SIGG Traveller Water Bottle. Switzerland, 1978
Food, clothing, shelter. In developed economies at least, we have become pretty good at catering for consumer needs. Nowadays most of us – either at play or at work – are more concerned with solving wants than confronting life’s essential challenges.
With so much entrepreneurial energy now focused on providing solutions to ever-narrower problems, it’s refreshing to be reminded that fortunes can still be made by focusing on something as elemental as water.
The SIGG Traveller water bottle does just that. It’s a consummate solution to a fundamental problem – access to water wherever in the world you may be.
Modern wonders like the Oculus Rift are the outcome of astonishing technological progress. By contrast, the Traveller responds to a far older, more primitive need. Yet its breakout success is no less of a by-product of 21st century lifestyles.
SIGG’s Traveller is a leading product in the premium water bottle market – and arguably its most influential, having done as much as any other bottle to shape consumers’ expectations of performance and value.
But far from being an overnight success, SIGG’s signature product was more than 60 years in the making.
Founded in 1908 by Ferdinand Sigg & Xavier Küng, SIGG Switzerland AG is lies in the heart of Thurgau, Switzerland, 15 minutes from the pure waters of Lake Constance. By the time the Traveller came into existence in the late 1970s, the company’s factory was producing and marketing a huge array of aluminium homewares and camping articles. But the instant response to the Traveller created a focal point that would go on to transform SIGG’s fortunes and its place on the global brand-scape. By 1999, SIGG resolved to close down their other production lines and focus solely on bottle production.
The Traveller is a brilliant example of elegant industrial design – underlined by its inclusion in MoMA’s Architecture and Design collection. Its pure, minimalist lines and slightly chubby aspect – reminiscent of the Swiss cross proudly flown in the company logo – give it form factor and performance. It is aesthetically, functionally and industrially efficient all at once.
Shaped under 650 tonnes of force, the main body of the Traveller is extruded from a small aluminium puck in a single movement. The final product’s one-piece, seamless form translates into a high strength, zero-leakage package. Combined with the extreme light weight and neutral taste properties of aluminium, the Traveller is formidably qualified to do its job. The distinctive looped screw top not only seals the bottle, but also the promise of an ultimate water container – with a carabiner-friendly design that makes the Traveller a perfect accessory to nomadic lifestyles.
Aside from being a beautifully crafted product, so simple to decipher, it was the changing priorities of consumers that, as much as anything, allowed the Traveller to out-perform its predecessors and go on to become a classic.
By the early-1990’s SIGG had a solid foothold in several national markets – thanks in large part to the Traveller’s standing as a reference product in a booming outdoor adventure sector. Just as climbing walls were becoming increasingly prominent suburban installations, a parallel surge in environmental awareness was sweeping the decade, informing modern lifestyle choices on a larger scale than ever before.
On looks and performance alone, SIGG’s signature bottle was well poised to become a modern household standard. Instantly recognisable and memorable, the Traveller has always been well merchandised. A tantalising range of colours, sizes and variants made it appealing to nineties consumers.
But it was the Traveller’s ability to answer to emerging consumer preferences that allowed its rise more emphatically than anyone could have predicted. Besides providing a stylish, practical alternative to the evils of single-use packaging, the Traveller – like most of its label-mates – is fully recyclable. Health-wise, SIGG users could avoid the risks of Bisphenol A exposure in plastic containers (though SIGG too would, at one stage, be forced to confront allegations of BPA traces in their own products).
For legions of newly eco-aware shoppers, the Traveller clipped on to their political views as sweetly as it did to their backpack. Outwardly it was a statement of progressiveness. Inwardly, it was just as likely to contain vodka Red Bull as pure glacial water.
Just as SIGG had the good fortune of coinciding with shifts in consumer lifestyles, they were making significant advances in automating production. As a consequence, SIGG were well positioned to scale their business and participate fully in the trend they had helped seed, rather than stand back and watch cheaper me-too products reap the benefits.
Traveller by Name. Traveller by Nature.
Like New Era’s iconic 59FIFTY fitted cap, the Traveller’s distinct profile and visual notoriety helped SIGG to follow unconventional routes to even higher rates of adoption. Larger brands like The North Face, adidas and Kipling have all used bespoke versions of SIGG’s bottles to add gravitas to their hardgoods accessories lines.
By supplying key accounts such as these, as well corporate gift catalogues, SIGG perhaps gives up some specialness. But case histories of other popular home products – from Fiskars scissors to Bodum coffee plungers – teach us that fashion life-cycles for household items are longer and more robust than those for leathergoods. Rather than dilute the brand, wide distribution has solidified SIGG’s standing as a must-have accessory. If it is no longer acceptable for corporations to hand out junk water bottles at sports events and team-building days, what message does this send to householders?
In many ways, SIGG’s bottles seem to mark out their own space in the market much like that other great Swiss-made implement, the Swiss army knife. Both combine function and aesthetic appeal beautifully. Both have been successful at being widely available, while somehow remaining exclusive and peerless.
Just like its multi-tool cousin, the Traveller has served as a launchpad for an impressive range of variants and line extensions. Ever since its debut, rich colour treatments and a wide range of options have set the Traveller apart as an object of personal expression. Available today in 6 sizes (0.3-1.5 l/10-50 oz.) and with a variety of cap designs, design variants and care accessories, SIGG have been able to repeat and vary the Traveller template to an impressive degree. Most recently, the release of SIGG’s first range of insulating bottles, the Thermo line, has met with strong success – singled out in 2013 for a prestigious Red Dot design award.
Nearly four decades after its launch, the Traveller’s simple lines and clear promise continue to set expectation standards for an enormously wide range of users.
Like many persuasive products, the Traveller sticks tightly to its template, but is managed liberally when it comes to its superficial appearance. Sophisticated graphic applications are a recurring feature, as are collaborations with identities and causes that sharpen the product’s appeal and immediacy. Both activities make SIGG’s market presence more substantial and perform important work in keeping the product current. Today, diverse capsule collections from a Tony Hawk signature range to the brand’s active support of Médecins Sans Frontières use products, not advertising copy, to underline SIGG’s strategic and ethical objectives. Meanwhile collaborations such as Original Wraps and user-customisation platforms like Cafepress make it possible for users to adapt their Traveller to precisely fit their personality.
The Traveller shows us that it is always possible for to solve old problems better than ever. Crucially, it is the way that SIGG managed to pack such an extensive range of benefits into a deceptively simple and elegant package that made it such an indestructible success.