013

Portfolio, Kendall college of art and design winter issue


On the cover, Kendall Alumnus Joey Ruiter (industrial design '10) illustrates "innovation" for the cover of this issue. Though an industrial design graduate, Joey has earned international recognition for his innovative and thought-provoking work across multiple industries. Read more about Joey on page 13, and visit his website at jruiter.com


You’re just as likely to find Joey Ruiter re-imagining a birdhouse as a boat, a workspace or a warehouse. The 2000 Industrial Design graduate – and 2010 Kendall Alumni Recent Graduate Achievement Award winner, and illustrator of the cover of this issue of Portfolio – is a major influence in the global design community, with a career that spans disciplines, media and industries. We tossed him a few questions about what makes him tick.

How do you define what you do?

I don’t. My degree from Kendall is in Industrial Design, but I do my best to avoid all labels. I’m just an artist, trying to make an impact in whatever floats my boat at any given time. And sometimes, that’s an actual boat.

When did you first develop an interest in machines and/or art?

Growing up, I was always changing, altering, re-doing, toys, bikes, things around me. I don't have a matchbox car that isn't repainted or changed somehow. (before I had a drivers license,...) When I was 14, I was buying and restoring Porsche’s. I wasn’t modifying it or improving it in any way, but my curiosity for all things mechanical, especially vehicles, provided a great foundation of knowledge.

It sounds like your family was a big influence on you.

Absolutely. I have two older brothers, an older sister, a gear head dad, and my mom was a teacher. We all are highly creative, confident, self-motivated individuals. I suppose we all influenced each other, and it’s interesting that we all have different jobs today. Engineer, nurse, sales, bio-chemist, etc. I have been lucky to be surrounded by a long list of great people throughout my life.

Why are so many of your projects related to vehicles?

I love to work in transportation because it’s so personal to people. It makes a connection through redefining something they thought they knew everything about.

Do you look for people to have a certain reaction to the objects you design?

It is important to me that people find a relationship with the objects that I create, inspiring new stories, memories and interactions with each other.

Talk about your experience at Kendall and how that shaped you.

During a break from Muskegon Community College, I went to a senior show at Kendall that involved a scooter and other industrial design projects, and I was hooked. Coming from public schools, I had been exposed to a traditional education, and chasing grades just didn’t appeal to me. I was learning physics, math, geometry, science and art by working in the garage, I just didn't know it. [Thanks to instructors like Tom Edwards, Karl Mead, Alan Rheault, Bill Heighstler, and David Greenwood] this was the first time that grades weren’t the ultimate goal in school—it was all about creating something unique. Even failures were successes, because you learned something from it. And exploring classes outside my major was very positive. I learned it was fine to experiment even further without fear of failure.

How important is it to be willing to accept failure as part of the process?

I see the role of the designer as being to lead people to what’s next… to push, to imagine, to create something great. Ultimately, you can’t achieve that kind of breakthrough without a failure or two along the way.

So, what are you currently working on?

I’m applying everything i know to stripping a car down to its basic function: a mode of transportation. What we think we want is very different from what we need or have. This will have a \"green\" element to it, but not in the typical way. Al the parts are locally sourced or reclaimed, with collaboration from a lot of creative people right here in West Michigan. I won’t share many details yet, but it's fast, it's efficient, and it’s my favorite thing so far. Althougth to be fair, every new thing I work on is my favorite.

Never one to sacrifice fun for function, you’ll continue to find Joey exploring and experimenting, pushing himself as hard as he pushes the notions of what a designer represents to the world. Watch the future unfold at jruiter.com.

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Grand Rapids mag. Dec 2012 | Nov 2012

art & design


Designer Joey Ruiter has channeled his hobby of breaking things down and his penchant for breaking rules into a carrer.

Pushing the limits

by Alexandra Fluegel / Photography by Johnny Quirin

"YOU DON'T BREAK RULES if they don't exist," is a motto Joey Ruiter lives by.
The industrial designer has built his success upon re-imagining concepts and objects in new ways. As founder and principle of JRUITER + STUDIO, he thrives on stripping things down, ignoring the accepted norm and starting over again.

Ruiter has worked as an independent designer for the past seven years, providing everything from concepts to prototyping an manufacturing. His projects range from office design to an interesting take on bicycles that has earned him national recognition.

One of the first things Ruiter stripped was a riding lawnmower when he was 14. "I fixed it up according to what I thought it should do," he said.

