Is Manufacturing the natural extension to Design?


There is a common belief that to be a successful industrial designer one has to be a ‘maker of things’ at heart.

Making objects, whatever that might be, is a very satisfying way to spend time working because at the end of the day there is a definite physical result, something very tangible, something others can relate to.

Making things and designing things are both essentially creative: one has to have an agenda or a brief/objective to fulfil a requirement. The difference between the two is that to make things is physical while to design things is largely imaginative.

Obviously some people are naturally better at designing things; their background might have enabled them to train their 3D thinking and therefore allow them to visualise the imagined result. Designing and making are therefore naturally very closely aligned.

For the industrial designer to efficiently produce workable results for a manufacturer they do not need only a well-defined brief, but one that is a life document which remains adaptable to the findings and revelations that a design process brings.

Designers cannot be 100% familiar with every manufacturing process there is. Often the designer has to quickly learn what the individual process demands whilst being able to isolate elements which need to be resolved by specialist expertise.

This essentially turns the designer into a facilitator of various disciplines which are used to orchestrate their specialty areas.

Under the guidance of the designer who upholds the design intend and mediates the outcome in the interest of the end user, the previously defined attributes culminate in the character and performance of the product.

Sounds a bit like wizardry, but it is merely the controlled ÔunfoldingÕ of methodology common to the discipline of the industrial designer.

Without the manufacturing sector industrial design would be a breadless art. The two are natural partners and, in my opinion, one cannot really be successful without the other.

Over the last fifteen years our small consultancy has repeatedly poured considerable resources into the development of our own product ideas. There have been many and a few of them have faltered for one reason or another, not least due to us as designers always learning what it really takes to make the product. Let alone the mission of getting it to market and in front of the customer.

During the same time we have also approached numerous manufacturers with existing brands for design collaboration. The secret here is to sell design to a manufacturer who has never thought they needed it, and only too often the designer is misinterpreted as someone to make ÔitÕ look more attractive without adding any real value. The designer is often left feeling empty while still thinking: I can do better!

Let me get to the point: For years I have praised our design skills to one of our local manufacturers, a large established metal working family business which makes its own range of products and otherwise manufactures to contract.

My approaches were always rebuffed, although I always knew that one day I might be designing such products.

Manufacturing is difficult for designers as we do not have the necessary plant. However, we are analytical thinkers and soon we realised that this particular manufacturerÕs products only had between 10%-20% of components made in-house and the rest was simply bought in.

We figured that this 20% advantage for the manufacturer would easily be outweighed by our own ability to add value, innovation and uniqueness to a product range with few complexities.

Furthermore, as designers we have the highly developed ability to show what does not exist through our visualisation and presentation skills.

Serendipity took care of the rest. A chance meeting, if there is such a thing, allowed me to pitch a variety of product presentations to a potential customer who followed up with the question of: Can you supply?

Our intimate knowledge of the manufacturing sector and the interested goodwill of many trusted suppliers allowed us to say yes, with the result a substantial order being sold off the plans!

Without owning a factory and any of its costly inventory or overheads we had become a supplier on the home turf of an established manufacturer.

Was it just luck that made it possible?

We soon realised that we had provided ourselves with a clear brief for the outcome.

We had defined the manufacturing processes to stay local and worked diligently to develop a level of finesse the competitor did not have in their ageing range of product.

In short it is the design, the intellectual property the designers created for the manufacturer, in this case Designbrand itself.

We pay a fair price for the components which make up our products and we are learning fast how to respond to a particular market. The biggest surprise came in the form of the financial results.

Even after the cost of design, prototyping, essential tooling and the glitches of a first run did the exercise run a small profit? This goes to show that applied design can pay for itself, not just in the long run, and that design created the competitive advantage.

-Jurgen Brand,Designbrand Ltd


Share this: