setting up/developing first ID dept. for a company. Help!

This may be long, I’m not sure where to begin…

I was brought on as the first Industrial Designer in the company that I work for. I was told they had good working relationships with many factories and engineers overseas and needed someone in-house to help the Product development manager bring “ideas to life”. The product range is vast… Drinkware, writing instruments, bags, office gadgets, and some tech items.

After several months I am frustrated. I have only been out of school 2 years, with internships and freelance experience, but no corporate experience until now. It is now clear to me that the company had little understanding of the product development process. Their previoius product development experience was mostly tweaking existing items found at tradeshows overseas, to make them more appropriate for their market. They have no model making facilities, and several times when I have suggested getting models made (outsourced to a local model/prototype studio) the idea was rejected because it was “too expensive”, and tooling was started without any physical model before hand. They also have unrealistic development deadlines.

On the one hand, the company seems intent on producing their own products and having a great design department. On the other hand, they don’t seem to want to spend any time or money doing it.

Does anyone have experience in building up an ID department? In creating a solid and effecting product development process? Any advice for helping to teach the value of models? of market research and testing?

I know I’m asking a lot, but I see a lot of opportunity

tough situation. at two years and even with my engineering background, i’d have been lost. not sure my inhouse corp experience helpful either. even tho i helped set up a reborn ID department (after a corporate sell-off and employee layoffs). and spent way too much time in two corp departments working on not 2 but 3 processes. those companies sound more receptive than yours.

first step i’d think was necessary for you is changing their mindset. talk is not mindset. tall order to get them to believe what even they might say. probably really starts with talking their language (if you dont already). CG posted this graph on Core a while back - . might start there. it puts a profit percentage to ID. others here can link to similar stats. also keep an eye on the following online mags:

first two been posting alot of info on ID (even if i think some of it is overhyped).

also you might want to have them look again at sourcing things like models. market moves fast. a price from one company last year might not only have been cheaper elsewhere but even cheaper today. dont get permission to get your own quotes. it costs nothing but a little time and effort for you to do this. show them some good numbers. show them the potential upside. when you can show them that it makes sense, they’ll probably let you do what you need to do.

when they start to see the worth, then i’d start talking about integrating ID into a real development process. if you can’t do that first, imo it’ll just be painful and you’ll be dealing with people who dont understand the value in ID. lot of wasted time. time you wont be able to put into projects.

good luck.

Strongarm your producers into producing models/samples. No reason to do it at american rates or to do it on your budget. Make them do it for “free” and get it get squished into the overall pricing structure.

There is a Taiwanese engineering company that several bay area consultancies have had some good success with called Eon in Taiwan. They also claim to do tooling and manufacture. Haven’t used them for this.

Sounds like the first company I worked at. After two years and no one listening to my advice for building the design department, I left. This company isn’t in NJ is it?

I may be able to help a little. I’ve set up ID departments for companies 3 times in my career. Each had it’s own challenges.

I see your first problem may be the company’s lack of focus. That is a huge range of product categories they plan to develop - and with only one guy!! Each one of those categories has it’s own product developement processes and technical needs. I would try to convince the company to try to narrow it’s focus in the beginning, then grow into more categories after some successes.

I agree with other posts - lean on your suppliers. You will need to “direct” the process, not be a designer. Your design background will obviously help, but if you slow down and get caught up in the details the process will slow down and the pipeline won’t be full.

In the beginning you need to get one big win under your belt. That way you can hold that up as a benchmark. There will be bad days when your boss will beat you up about the slow process. You need to be able to remind him/her that you are capable of getting the job done!!

I was in the same situation as you early in my career. I was two years out of school when my boss quit and the company decided to offer me her job. I was totally unqualified, but I was smart enough to hire someone better (and older) than me in many areas - but not a threat to bump me out of my new director position. I learned a lot from him and he balanced my weaknesses. The moral of the story is to understand your weaknesses and find help!!! Don’t implode alone!!

I also know your frustration regarding the company wanting the next multi-billion dollar “Swiffer-like” product - but only wanting to spend about $20 developling it. You need to show them some case studies on how products are developed in similar product categories. There is no free lunch. You can’t get something for nothing. It all costs money. Our strategy is to get as much done overseas as possible. All of our prototypes are made in China. Our plug-and-chug engineering drawings are done in India. We just do the ID and marketing in the US. Get creative in how you spend money.

I hope this helps!! Good luck.

Thank you all for your advice.

The Design Council web site is new to me, and full of very useful information!

As far as focusing on a particular product area, I have been pushing the emphasis onto the bag line, as development costs are lower and turnaround time is quicker, which appeals very much to the company.

we do currently get models from our factories/suppliers overseas, and often times we get deals on the pricing. In the case that I spoke of in my previous post, where models were rejected as being too expensive, the cost was roughly $700 USD. My boss had also received a quote from the factory for a model and deemed that “too expensive” as well (he never shared the cost of the model with me) and went straight ahead with the tooling. We have yet to recieve the item, and knowing my boss I am concerned. He has a habit of changing his mind often, and so if he changes his mind about this after it has been tooled, he’ll be out a lot of cash, though I’m sure he’ll pressure the factory to re-tool for free on account that it was “wrong”

anything he doesn’t like is wrong in his mind, even if it matches every detail previously agreed upon. (pardon me while I vent for a moment) This concerns me because I feel this might strain the relationship with the factory and they will stop doing us favors. end rant

Just want to say that this has been a very helpful topic. Thank you.