Small industrial design consultancies can provide really good value and punch way above their weight.
This blog looks at why this is, how it possible and what to look for, to ensure if you choose this option for your next project, you will not be disappointed.
Why use a consultant or small consultancy (1 – 3 staff)?
From my 30 years plus experience providing industrial design services I would say the biggest advantages an experienced consultancy can deliver are the following:
Obviously a lot of these advantages depend on the quality of staff at these consultancies, but from our clients feedback (see “What they say about us”) Bortz Product Design believes that we provide all of the above.
How is this possible?
So how is this possible, how can few people or even a single person deliver so much?
Years ago, an industrial design studio needed to have draftsmen, artists, model makers, admin staff and all level of industrial designers spending hours getting large and small tasks done. As tools improved and here I refer to the computers and its plethora of software options, the tasks of drafting were sped up by CAD packages, rendering packages cut out the many hours needed by a skilled artist and then 3D printing sped up and replaced the need for skilled in-house model-makers. Mobile phones, messaging, video conferencing other apps have replaced the need for support admin staff. These tools basically distilled these many departments into one multi-disciplinary one.
While all these tools are good, and save a lot of time, all can improved upon by customization or through designers’ ongoing training. Short cut keys, macros and taking advantage of the software’s full potential can squeeze even more into a day. Then there is admin or repetitive tasks like copy, saving exporting, emailing and data management. If these are handled well, or automated more time can be freed up leading to either more productivity.
It should be noted that just because these software packages have got easier to use, have become democratized and almost everyone has access to them, it does not mean that the results being produced are equal. Tools are just tools and it is the user that creates the result.
An experienced designer is such a user. With years of design projects under their belt, an ability to understanding their client’s real needs, with links in industry, good time management and ongoing professional development of keeping abreast with the latest tools, customizing and refining their own tools gives them the edge to punch well above their weight.
What to look for.
Knowledge and experience: How long has the consultancy or designer been around – true knowledge usually comes with experience? What type of projects and how many have they worked on? The more varied the projects the better as one of the skills of a good designer is the ability to cross pollinate ideas from totally different projects creating novel solutions. Review their portfolio of projects, do they display quality, variety and technical know how.
Personality: Make sure that you have a good rapport with the designer so that you will be able to communicate effectively and enjoy the process. Are they professional in the way they work, do they have integrity and what is the quality of the work. What is their motivation or drive, their ability and affinity for the process of design, business and its allied skills. If they outwardly enjoy the whole spectrum of business not just design but also client and supplier interactions, project management and administration then you have a winner.
Service: This is almost an extension of personality. Can the designer meet deadlines, make the process run smoothly, provide good feedback and deliver on time.
Design fee: Although a small consultancy has lower overheads and you will not be paying for a “design team” to provide the service, there is still the issue of intellectual property which is being sold. This is very difficult to put a figure too and where there are new or novel solutions being generated (that could be protected by law) expect the price to be higher than just having a simple design drafted up.
Use the advantage
With the current Covid-19 situation still in full swing it is a good time to be developing your next project. Now you know small consultancies with all the other advantages they offer that are used to working remotely and independently, it would be a good time to make use of one.
Boost you design solutions using the small consultancy advantage.
There are silver linings in every situation and as harsh, disruptive and challenging as COVID-19 is, it can still hand companies a great advantage.
Production, shipping and sales have all been severely curtailed, cash flow is tight and most staff have hopefully been put in hibernation or working from home rather than being retrenched.
If listening to our government’s message then we may believe we could come out of this crisis in a strong position.
Keep your new product development out of hibernation. In good times, product development is constantly under time pressure. Hibernation has given us time and we should use it wisely to push forward new development.
The design process and creativity never really sleeps, in fact is does its best work away from the office.
(See blog – Problem Solving – the ‘ride’ approach).
