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Cinde W. Ingram

From Design to Market

From original concept to final product, quality is no casual affair

It all starts with an idea - whether a mental picture appears first in a designer's mind or is another step toward a manufacturer's mission to meet a need in the marketplace.
     The process of developing a product from an original concept takes a certain level of trust between people who bring different skills and talents. Fitting those pieces and people together requires building relationships that last as long as the products they create.
     "The first thing a designer must believe is that their design is original," said Richard Frinier, whose designs have won international acclaim for decades. Frinier acknowledges the history of design when he says no design project starts from scratch but requires expertise or a lot of homework. "Have they researched the marketplace to confirm that their design will not infringe on an existing product? Can it be visualized from a sketch or rendering and will it look like the sketch when it is a finished product? Is it relevant for the times and does it have that got-to-have-it factor? If the concept meets the expectations of the company's marketing and sales focus, opens up new opportunities for distribution or growth, and if the concept is inspiring, then development will be so much easier, enjoyable and rewarding," he said.

DesignerGabbertasGloster
Designer Mark Gabbertas’ initial concept sketches and notes for Gloster Furniture’s Cloud collection, plus one location shot of the fi nished product.

     Every product has to be designed first and manufactured later, Gloster Furniture Product Development Manager Tim Cook said.
     "Design is what makes a product unique and what adds immeasurable value to a product," Cook said. "Although we prefer to not restrict our designers' creativity, having an understanding of what is possible to manufacture efficiently and economically is essential. Design does not have to be all about style. For a highly cost-sensitive product, design is essential to achieving this end result in production."
     Sometimes the simplest product can be the most difficult to design, Cook said. "A new product arriving in the marketplace may have gone through many rounds of refinement and revision to get to the point at which it is ready for launch," Cook said. "Product development is done hand-in-hand with the manufacturer."
     Charles Hessler, executive VP, Barlow Tyrie, agreed with that view. "The design is the first step in the manufacturing process. Without the design concept, there is no manufacturing."
     When Barlow Tyrie works with designers, Hessler said it is usually the designers who approach the manufacturer. "Except when we worked with Vladimir Kagan. He and I met while having cocktails at a private dinner and one thing led to another," Hessler said.
     In his position as design development director of Dedon, Nicola Rapetti said the designer's belief in the project and its vision is a key point. Clear direction and manufacturer involvement from the start helps product development to move faster and more smoothly to its goal. "The inspiration of the concept is based on the Dedon philosophy and savoir-faire," Rapetti said. "Dedon, through me, gives the tools to designers to get inspired. We go straight to the designers who can do what we think suits Dedon." The manufacturer has known many of the world's best designers for a long time, he said, and knows what to ask.
     "Design is critical with regard to the manufacturing process," said Rory Rehmert, VP of sales and marketing, Pride Family Brands. "There are limitations as to what can and cannot be manufactured. Developing a design that is beyond reasonable manufacturing capabilities only results in failure."
     Telescope Casual Furniture Executive VP Bill Vanderminden described design as integral to the overall manufacturing process. "Design without deference to how it will be made will create one challenge after another as ideas hit against reality," he said. "Either the design could be compromised or the product will cost more than planned. An experienced designer will have the knowledge to exploit the manufacturing methods at his or her disposal to develop a design at a value."

GETTING STARTED
     One of the most important steps in product development is also one of the first.
     "For a project to be successful there has to be a need," Cook said. "This need could be driven by many different factors, such as style, budget or function. Once the need is identified, the project will start with a written design brief to the designer. The better the design brief, the better the design outcome."

SketchMarie Massaud.
Sketch paired with fi nished product of ‘SeaX’ from Jean-Marie Massaud.

