Modern CAD software from the likes of Solidworks, Autodesk etc give product designers tools that they could only have dreamt off 10 years ago. Not only can they design things that were unheard of, a decade ago, modern software will structurally test it, predict what will fail and when, it will model fluid and gas flows, generate bill of materials and help designers design products that can be manufactured. But like many things in life; where there are gains there are also consequences!
One of the challenges of any type of design (and you can include software design too) is when is a design complete, when do you say ‘this project is complete?’ With all the sophisticated design tools available, there is a danger of designing something to death. This can be both costly in design time and money because what might seem a simple cosmetic change could have consequences for the whole structural integrity of the design.
Getting ‘sign off’ between the Product Design company and the client is part of the whole design partnership. The Product Design company needs to communicate expectations and the client needs to understand those expectations (For Fripp Design this is communicated via our proposal process; we communicate our interpretation of the brief in our formal proposal which the client signs off against).
Set expectations right and the design process will deliver a fantastic design, on budget and on time…but be aware that ‘tinkering at the edges’ has consequences!
In the UK there is a huge shift in drinking habits; away from the local pub to the home. This blog is NOT about its impact on Design…but there are some similarities in our views about the importance of buying local whenever you can.
Fripp are based in Sheffield in South Yorkshire; the historical home of steel production which means we are blessed with a wealth of engineering and contract manufacturing businesses in our locality (did you know that Sheffield produces more steel now than it ever has; with 1% of the workforce of 20 years ago…what progress in technology!).
We are constantly bombarded with overseas suppliers wanting to do business with us but we have a deliberate policy to buy locally whenever we can. Let us be clear, we don’t believe in protectionism but we do believe we should buy local when all things are equal. Why? Well the skills in engineering and manufacturing are hard to replace; once they’re gone…they’re gone forever. Company’s, like Fripp Design, rely on a wealth of talent in the local workforce as we grow our business. By supporting local businesses, we help to keep that talent local.
So where are the similarities? The local pub is all about social cohesion within the locality of the pub. Once it goes, so does some of the community spirit.
In Design, the loss of a local engineering/manufacturing business impacts on the economic cohesion of the region which, long term, impacts on the community spirit too. So we say, wherever possible buy local, support your local community…it will benefit your business in the long term.
With increasing pressure on university budgets (something we’ve blogged about in the past), there is a lot of interest in universities commercialising the IP developed by their academics.
Many universities are now partnered with specialist VCs who are looking for the next, greatest and best, multimillion projects to invest significant (five/six figure sums) into. But what happens to all those ideas which have a commercial value but are never going to change the world?
There are plenty of opportunities out there; we know. We’ve partnered with academics at Sheffield University in developing a new way of manufacturing soft tissue prosthetics. The opportunity will scale to around £1-2M/annum which is great for us, but falls well below the radar for the in house VC firm Sheffield University partner with.
There will be lots of other ideas waiting to be exploited so go out and find them. But a word of caution, though. Negotiating who gets what, in terms of IP, can be a minefield. Academics tend to think that any IP they discover/invent is theirs whereas the university, like any commercial employer, will point out that the IP was developed using the university’s resources and so the university will say the IP belongs to them (and they will be right too). Once the Academic and the University have sorted that battle out, you’ve then got to negotiate what proportion of the IP comes to you for its commercial exploitation.
But don’t be discouraged; universities exist on the concept of ‘what if’ and so should be a source of inspiration for any entrepreneur. But remember, most academics are motivated by making a difference to society, leaving their mark in their field and not on the commercial spin offs that may come as a result. They are not motivated in the same way as an Entrepreneur so be prepared for tension in the relationship. But like any relationship, work on it and you will reap the rewards!
You’ve come up with the killer idea (not literally of course!), you’ve done your market research and you know everyone wants to buy the idea…and, yet, you’ve still not made your millions!!!
Research suggests that the average time to get a new Product Design to market is 7 years; so if you’re not yet sat on the beach enjoying the trappings of success, don’t be put off!
However being an entrepreneur is a bit like gambling. You’re taking a risk with your time, probably money and your mental state of mind(!) and like all good gamblers (we’re not condoning gambling by the way); you need to know when to cut your losses and get out of the game. The question is, when should you quit and try something else? If we knew the answer to this, we would be business guru’s rather than Product Designers (and would probably be sat on that beach ourselves!)
