Product Development Roles and Product Designer Roles

I’ve got a question that I could use community input to answer: I work for a company that designs, markets, and sells furniture for a manufacturer overseas. We are a small company of 4 people doing about $35 Million in business for our manufacturer with major retailers. We have a staff of 40 people overseas (sales support, designers, engineers, etc.) but the bulk of our development process originates from our small office through a process of market research and market analysis, design, NPD, and then finally showing products to customers for selection. Our process is annual. That is to say, every year we create 150+ new designs to show to customers. At the end of the season we reset and start over.

As we’ve grown from $0 to the current revenue, our design and development processes have gotten lost in the throws of business–a small office generally has all employees wearing a lot of hats, and over the past few years we have forgotten which hats to wear, when to wear them, and who does what. We desperately need to redefine roles and create a process for how things get done–that’s where you all come in.

The titles of the people in the office are:

-VP Product Development
-VP Design
-VP Sales
-Creative Specialist

I’m going to give you the current roles of two people, but intentionally leave the roles of the other two up for debate. The reason for this is to eliminate any influence or predisposed notion of what one person should do or should not do. I will, however, provide the skill sets of those two.

The role of the Sales person is to sell. He meets with customers, presents market data, and deals with sales related issues such as purchase orders and customer service. The Creative Specialist’s role is to work predominantly with material selections: fabrics, frame colors, wicker, etc. This person is mainly responsible for “dressing up” the furniture as, after all, furniture for the mass market is a fashion industry. (That’s not to imply that it is a “fashionable” industry, only that to sell furniture at mass the product must appeal to the fashion sense of consumers.)

Here’s where it gets tricky. The Product Development person and the Design person went to the same design school, in the same program, and graduated with the same degree. The Designer has excellent fashion sense and creates beautiful products that appeal to customers but has little-to-no understanding of cost or production implications of those products. The Product Development person has excellent understanding of the market, the cost of the product, and the manufacturing limitations and processes for the product, but really only excels at designing price sensitive products for the market but recognizes a good design. Both are proficient with sketching, 3D modeling, and interacting with the manufacturing team. Customer meetings are attended separately by both people, i.e. Designer attends one customer and Product Developer attends another competing customer, both in a design input capacity.

With that information in mind…how should the roles of the Product Development person and the Design person be defined? Who should do what in the process of development? I’d like your collective input on how our annual furniture design process should go, and who should do what? Your thoughtful responses could very well save the sanity of our employees!