How you control the final design / remote collaboration

Hi all.

I recently was contacted by a new client from my home-country (i live and work abroad) who asked me to design a piece of furniture for him. As a first step he asks for some concepts ideas and then the one (or more) ideas he likes he could consider to produce them.
I am considering to split this project into two. One project/contract for the concept generation and another for the final design and monitor all the process of mock-ups, tech. details, material/trim/color selection etc.
My question though is, given the nature of the product (hand made in a sense…) how i can control that the final product is as close to the one i designed and i will not face situations such as “hmm… did not find the dark wood you asked and i used a white one” …or…“well… i can not make it as curvy so i made it edgy…it looks fine…i know… i am in the industry 20 years so trust me…”, “hmm… i think that red looks better and sells better than blue…”…
It has already happened to me once to design a plastic furniture and in the end to see some changes on the mock-up that i was not asked to advise so i am really looking for a way to protect my designs… is there any way? Maybe through a statement in the contract or something?

In this particular case, i will partner with a fellow designer in my home-country so i think he could be my eyes and report to me what actually is going on…

Thanks for any info…

It is a difficult one, it often comes down to your relationship with the client, is willingness to invest in design (in this case the hours you need to review prototypes and revise, find replacement materials, work within manufacturing constraints…), as well as your willingness to invest a little extra time on the back end to make sure the final product is as close to the original design intent as possible… There are so many design decisions at every step in the commercialization process.

yo, thanks for your response.

The client is an ordinary family owned second generation business. They have never really used design in a serious way. However, now, as they want to start exporting to major markets in Europe they do see that they have to compete in design and originality as well. The “brief” i got (not even a brief, just a talk via skype that we had) was rather ambitious, something like “we want to see radical ideas that would revolutionize our product category” and their goals as high as well as they plan to participate to major furniture exhibitions next year.

As i said this will be (if i get finally the job) our first collaboration so i have no idea on his way of doing things. The project sounds interesting and the ambitions are high (i know that this does not guarantee the final result…) and i am willing to give extra time to have something nice to present in the end. I need it as well as i want to attract more clients in my home country so i do need a kind of “success story” of how an average family owned SME can really benefit from using ID strategically.

But still i do not know how committed he will be and how this will not end with the very common attitude, in this kind of SME’s aaaaaaall over the world, “ok, good but i know my product and my market better than you so i take over from now…”.
Anyway, maybe it is something also you learn from experience or, in the end, you have to accept that these things will happen. In this particular case though, i think extremely strict and demanding articles in a contract regarding control/approval of the final work from my side may not be the best solution as these may scare him or make me sound really arrogant.


This is also a challenge of communication - something for which most designers lack tact. Often we design great visual and visceral things but we don’t support our designs’ reasons-for-being with ample communication. Good supporting communication can act as a guideline for a client who may, for many reasons, wish to not keep a contract designer in the loop as a project moves forward.

Also, I’ve found that the more we design for certain industries, the more often we make concessions during the design process as a preemptive approach to working within manufacturing limitations (that approach certainly varies depending on how much a design solution ‘pushes’ traditional approaches and boundaries).

One caution on the two part approach you described. The client might decide they don’t need you for the second part, keeping you from earning that portion, effectively cutting you out of the part of the project where you most want to be more involved!

Best of luck!

I have had this situation many times. It is very hard to control the end result as a contract designer. For the most part I offer to review samples and give input but sometimes this is not possible or the client just does not care enough to keep you in the loop. Personally I try not to get offend when they end up butchering my intent but it is frustrating. Just try to re-emphasis your want to help the client produce the best possible product. If they don’t take you up on the offer it is there loss not necessarily your loss.

Generatewhatsnext, thank you for your suggestions. Especially for the last part of your post, this is what i was also afraid as he has the skills/machines so my “concept” could possibly become a real piece of furniture. For this reason, i charged a biit more this first phase of concept generation as exactly he could say that he takes over from there. For this reason included terms and conditions in the contract that would not allow him or anyone else to work on this project and only me and my partner could develop/oversee this project. Do not know if these were wise decisions but this is how i thought i could secure myself in terms of the fee and the design quality.

Singletrack. I can really imagine the feeling as with another case i experienced a similar situation. As long as they do not use your name as "designed by… " it is just the designer’s feelings that get hurt :smiley: if though they put your name on it then hmmm… it is not just about feelings.

HOWEVER! (update) after sending last week a Plan about the process we could follow for the project (steps) and the contract that i would like him to sign the guy never replied (last Thursday). I sent an e-mail again on Tuesday to check if he had the chance to review the docs etc. and again no response.Not even you know “thanks i will have a look and will get aback to you” (even if he never does… just be polite…) … Ahhhh… once again… Same old story. Really hate it when potential clients are talkative etc. but when they receive stuff such as contracts/fees and so on they disappear. Now i do understand the kind businessman he is and if he (ever) gets back to me i am not sure if i would like to collaborate.
This kind of small details are extremely important for me and i think from these you can see where things will go with this collaboration.