This meant making the machine faster and giving it new wheels and a fresh paint job.

Then Ruiter thought he should ride it to school. A sign promptly went up in the school parking lot informing students of the accepted means of transportation - and souped -up riding lawnmowers did not make the list.

Where some may have viewed the incident as boyhood exuberance gone awry, Ruiter saw it as a good thing.

"When you get a sign or a rule put up after you do something, you know you've done something right," he said.

Ruiter continued taking things apart and putting them back together. As a student at Kendall College of Art and Design, he realized that pairing his hobby with his penchant for breaking rules could be channeled into a career.

Two years before graduating, Ruiter sold his first office chair to furniture giant Steelcase, which became his first post-graduation employers. While with the company, he was involved in research, concepts and product launch, and continued to cultivate the streamlined, simplified approach to the type of design for which he is now known.

"I try to reset things, give them a black slate," he said.

When approaching a concept or problem, Ruiter said he asks himself: "If you only had what you have now, what would you do to move forward?"

The answers result in his signature designs, which he describes as "meeting everyday needs in surprising ways, pushing the limits of manufacturing and confronting established expectations."

Ruiter's Inner City Bike is a visually striking yet functionally basic two-wheeler suited for short trips in urban environments.

"It's not a better bike," Ruiter pointed our. "Just an interesting take on design."

Interesting indeed - the bike doesn't have a chain.

Instead, it operates on a free-wheeling, unicycle-inspired hub that relies on fewer movable parts, making the bike cheaper and elimination the need for that often seen pant-let roll-up. The design lauded Ruiter praise from Popular Science, The New York Times, and Men's Journal, which dubbed it on of its "59 greatest things."

Another of Ruiter's designs earned gold at this year's NeoCon for him and collaborator Chuck Saylor, founder of izzy+, a Spring Lake-based furniture company. the Nemo Bar and Trellis is a space concept suited for environments from offices to airports, employing elements that encourage sharing and communication.

Ruiter said the team "created the spaces as straightforward and simple as possible" using feedback received in previous NeoCon shows when the idea was presented as a concept product.

The human-centric design is representative of Ruiter's people-oriented aesthetic.

"It's important to me that people find a relationship with the objects I create. Inspiring creates new stories, memories and interactions with each other. Ultimately, that's really what it's all about." GR

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Design Matters Q&A, (MIBIZ) | Oct 2012

Sunday, 28 October 2012
Design Matters Q&A: Joey Ruiter, Owner, JRuiter + Studio
Written by Carl Dunker

Design Matters Q&A: Joey Ruiter, Owner, JRuiter + Studio PHOTO: Katy Batdorff
Exposed to design at an early age, Joey Ruiter is an independent industrial designer whose clients include Nucraft Furniture Company and izzy+. Ruiter cut his teeth working on engines in his garage before attending Ferris State’s Kendall College of Art and Design, where he discovered industrial design and product development. Ruiter’s designs have won awards at trade shows such as NeoCon and have been featured in the New York Times.

How do you see design as being different from art?

They are identically the same, and if they disagree with that, it’s just semantics.

What constraints do you have as an industrial designer as opposed to other designers?

The products I generally do are used by humans, and usually are scaled to that size. They need to hold up things. They need to work and sell. They need to ship. They need to be built. There’s just a lot of variables involved. For a graphic design or a web page, for example, it’s a lot more straightforward as far as what it can physically do or not. Nobody’s going to be sitting on a website, or you don’t ship it across the U.S. in a trailer and hope it doesn’t get damaged. They both have huge constraints, it’s just with product design and industrial design, they all just collide at once. There’s graphic design on the products. There’s mechanical design in the products, and architectural design in the piece as well.

What should the next generation of designers be thinking about?

It’s going to be more of a lifestyle that you have, and you get compensated for it, hopefully. Do what you want to do and not what you think others want you to do. Have high ambitions and high goals.
How does education play into that?

Education is the only time you’re going to freely express your product design or art truly, and I think students lose sight of that and start listening to their teachers. I don’t know if you could ever fail at an art school, but I think people think you can — that’s the odd part. If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing the envelope – you’re not trying. If you’re failing because you didn’t do enough, that’s one thing, but if you think you might fail because you tried something too weird or too far out there, that’s good.
Should designers bring that fearlessness to the job as well?