Based on this and building on tested business models of a digitally connected world that many companies have already embraced before COVID-19 and now with the new norm of remote offices (at home or wherever) design departments, engineering and management can quite easily continue with new product development and be ahead of the curve in better times.
This type of remote working is not new and Bortz Product Design and many other companies which have been doing it for years. We have worked for clients we have never met in person. Clients in Europe, Asia, the US and in other states of Australia.
Social media and tools such as Teams, Zoom and Skype allow business to continue and for communities struggling in a time of crisis to work together. Working from home should not be a deterrent from creativity.
Many of our suppliers for moulds and prototypes are not in the same city we are and now as Australia is locked down, our Chinese suppliers are in demand for work. Connecting across borders, building national and international communities for goods and intellectual supply can streamline your processes. This is an opportunity.
Get your ideas out there and start the design process. Get ahead and be in front of the pack.
In fact this is one of the most productive and useful strategies your company could take right now.
Good luck, stay well and get ahead.
The big question is can we design new products while still facilitating an environmentally sustainable future?
At Bortz product design we would like to think so.
I was recently sent by one of my clients, a guide to recyclability of plastic packaging by the design decisions we make. I applaud and thank my client for bringing this to my attention as it is an important and pressing issue. The brochure is a good piece of literature and interestingly titled “Recyclability by Design”.
While it is very important that designers keep all these principles in mind, it is vitally important that all stake holders such as marketing and purchasing departments also be aware of this guide and follow its principles.
The summary guide follows 5 main principles and then provides some useful tables for best practices with mixing and matching materials for bottles, caps and labels to make them easier to sort and recycle.
The main 5 principles are:
Worldwide companies produce so many single use plastic packaging items. People with their good intentions are doing their best at recycling. Now with this valuable information we can facilitate making the process of recycling easier. With this, we can close the loop and use the recycled material as a more valuable asset, which is easier to reclaim and easier to use.
The summary guide and its full version are available from the RECOUP website at http://www.recoup.org/p/173/download-centre and I would recommend that all stakeholders take a read, at least of the guide summary, if not the full document.
Moving forwards we will endeavour to stay on top of environmental issues, advise and recommend to all clients environmentally sustainable options for their designs and products while continuing to respect each client’s values and choices.
When developing new products, one of the critical tasks a designer has is getting the client to understand what the proposed concept would really look like.
Shown a static 2D image some people struggle to interpret what it may look like in 3D. This is not surprising as there are many interpretations as to what could be happening in an image. We have all seen “optical illusions” in which we are tricked thinking what is out is in, up is down, and curved is flat. If designers are also so easily tricked, how can they expect people not trained to think in 3D to visualise the new concept? At that how could we expect anyone to interpret what the hidden sides of a 2D image looks like?
In a recent project we worked on this issue was really evident on a number of levels. First off, the graphic design company, whom the marketing department worked closely with, was commissioned to provide the initial visual direction. This company is amazing in producing product graphics, labels and branding, but unfortunately all their work is in 2D. They provided front view “realistic” 2D images that were approved by marketing and send on to me to “make real”.
Our first task was to interpret what had been presented, and after mulling it over for a while, we had to call the graphics company to confirm our interpretation was correct. We then had to bring some reality into the picture, as in creating a shaded 2D dwg you can fool yourself into designing shapes that aren’t possible, or cannot be manufactured.
We then modeled up the proposal in 3D CAD and using a 3D file format (in which the object can be rotated and viewed from multiple angles) sent it back to the graphics company to see if their “static” realistic 2D and words had actually conveyed their intent. We were close, but even using their image as an underlay for my 3D, proved to be a bit inaccurate.
The project continued and we were getting great feedback from the graphics and marketing department that we were on the right track. We had got almost to the sign off stage when it happened. Marketing finally discovered that the files we had been sending could be rotated and viewed from any angle, not just the default “static view” it was saved at! What we interpreted and the graphic guys had intended as flattish panels, marketing had interpreted as generous curves! We were back to the beginning, but now thanks to “3D” were all able to see the same thing!