     Rapetti agreed with the importance of the design brief. "When the designer is presenting the concept/idea for the first time, it is a very delicate moment," he said. "The relationship, the story between the designer and the company is like a love story: Sweet, sometimes stormy, for a long time or just a casual affair. It is true that the success of the last product may affect the relationship progress."
     Frinier said, "As a designer, I am fortunate to have many ideas of my own, but I am always happy to help my partners realize a design brief, product update, line extension or improvement."
     Once a concept is accepted, the designer takes on the role of the "vision guardian" to retain the original concept through the development process, Frinier said. "In that process there is always compromise, but the designer must anticipate potential problems and provide solutions to avoid compromising the original design. Therefore, it is extremely important for the designer to have as much access as possible to the manufacturer and their R&D department to provide technical support, optimum proportions, color and material direction. It takes many people to bring a good design to market. It takes vision, talent, expertise, patience and the willingness of the manufacturer to invest in the design process and execute to the highest level possible."
     Noting product development is a progressive process beginning with design and ending with production, Frinier listed the following as a few of the important steps:
1. Accept the concept, the vision
2. Select the manufacturing process
3. Select materials
4. Define dimensions and proportions
5. Create technical drawings and specifications
6. Prototypes
7. Review, revise, refine
8. Test to exceed standards
     "Design is all inclusive," Frinier said. "From concept through production, designing the product is only a part of the process. Engineering and manufacturing must develop tooling, patterns, jigs and fixtures, equipment, direction, training and testing. And, this design process is for each item in every collection of the company's catalog!"
     Hessler added markeBarlow Tyrietability as another important step to the product development list.
     Pride Family Brands relies on its internal team of talented designers and does not bring in outside designers. "For Pride, the most important steps are constant reviews by the design team to insure that we are on track and that the product meets or exceeds all of our expectations," Rehmert said.
     "Developing a new product from the initial design is expensive and time consuming," he added. "The initial design is produced and then we ‘tweak' the product to ensure it meets our look and all other design criteria. This process can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks."
     Hessler said developing a product from an original concept can be difficult. "Oft en the concept has begun with a drawing on the back of a napkin," he said.
     Gloster is among the manufacturers that work closely with its team of designers. "We keep them involved at every stage of the development process," Cook said. "When necessary we invite our designers to work as part of the development team at the manufacturer.
     "It is important for our designers to understand our manufacturers' capabilities, but we would not want to restrict the creative process by confining designers to work only within the limits of our manufacturers. It is the designer's job to be creative and to come up with ever more innovative and unique ideas. As a product development team, it's our job to find the best way to make these ideas into commercial products while still retaining the original design intent."

FROM THEN TO NOW
     Rapetti reflected on the beginnings of design to a time "when the Catholic Church was, with some few enlightened kings, more interested in the arts than in wars and power ... it started to ask the artist and sculptor to decorate the church pulpit." The designs were intended to bring beauty to the creator. "This is basically the beginning of the design and how it has become important," he said.
     Many of the early outdoor furniture designs were primarily the work of engineers and/or industrial designers who were problem-solving for functional uses rather than aesthetic appeal.Laura Kirar,
     "There is still a requirement for functional product that is well engineered, rather than products that are purely making a style statement," Cook said. "But a more demanding and aspiring customer means that style is of greater importance. Design is surrounding us every day now, and once-functional items are now stylish objects of desire. Customers more and more are likely to make a buying decision based on the look rather than the function of the product."
     From Frinier's point of view, "Actually not much has changed, except fashion and new materials. Early designs for outdoor seating were oft en decorative as well as functional. Style changed with the fashion of the day, but it has been the expansion of weather-resistant materials that has created the most opportunity for new design. The outdoor furniture industry has been extremely prolific lately with the development of the total outdoor living room. I envision that the next big changes to our industry will come from manufacturers who are willing to invest in technologies that will evolve and expand the use of materials and the development of manufacturing processes that reach outside of the ‘tool box' to create some of the most amazing outdoor products we have ever seen."
     Rehmert said he thinks early designs in the casual furniture industry clearly illustrated functionality with limited style. "Evolution has brought us a team that includes sales, engineering, sourcing, senior management, color analysis, vendor input and a whole host of other people that work together collectively toward a common goal," he said. "The goal is to develop a beautiful piece of furniture that is comfortable and that can be produced within our manufacturing facility.
     "We totally believe in our internal Research and Development department," Rehmert added. "We find that they go above and beyond to ensure that we come to market with the very best products available. We value what they do and appreciate their suggestions and input.
     For Pride, it is part of our culture and who we are."
     Barlow Tyrie is a 98% in house R&D company, Hessler said. "We support that 100% due to the years of knowledge and expertise arrived at by the 90-plus years we have been doing this. Who better to understand our capabilities and design for us than our own design staff ?"
     Advancements in woodworking, manufacturing processes and materials have allowed designers more freedom to be creative, Hessler said. "There has to be good interplay between a designer and manufacturer. We have worked with Vladimir Kagan, an icon in furniture design whose early pieces command many thousands of dollars at auction and whose designs are at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Vladimir's history of design speaks for itself. We have worked of late with Laura Kirar, a brilliant designer of home furnishings and accessories."
     Barlow Tyrie introduced Kirar's first outdoor designs and will be adding to the line for 2013. Hessler said her weave patterns are so original they have been registered. "We have worked with Tim Fenby, who is recognized as a leading furniture designer in England with an expertise in wood. He designed our Avon collection, which we are adding to in 2013."