I’ve made a pretty nice studio out of failing pretty hard, and it works well. When you fail a lot, and it’s an open failure, clients respect that, and you sort of share in what happened. Then you know what doesn’t work, and you know what really can work. I don’t really do anything mediocre. It’s either really awesome or really terrible. It’s like Evil Knievel: He either makes it or he doesn’t. You can’t skip over the tops of the buses.
Going forward, how do you see the future of industrial design?

There’s just so much that we’ve got access to. You put something online and it goes viral immediately. Privacy is pretty much gone; it’s an open-source environment, so the speed of things is going really fast. I think things are culturally changing really quickly, and I don’t think designers have their eyes opened yet.


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Top 100 Bikes

inner city bike in "top 100 bikes," by Zahid Sardar | Aug 2012

Publication Date: September 12, 2012

A collection of the best and most popular bikes to be found anywhere right now, this book gives the overview of what is out there for every kind of cyclist. Whether you are a BMXtreme or mountain bike enthusiast, a keen tourer or racer, a city commuter or courier, or simply fascinated with the constantly advancing mechanics and engineering of folding and other innovative bike designs, this book has something for you. 100 Best Bikes is the essential resource for anyone wanting to know what is the best they can find now in design and engineering for every kind of bike.

check out www.innercitybikes.com for information and availability

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Cranbrook Boat

"power boat" at Cranbrook Academy of Art | Nov 2011

“No Object Is an Island: New Dialogues with the Cranbrook Collection”
On View at Cranbrook Art Museum through March 25, 2012
For more information, visit www.cranbrook.edu.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum.
Photography: James Haefner for The SmithGroup, Detroit.

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Men's Journal | Sep 2011

Volume 20, Number 8
September 2011

The Style and Design Issue
59 Perfect Things

The current fixed-gear bike trend has spawned a mass of less-is-more models, but Inner City Bikes’ 36er is the most strikingly minimalist we’ve seen. “Our goal was to hit the reset button on bike design,” says designer Joey Ruiter. The end product is a sci-fi cycle with the essentials only: an aluminum frame, freewheel rear hub, 36-inch tires, disc breaks, custom fit cranks, and a seat. Not even a chain or drive train. “It’s a city cruiser” says Ruiter. “More fashion than function.”

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GQ France | Jun 2011

Number 40
June 2011

Le Plus Simple Appareil

Un cadre, une delle, un guidon, un frein (à disques) sur la roue arrière: voici le prototype de vélo du futur, l’Inner City Bike. “Nous avons réfléchi à la façon de simplifier le concept de bicyclette au maximum et une idée s’est imposée d’elle-même: supprimer la chaîne”, explique Joey Ruiter, designer américain basé dans le Michigan. Le pédalier, soudé directement au moyeu de la roue arrière, offre une variante bienvenue à la tendance des fixies, ces vélos à pignon fixe que l’on a vu fleurir ces dernières années. Pour faciliter le démarrage, le ratio de pédalage est de 1:1 car “nous avons voulu proposer une bécane qui soit davantage liée au style qu‘à la performance pure, raconte Ruiter. Je ne pense pas que l’on puisse parcourir des kilomètres avec ce vélo, mais nous l’avons conçu comme l’objet idéal du jeune urbain qui déambule en ville.” - Jean-Vincent Russo

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Cyklar! | May 2011

Please visit Vandalorum in Sweden April through August- Prototype #6 of the inner city bike 36er is on display.

Vandalorum is a new art & design Center in the south of Sweden due to be opened to the public in April next year.
Buildings are designed by Italian architects Renzo Piano Building Workshop.
The opening exhibition will be with BICYCLES (Cyklar!)


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New York Times, design - travel | Nov 2010

The Light Fantastic Design, Travel
Design, Travel

Inner City
For his Inner City bicycle, Joey Ruiter of JRuiter + Studio brought the bike back to basics. First, he unchained it. The bike, specifically tailored for short-distance trips on city streets, operates with a free-wheeling, unicycle-inspired hub that relies on fewer movable parts (which also makes it cheaper).

November 12, 2010, 9:23 am


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Fast company blog, by Kaomi Goetz | Aug 2010

Can A Mere Product Design Win a $250,000 Art Prize?

Why shouldn't great designs rank with great art? Designers are testing the waters.

Industrial designer Joey Ruiter is trying to blur -- no, obliterate -- the line separating art and design. “I don’t think there’s too much difference,” says the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based designer on why he entered one of the world's most lucrative open art competitions, Art Prize, with a sleek, minimalist city bike.