But seeing on screen and making the mental leap to how big or small the part really is, or what it would feel like in your hand is an even more difficult feat. Leveraging the same CAD data used to produce the 3D files, we were able to commission rapid prototypes that were almost true to life and confirmed that what the team has imagined.
From this project quite a few lessons can be learnt;
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but a 3D files speaks millions
Graphic courtesy of clipartxtras.com
I’ve been using rapid prototyping or 3D printing, as it is now referred to, since the late 80s, and it is a fantastic and valuable tool. With Stratasys’s patents expiring and everyone jumping on the bandwagon to make them, there are literally hundreds of cheap 3D printers available. Since the 3D fad has become mainstream I have been asked numerous times “where is your machine”?
I’ve always been of the view that these machines, the cheaper ones which are affordable to small business and home users, do not provide a print quality I would be happy to supply to a client, as well as being extremely slow. Additionally, speaking to 3D printing enthusiasts, it also seems that using these printers is a bit of a black art and to want to use them you really had to be an enthusiast. So quite happily I have been leaving 3D printing to the specialist bureaus and focused on what I do best, which is design.
However recently at the National Manufacturing Week, I came across a couple of relatively in-expensive printers for under $10k. These provided a quality model of a bottle (a product I regularly design) that I would be happy to show clients. What excited me more was that some of these printers could produce a fairly large part quite fast. It was nearing the end of the financial year. I had the fund’s. Was now the time to buy?
For the first time in 30 years I was serious about owning a printer of my own. So this was the first time that I really started doing homework about the finer details of these machines. I was getting into the nitty-gritty of speed, materials, ease of operation, remote control, maintenance et cetera. I had requested two vendors to supply me with sample prints. I was excited. I put the proposal to my partner whose first question was “Is this healthy?”
Now there’s a question I had never thought to ask. We design, mould and use these materials every day. Obviously it’s healthy, what could not be? So I started to do a little homework and lo and behold printing in some materials is not healthy. There are vapours and ultrafine particles that are released in the print process and none of these machines, as far as I can find, adequately address this issue. Some have cabinets. Some have filters. However, speaking to the suppliers of these machines, none of the machine designs provide a complete solution yet. Even the HEPA filter fitted in one of the machines only filters a little over 90%.
None of the many suppliers I assessed raise these issues as part of their sales pitch - quite obviously, and possibly some are not even aware of these issues. The supposed solution on the web appears to be to work in adequately ventilated areas and not to use the filaments that give off the most toxins (ABS, HIPS). Is this an adequate solution?
This seems to me to be an unresolved situation and incomplete product design. So until someone can come up with an office or home 3D printer solution that provides adequate safety features, so they are not detrimental to the health of my co-workers and family, I will continue to tell people “My machine is at The Bureau”.
I just bought a mountain e-bike. It would be good if the tax office could realize that my new purchase should be a tax deduction. This is because now more than ever you will probably not find me in my office trying to solve tricky design challenges, but out in the bush, soaking up nature’s bounty, riding my new bike. This is I believe, integral to my design process.
If you don’t already know me, you may be thinking “Slacker. Are you nuts? What kind of designer are you?”.
My response is “an open minded one”. In the last year I have heard the term mindfulness a great deal. It seems to be the latest popular approach to life, but a little like 3D printing it has been around for years, only now becoming mainstream.
I was first exposed to the idea of opening yourself and allowing solutions to come to you when I was studying design, over 30 years ago. With this approach we were encouraged to take our design brief and dissect it to its essence; to understand the real issue needing to be solved; brainstorm all solutions, not excluding any and feeding one’s mind with possibilities. We were then encouraged to take a break, perhaps go to the movies, let the ideas percolate and let the universe deliver the answer.
Seems a ‘hokey’ idea, but it works. “Mindfulness” some may say.