However there is one sales technique that we apply, when approaching licensees for our Product Design ideas, which we call the ‘yes but test’; here’s an example:
We were involved with a greeting card project which was the subject of a blog from last month. In essence, it’s a greeting card containing an alcoholic shot so you can send a friend a drink through the post to celebrate a birthday etc. Like we’ve said, every one of the target age said they would buy it if it was stocked in shops…and, guess what, we could not get one shop to stock it. We’d get comments like:
“Yes but it will encourage binge drinking” and we would say “no; you stock cheap bottles of Vodka cheaper than the price of the card”
“Yes but children would be able to buy it” and we would say “no; you have systems in place that check children don’t try and buy alcohol when you read the bar code”
“Yes but we will have to replace an existing product line” and we would say “no; the product comes on a clip strip to hang off the end of an aisle so it will not replace any existing products”
…and so on. These objections were spurious at best, but what it told us was the buyer wanted us to go away. We got this reaction from every buyer from every supermarket, so the comes a point when you have to accept, what you thought was a great idea, what your market research suggests is a great idea will never get to market…three ‘yes but”s and you’re out!!!
The company owns a patent on the idea so, you never know, it may happen one day. However we took the decision to withdraw our support for the project as we worked out it would be too costly of our time and resources to overcome the ‘so called’ objections from the industry.
So being an entrepreneur requires having nerves of steel and accepting risk; however it also requires humility to know when your idea is not going to be the commercial success you thought. But don’t forget the old adage ‘If at first you don’t succeed try try again’
Keep on trying!
Recently we attended a seminar about successful entrepreneurs and one of the presenters was a lady who founded a successful coffee shop chain with her brother. She told the story about how she visited her brother in New York and, whilst he was off at a meeting, she popped out to get a coffee and discovered the New York coffee bar. This was the inspiration to start her business in the UK. At the end of the presentation, somebody asked if entrepreneurs were lucky and she answered no; it was down to inspiration and lots of hard work.
Last week, in the UK, the BBC ran their annual charity event; Comic Relief. The program brings together TV, Music and Celebrity stars to help raise funds for children, suffering poverty, around the world. Some of the celebrities are successful entrepreneurs (from a program called Dragons Den) who gave up their time and money to help this worthy cause. In this program you had the two extremes of society brought together; those extremely unlucky, suffering extreme poverty and those with hard earned wealth.
This got us thinking. Are those entrepreneurs lucky to have their success? Certainly we are all lucky to have been born in the developed world but are entrepreneurs especially lucky too?
We believe the answer is yes but yes to a slightly different question: “Are entrepreneurs lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to have seized the opportunity to create wealth for themselves and those around them?”
All successful entrepreneurs need some luck, the example here is the lady entrepreneur happened to have a brother who happened to work in New York who happened to have to go to a meeting who happened to pop into a coffee shop. What she did, when the opportunity hit her, is seized it and went on to build a very successful business.
So, if you ever feel in awe of those very successful entrepreneurs; remember they had luck; in the same way the winner of a lottery gets lucky with their six numbers. The difference, though, is successful entrepreneurs see the opportunity when they get lucky!
We hope you get lucky too.
We hope this does not sound too patronising but we have a real useful time and money saving tip for inventors and would be entrepreneurs alike.
We at Fripp occasionally get excited ourselves about an idea one of us may come up with. The urge is to get on to our patent attorneys and to get them to do an initial search. But there are some things you can do initially yourself.
The first place to check is Google. Make sure you choose every combination of words that describes your idea; there is no point in kidding yourselves by hoping you won’t find the solution out there…because eventually you will and it may cost you in doing so.
Check with Google images (have you tried the cooliris plug in for Firefox…it is superb) as this will help you find your idea visually if it exists (which of course you hope it doesn’t!)
If, after an extensive search, nothing appears then go to your country government patent office and search there too (the UK patent office search engine is very good; we suspect there using Google too).
I know you want to have the next iPhone, the next Dyson etc but you need to be absolutely sure that the idea is original before you commit yourself along the road to Product Design and Product Development
Technology is a wonderful thing; I think there are very few of us would disagree with this? Technology pushes the boundaries of human endeavour; improving the quality of life for millions in the process. But we all aware that operating at the boundaries of technology comes with risks; will it work, will it work consistently and is it safe?