Wayne Adams, a longtime friend of Ruiter's and a Brooklyn-based painter, disagrees. “It’s not design prize, it’s Art Prize,” he says. Adams has also entered Art Prize with an oil painting that looks like a real-life photograph of bunched up aluminum foil, and he doesn’t think designed objects should be considered art and entered into an art competition along with traditional art mediums.

Their debate will be put to the test next month in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the second year of Art Prize, an open art competition with a $449,000 kitty, including a jaw-dropping $250,000 top prize. Last year about 1,200 artists from around the world showed a signature piece of sculpture, performance, or painting. Art Prize drew 200,000 visitors to the city in its inaugural run last year, doubling as both art event and economic stimulant. The winner of the top prize is determined by popular vote, via text or online voting, a la American Idol. This year, organizers made a conscious effort to encourage more designers to enter -- a move that is sure to not only complicate the ongoing debate over what constitutes as ‘good’ art, but art itself.

Adams concedes it’s not a simple argument--and that not all designed objects hit the mark. “If someone brings in their old 10-speed, it’s harder to make the argument and design equals art,” he says. But does it? The 10-speed bike has arguably transformed more lives than any piece of art.

Even Ruiter isn’t sure a street bike can win Art Prize, if last year’s winner gleans any clues about.

But Ruiter, who has done work for Herman Miller and izzyplus, sees himself as an artist, regularly exploring his own creative limits. His bike was a design exercise in stripping away the parts of a convention bike: Think of it as a unicycle with a front wheel, no chain, and a single front disc brake. “There’s no grease, no moving parts, we’ve really deconstructed something that was already something simple,” Ruiter says. But it's impractical for other than as a well-dressed spin down the block: “It might not even be functional at all and that’s hard to swallow for a lot of designers,\" says Ruiter.

Which raises a question: Should Ruiter's entry be judged as a piece of design--and thus on how well it functions? Design usually only becomes great when it serves its purpose well--But does being an entrant in an art contest change that criteria?

And does that mean souped-up washing machines or electric cars could win the next Art Prize? It’s totally possible, says Bill Holsinger-Robinson, the executive director of Art Prize. He and other organizers realized at the end of last year’s event they needed to reach out to more designers -- from fashion to graphic-design -- to really widen the contest's reach and impact.

“To a large extent we see ourselves as social designers,” Holsinger-Robinson says, who along with most, if not all, of the Art Prize team also work for Spout, an online networking site for movie fans started by an Amway heir, whose family also underwrote last year’s startup costs. “Some audiences won’t view design as art. But for the broader group, I don’t think they will have issues with trying to make those lines of distinction.”

South Korea-based artist Chulyeon Park explores duality and bipolarity in this bench called “Schizophrenic’s Debris.” It’s made of MDF, laser cut and coated with graphite, then finished with lacquer. [As we were going to press, Park decided to withdraw from the competition, citing shipping costs.—Ed.]

Progressive AE, an architectural and engineering firm in Grand Rapids, entered with “Rabbit Hole,” an interactive installation based on the theme of discovery and curiosity. The visitor will find clear tubes hanging like chimes that emit a kaleidoscope of effect on color, the walls are designed to manipulate sound, texture and balance for the overall experience.

“There will be a variety of texture and sounds. It’s something that’s asking to be touched,” says Brian Koehn, one of the project’s collaborators.

Last year, they entered d.ploi, a mobile, modular structure of wood and steel that could work as your own mini-room inside a room or outside.

Go to Art Prize and see (and judge) for yourselves, September 22 to October 10.

Kaomi Goetz

Kaomi Goetz is a writer for Co Design. She also uses audio to tell stories about technology and social and economic trends for National Public Radio and others.

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Rapid Growth | Jun 2010

Joey Ruiter has designs on downtown Grand Rapids
Matt Vande Bunte Thursday, June 03, 2010

Design an award-winning office chair: Check. Design an aquatic pod-racer: Check. Design a bicycle for urban commuters: Check.

Now, Joey Ruiter has designs on a new Grand Rapids workshop. Check this out: The 33-year-old industrial designer has bought a tiny parcel west of Founders Brewing Co. and plans to construct "a little office-garage" estimated to cost $180,000 to support his work.

"The office today for me is barely a setting. It's a state of mind," says Ruiter, looking over design concepts for the studio he envisions on Bartlett Street SW. "Every week I do something different, so it's gotta be able to change and shift and move."

"This is really a shell to accommodate a lot of different things. This is an experiment in how to work in the future."