Concept sketchesGloster FurnitureGabbertas
Concept sketches of Bloc, developed by Mark Gabbertas for Gloster Furniture, plus a location image of the collection.

     Telescope Casual has used outside designers in the past, but its current design and development process is 100% in-house at its Granville, N.Y. manufacturing facility. "We know our business and our current and future capabilities and this recipe works for us," Vanderminden said.
     Gloster is another company that places a high value on in-house R&D. "Most recently we have backed this position up further with the investment into a world class technical center in our factory in Indonesia," Cook said. "This technical center will not only be making sure that our products are the best-performing quality outdoor products in the market, but will be conducting its own research into innovative materials and manufacturing techniques to make sure Gloster remains the leading international brand of up market outdoor furniture."

PROTECTING DESIGNS, ONLINE AND FUTURE CONCERNS
     "Furniture design is notoriously difficult to protect," Cook said. "The best way to avoid being copied is through rapid and continued product development to stay ahead of those happy to copy. Our state-of-the-art manufacturing allows us to make products that are going to be difficult for another manufacturer to copy without making the same sort of investment that we have made. As well as this investment in equipment and technology, we also invest in our people, which is something nearly impossible to copy.
     "There is enough respect within the major brands to mean that costly legal remedies are not necessary," Cook said. "What is more difficult to control is the unscrupulous manufacturer supplying products directly into the marketplace. We would rather spend our money on new product development!"
     Dedon has an internal legal affairs department and is actively looking for copycats, Rapetti said. "It is very hard to prosecute them, since in many countries the infringement offense is not seriously considered an offense," he added.
     "We pursue design and utility patents where applicable, but we have been pretty lucky lately that we haven't had problems," Vanderminden said. "It helps no one but lawyers to spend money on defending designs but we would have no choice if the design is infringed. You have to go after knock-off s and protect your designs."
     Barlow Tyrie registers its products, Hessler said. Asked how it handles product knockoff s, he answered, "Knock us off, you'll find out." Looking ahead, Hessler added the company has a "strict Internet sales program and we have kept our Internet dealers to a small manageable number. It is effective for us."
     Pride Family Brands maintains its strong defensive position, according to Rehmert. "We patent our designs and vigorously protect the designs by using all methods available," he said. "Because we have a huge investment in product development and patents, we will take whatever steps necessary to protect our intellectual property." Pride also is among the manufacturers who attempt to control online exposure. "The Internet is a fact of life and it will only become a bigger tool for retailers and manufacturers in the future," Rehmert said. "We do have policies in place to ensure that the Internet is used for the right reasons. Our policies do work for the most part but there are always a few instances each year that have to be dealt with."
     "Online sales for furniture, even high-priced items, are increasing," Cook said. "That's not to presume that consumers are making all of their decisions online - one still has to touch and feel the furniture before purchasing, learn from the selling experts at the point of sale and have trust in the retailer that they will be there to service the consumer should anything not be completely to their satisfaction. While even the most affluent consumers will hunt for the best value (yes, even online), value is not 100% defined by low price."
     Rapetti agreed e-commerce is quickly developing. "The way of selling will totally change," he said. "All the steps in between the manufacturer/editor company and the final user will be cut out. It is a very strategic development that we are carefully studying."

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