For me, giving my subconscious or ‘the universe’ time to do the heavy lifting, means taking a ride, and I am so fortunate that the bush is almost at the studio’s backdoor. Not a ride where I still ponder the answer, but one where all my conscious brain power is focused on keeping me upright, enjoying the surrounds and having fun. In essence, for me, it is a kind of meditation – an experience of being totally in the moment. Then, afterwards, with my mind clear, the answers seem to come to me - The ”Universe” delivering the answer.
The poem “Clearing” by Martha Postlethwaite encapsulates this concept well. I believe the essence of this poem is not to try solve the whole puzzle by actively dwelling or thinking about the solution, but to free a clearing in one’s mind and wait for the answer to be delivered into one’s “cupped hands”.
I am not sure that the Tax Office has yet adopted a mindful approach or would accept that my bicycle should be a tax deduction, but I would suggest that the next time you have a particular tricky challenge, that you adopt a mindful approach, take time out from trying doggedly to solve it, and rather take the ‘ride’ approach.
When we build our new home and fitted stylish low profile aluminium sash windows we were troubled to find that we could only lock them in the closed position and if we wanted to leave them slightly open in a "beezeway" position, we had no security.
After numerous family, friends and clients making the same complaint to me and then my in-laws building a new home where this problem again reared its head, I decided to solve this problem. Researching on the web, visiting hardware stores and approaching window suppliers confirmed that although there are many locks on the market for locking sash windows in a totally closed position and some that will lock the window in either a fully closed or slightly open, breezeway position, they were mostly for timber windows or aluminium windows, with wide sash frames.
Modern extruded sash windows can have very low profile frames, with almost no vertical sash member exposed from the main frame and therefore locks cannot be mounted correctly or their locking pin cannot be inserted without interfering with either the window pane, guide mechanisms or seals.
In addition to this, if they were able to be used, they would only lock one of the sashes allowing the second to move freely.
The Bortz Window lock solves this by mounting to the top rail of the inner sash and locking into the vertical frame of the outer sash in an orientation perpendicular to the window pane. This locks the 2 sashes together such that they can be either locked in a slightly open breezeway position or a fully closed position. When unlocked it allows the 2 sashes to pass each other unhindered.
This innovative patent pending solution has been prototyped and put through its paces over the past year. It was easy to install and has been simple to use. The results are good.
We are now looking for expressions of interest from manufacturers or distributors to take on this design.
If you are interested in licencing or purchasing this solution, please contact us at email@example.com or give us a call.
Get a slice of your pie.
So you have come up with a good idea and believe it is going to make you really rich. Well it may, but how? What is your plan?
The idea is always the easy part and from my point of view as a designer, creating the product is also an easy part in the equation. Some projects may pose technical challenges, however with research, design and development these can be overcome. Conceptualizing, designing, prototyping and manufacturing are all fairly quantifiable and mostly predictable and can be planned and budgeted for, but making back your money and more is a little trickier.
So to get a little reality let’s do a quick checklist:
Question 1: Are you doing this for fun or do you really want to make money from it?
Do you just want to develop the product to fill a need you have, or to say you have produced your own product, or do you want it to generate an income stream?
Question 2: Have you done your market research?
Do you know if your idea really fills a need or gap in the market? Have you really checked to see if it has already been done? You have no idea how many meetings have been cut short, by me doing a really quick google web or image search and showing the prospective clients their idea has been done – sometimes a hundred different ways. Don’t just search for what you think it should be called, dream up synonyms, and even describe it.
If you don’t find the idea here, dig deeper, do patent or intellectual property (IP) searches. If you haven’t found your idea yet, ask why - is it really a good idea, or maybe you just think so? See if others think there may be a market, and a word of caution here, most people cannot see or image different ways to solve problems and this may stifle a good idea by a lack of vision.
Question 3: How are they going to make money from it?
Obviously you want to make money, but how. Just having your product does not mean people will “beat a path to your doorway” to buy it.
