Creative empowerment by blurring the lines, how about it?

Disclosure, I’m NOT a product designer. I do however frequently find myself briefing designers – in addition to discussing typologies, materials, functionality and aesthetic qualities, I have found that these creatively talented individuals seem to enjoy gaining a deeper understanding of the economic challenges that one faces when attempting to commercialise their product/s. By layering in this piece of information it invariably results in far fewer concepts being rejected. And no one likes rejection! So this is surely a win/win; it provides a higher volume of viable, appropriate and relevant product concepts coupled with better informed productive designers who are able to fully exploit their creative talents.

I feel passionate about empowering designers by giving them a glimpse into the ‘dark side’ as my experience would suggest this approach (ie blurring the lines between creative and commercial elements) increases the ability to produce work that’s likely to resonate within the consumer space. Art for art’s sake is a noble pursuit but the merits of considering the creative process as a continuous line seem profound, starting with the spark of an idea translated into a product brief and ending with commercial realisation.

Question. I wonder if a highly accessible, freely available online designer’s resource to help impart this type of information would be of value to this particular segment of the creative community? My personal view is that individuals and new product businesses might welcome this, but hey, what do I know? Thoughts, comments and suggestions?

I suppose there are all types of designers and just as many new product development process but I don’t really know of any other way to work than what you are describing.

I spent 10 years running an in-house team and our process always included interaction within all departments of the company from sales and marketing to logistics and operations. Our N.P.D.P. started with a multi department discussion to identify market entry points. After those meetings my team would aggregate and distill the information and develop briefs for each potential project. Once we had a concept developed for manufacture my designers would manage the communication with suppliers to make adjustments as necessary and meet costing goals. After we received final samples the project was handed over to the shipping and operations team.

Now that i work for myself most of my clients take advantage of my ability to manage the process from concept to manufacture.

The more educated a designer is about every step of the process from ideation to retail shelf the more control that designer actually has.

Agreed. Working at Nike and now here running an in house team at a medium sized consumer electronics company I’m exposed to everything, from R&D ROI to inventory throughput… The times I went back to consulting the knowledge has been invaluable as clients knew they were getting a design that accommodated all of their business goals and still had integrity as a consumer focused solution.

Without understanding COGs, manufacturing constraints, market research, sales channels, product strategy, etc, I would find it pretty difficult to make design decisions. It would surprise me if any designers out there are consistently doing good work without that insight. Plus, as a person that values my time away from work, the last thing I want to do is waste time on stuff that doesn’t efficiently advance the project.


I agree with all the above. I think an online resource with this type of information would be valuable especially for students and new professionals. Technically I feel Core77 sort of covers this information to an extent if one were to dig a little or ask questions. Like others have stated above, In my experience I have always worked with all departments especially on small teams. Usually most designers pick up this type of information overtime. Nothing is more valuable than real world experience. One thing I think designers might want to learn/know is process, budget, MOQ’s, duty, manufacturing capabilities and managing workflow/duties. etc

It’s clear that we all possess differing talents but I’m often surprised by the designer who is not prepared to indulge in gaining a deeper understanding into the commercial implications of different manufacturing processes, materials and even channels of distribution. All of these elements seriously impact the viability of a product. Logic seems to suggest any creatively gifted industrial designer would gain a meaning advantage should they be willing to indulge.

Analogous with the virtuoso musician who knows how and where to find the gigs perhaps?

I’m often surprised by the designer who is not prepared to indulge in gaining a deeper understanding into the commercial implications of different manufacturing processes, materials and even channels of distribution.

Are you saying these designers refuse to take the time to learn about these things, or that after learning these things they push back and try to move the constraints? Those are very different situations. The former situation is laziness, inexperience, or both - or you’re working with artistes (which is probably worse than inexperience). The latter is designers doing their job as problem solvers and possibly trying to shake an organization out of complacence.

While i can understand you may have experienced both of these things, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

Any designer within an organization is only as good as the organization as a whole, same goes for sales, marketing, etc.
I have worked with more than one group where the owner/entrepreneur/ceo look at “creative types” as bundle of uncontrollable emotion that have the potential to spit out “home run” products if only they are coddled and protected from the boring details of “day to day business” or worse they tend to avoid giving real feedback because they don’t want to “hurt anyone’s feelings” which often leads to “i can’t describe it but I’ll know it when i see it, i know you can do it”. When you treat a designer like this you are the one creating the emotional monster. We are here to solve problems, when anyone tries to solve a problem without having all the data the process is usually frustrating and wasteful. The frustration gets worse when you know there is data that you’re not being given because “we don’t want to influence you”. There are good and bad practices in all disciplines including management.

Okay, I wrote my second shot in a hurry! I’ll try and demystify. In short, I’m passionate about educating designers in the benefits of taking a more holistic view of the creative process. Taking the time to explain the impact of design choices on potential commercial outcomes has a profound and empowering effect on the individual. And yes, that’s good for business too!

Surprisingly, I have encountered a few rather vocal designers (mostly on forums, so I don’t honestly know if they’re indicative of the community) who feel product validation and viability aren’t their concern. They believe the creative and commercial processes are mutually exclusive. In other words, validating a product is someone else’s problem. A designer with this type of myopia could perhaps be described as an ‘artist’ masquerading as a ‘designer’? Needless to say, I’ve never experienced this in the real world. Have you?