The health service is very aware of these issues, as much of the advancement in technology is aimed at health care; this is why there are such rigorous tests put in place before health services will adopt any new technology…lives are at stake if they get it wrong.
But where technology has no such impact, the claims of manufacturers pushing the boundaries of their technology to gain a competitive advantage can be damaging in many other ways (thankfully not life threatening!).
Rapid Prototyping, particularly 3D/layered fabrication, is one such technology area. We at Fripp Design are constantly been told about how the latest RP technology to come to market is the best and will replace all that comes before it.
Thankfully we’re not that naive (I think and hope!!!). We know manufacturers exaggerate the capabilities of their technology to gain an advantage and hopefully a sale; but is this good salesmanship and is this short sighted? Any RP machine is a major capital investment and the last thing you want is that dreaded ‘buyers regret’; it doesn’t quite do what it said it would do ‘on the tin’, takes twice as long to use and builds parts not quite the same as in the glossy brochure.
RP manufacturers need the good will and support of the design community so, come on guys, underwhelm us on the benefits and overwhelm us on capability; that way the market will grow much quicker which will bring down the cost and expand the market further for everyone.
As an established Product Design agency; we are frequently contacted by recruitment agencies about job opportunities for Product Designers. We thought it would be useful to clarify the reason why we never use recruitment agencies; irrespective of the quality of the candidate and the agency fees.
Product Design companies are (or should be!) entrepreneurial in spirit and practice. When clients approach us, they want us to think how their customers think and look for new and innovative ways of meeting their needs and achieving their Product Design objectives. This requires ‘out of the box’ thinking and being creative during the research stage of a project. As research is at the heart of every project we do, we need potential employee to have this basic skill before we look at any other aspect of their education and experience.
Finding Fripp Design is not hard…type ‘Product Design’ into Google and we appear in the top 5. If candidates lack the basic ability to find us themselves, then they are unlikely to have the entrepreneurial spirit we need.
This also applies to potential candidates who get family and friends to contact us too (it happens!).
For all Designers everywhere; we wish you every success. Without design, there are no products, no customers and no economy!
We recently attended a seminar about manufacturing in the 21st Century in the Yorkshire Region. At the end of the session one of the closing remarks from the conference organiser suggested that UK manufacturing, as a whole, needs to be more Entrepreneurial. This got us thinking at Fripp Design.
A manufacturer only exists if it is manufacturing products that customers either need to or want to buy. No customers; no manufacture (as many of the car suppliers are finding out in this recession). For a customer to want/need what the manufacturer makes requires an understanding of the customer, the market, the cost to make and the channels to market.
Historically these have been defined by the Marketer with input from a designer. However Fripp Design believes this to be changing. With the advent of modern technologies, many design companies now have the tools to design products all the way through to manufacture. This has created a generation of entrepreneurial design companies, such as the like of Fripp Design and others, who are developing their own IP alongside their clients. They live and breathe entrepreneurialism.
With this entrepreneurial culture; are independent third party Design companies the entrepreneurial ‘missing link’ for manufacturers in the 21st Century? Is it time for manufacturers to identify these Design companies, tapping into their expertise in looking for new Product
Design opportunities? Opportunities that solve problems; where the manufacturer adds value through manufacture and routes to market? We at Fripp Design think so.
It is hard to believe that the miners strike took place 25 years ago. You may well ask what this has to do with Product Design and Fripp Design?
Well the answer is that the former coal field at Orgreave is where the Advanced Manufacturing Park is now located and from where Fripp Design operate.
Although change is painful for those who are affected, the transformation of the region is phenomenal. The Advanced Manufacturing Park hosts companies such as Fripp Design, Rolls Royce, Boeing and the TWI. All of these companies are developing products and services which could not have beed dreamt of 25 years ago. Products such as layered fabrication of medical devices, parts which are found in every aircraft flying round the globe, software which will predict failures before the part has even been prototyped; the list is really endless.
Human society thrives on change and the Park is a great example how this has taken place. We are very sympathetic to those communities that have been affected by the sea change in employment opportunities in the north of England; however we believe the opportunities that the park brings in terms of high skilled jobs and the associated services provided by local companies will have long term benefits to all of us who live and work in the region.