Like I said, having the idea, designing and manufacturing the product are all pretty easy and mostly the “cheap” part in this process. How do you intend to sell it? If you are not already an established business this can be really challenging.
I would guess that most people would want to hold on to their product, have full control of it, in the belief that this is how they are going to make the most money. This path carries the highest risk, but could bring the greatest reward. Be aware, setting up distribution systems to handle the product from manufacture to your end customer requires infrastructure, marketing and advertising. Not only does it costs a lot, but requires specialist knowledge, a lot of energy, patience and nerves of steel. Do you have the balls?
If you think that you do not need all of this as you are going to sell your product (in the singular) to retailer and they will take care of this for you – think again. Most retailers do not want to deal with stocking a single product line from a supplier unless it is a high value item with a good profit margin. The time and effort it requires is just not worth it.
If you don’t have what it takes to sell your own product, all is not lost, there are other ways to reap the reward for your good idea. There are the options of selling your idea (your Intellectual Property), or licensing it to companies that may be aligned with your idea and have the distribution network and expertise to sell it.
To do this you will either have to patent the idea or take out some form of intellectual property (IP) protection. For more information on IP visit (https://www.ipaustralia.gov.au/) IP Australia. This site has all the information you will need on your various protection options, as well as allow you to search to see if your idea has already been done, which is an essential part of your market research. Alternatively pay a visit to your friendly patent attorney and pay them to do this for you.
IP only gives you ownership to your idea and negotiating the sale of your idea with a package that includes the IP is twofold – one, it protects you from being ripped off and secondly it give you something to sell. But as I have said before, the idea is the easy part, and to just sell a naked idea may not get the reward you are after.
Too add value and command a greater return you should develop or refine your idea. To do this you should consider some serious industrial design input that at the very least produces some photo-realistic concept images or takes the design to some form of 3D prototype.
The ultimate package to negotiate with would include, IP, and a well-designed working product, that has been prototyped, tooled, manufactured and a pilot run done. Industrial designers can help you with this, and it would assist in proving your concept and its possible market viability.
This is back to the risk reward balance and dictated by how well you have done your market research, how deep your pockets are and how much stress you are prepared to live with.
So my advice to entrepreneurs with great ideas is to be realistic. Do your homework and assess your particular situation. Rather than be too precious of your idea or too greedy, do what you do well, and work with a team that could make your idea return a bigger reward. Always remember, it is better to have a slice of the pie than to pay for the ingredients, but have no pie at all.
This ultra compact, super light, extremely practical answer to carrying your essentials was inspired and conceived over 12 years ago after we were leaving an outing from the beach. We were bitching about our brick size wallets and decided there must be a better solution - especially for sport and the outdoors.
The product had to be small, rugged and stylish. Carry 2 - 3 cards a few coins and some cash - "the 3 c's". Once one the market it became apparent that we should have called it the C4, as condoms became the next item that was fitted in. (But that is another story).
Our solution was to mould it in plastic, making it durable, splash and sweat resistant while incorporating simple but elegant styling. It features a two compartment design, one for cards and the other with its integral cash clip to hold your hard earned cash, a recess for coins, condoms or other stuff. Its two covers clip closed securely and the lanyard / key-ring loop gives you carrying options.
Using PP plastic meant that we could create an integral hinge, which has a life of over 100,000 of openings, requires no assembly or extra parts and is very small. It also means that the entire product is moulded in a single material which makes recycling it easy.
Attention to detail was critical and the "Bortzie" logo was added into the traditional ejector pin marks making them more interesting and part of the design, rather than a blemish on the design. Our contact details were added to the note clip so that it would be predominantly displayed, with the aim of getting more traffic to our site and possible sales of the product.
The final result is a wallet that I personally have used and abused for over 10 years. It has been around the world, on many mountain bike rides, snowboarding, hiking and just boring every day use. It was a fun personal project, which not only gave me a chance to design and manufacture my own product, but taught me a few lessons in marketing and distribution as well as.