Ruiter does a lot of forward thinking. The Grand Haven native sold an office chair design to Steelcase while still in school at Kendall College of Art & Design, which honored him last month with a distinguished alumni award. He also has earned honors at NeoCon, the National Exposition of Contract Furnishings that will soon be taking place in Chicago. And a "totally experimental" boat he designed was featured in Popular Science magazine.

On his own After working for Steelcase's Turnstone division after school, Ruiter five years ago opened his own studio. In addition to furniture companies including Herman Miller, Nucraft and izzy, Ruiter's clientele crosses industries ranging from dental tools to hot tubs. He spends about half of his time developing new stuff, or creating new designs of existing products.

One of his latest creations, the Inner City Bike, seeks to engage a growing cadre of urban commuters by putting some new tread on the traditional bicycle. It sports a pair of 36-inch wheels with a seat atop the one in the rear. There is no chain.

"I basically took away everything that you didn't absolutely need," Ruiter says. "You don't wear one of those cone (racing) helmets on this. It's probably a reverse in evolution."

Then again, less can be more in terms of design to Ruiter. His current workspace at 3 Oakes St. SW is smallish, adorned by a Herman Miller marshmallow sofa and a conference table that doubles as his desk. There's a photo of the Inner City Bike on the wall and a few of his designs on the floor, including an OFS-brand Swank lounge chair made to use a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood so there's no scrap.

"The key to my business is low overhead," he says. "I own a computer. I own a printer. I own a couple tools. And that's my business assets.

"I'm not really building a business to sell. The sale is me doing the work."

Ruiter moved his assets six months ago to Oakes, the most recent of several workspaces that together have been phases of an ongoing experiment. He previously worked at his Grand Rapids home, a task complicated by the presence of two children age two and younger. There also was a rented space that needed a bigger elevator to fit materials. There was an owned building with a ceiling too low. Ruiter even squatted for awhile in vacant buildings on Ionia Avenue SW.

Hey, he likes the downtown bustle.

"I feel like I'm part of a bigger world," he says, looking out on Oakes. "I feel like I have co-workers walking by."

Altogether now People will be the focus of his design for the new workshop, Ruiter says. He's striving to make it "like the second home I can work at." For entertaining clients, there'll be a kitchen in the back of a second floor that has an outdoor deck on the roof. A third-floor loft would be for storage, with a ground-floor showroom housing a model shop.

The design combines elements from previous workspaces into a single, new building on a 2,000-square-foot lot.

"I've moved probably five times in the last six years, and I just haven't been able to find the right space. It has been a learning process," Ruiter says. "This building is really the consolidation of a lot of those components at a manageable scale."

"I want the people to stand out rather than the architecture. Products should be in the background to support interaction." 

Grand Rapids city planning officials have embraced Ruiter's concept for the workshop. "It is always exciting for us to meet with individuals who wish to build up the urban core and be living pioneers in nearly unchartered territories, like on his site," said Suzanne Schulz, planning director. "The little postage-stamp size of a lot that he wishes to build on captures the imagination about what could be there. "To have an individual like Joey want to invest in the city and choose that spot speaks to the enthusiasm that exists about downtown and the confidence people have in the city's future." Ruiter concedes he might never build his workshop, and whether or not he does may not matter. It's the process of designing that inspires him. It's another experiment to check off the list, another form given a fresh take.

"I've been doing this for years. This is, like, number 30," he says, looking over the latest workshop design. "It's a change disorder, an experiment disorder. Maybe there's an acronym for it."

"I'm really in no hurry, but it's kind of fun having the aspirations."

For a designer, it's an aspiration afforded by Grand Rapids. Shoot, he paid cash for the property. Plus, the business community is rich in world-class manufacturing and the geography suits Ruiter's penchant for outdoor action like fishing, boating and snowboarding.

Not to mention that Grand Rapids fits his design philosophy.

"We design our own lives to make it easier all the time," Ruiter says. "It's simple and easy to live here. I couldn't even think of doing this in New York."


Matt Vande Bunte writes about business, government, religion and other things. His work has appeared in newspapers including The Grand Rapids Press and Chicago Tribune and in assorted sectors of cyberspace.

Joey Ruiter
Newly purchased parcel of land
Future building design -Rendering Courtesy of Joey Ruiter
Joey Ruiter in his current studio (2)
One of Joey Ruiter boat designs -Photo Courtesy of Joey Ruiter
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved

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