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It is an exciting time in product design – of that there is little doubt – but it is also challenging.
We caught up with four well-respected product designers who are happy to speak their mind…
David Fox (David Fox Design): ‘I guess there are always things that have been done before, it is what twist you add to it, by experimenting on paper or 3D or trying new permutations – or it could be that you wake up in the middle of the night, suddenly influenced by something non-furniture related, such as how a building joins. So, to keep it fresh, keep refining the shapes, and trying different things.’
Craig Jones (Jones & Partners): ‘We are always looking for a set of USP’s in any design solution. This may appear in the form of materials, manufacturing or the ingenuity of a specific problem solved. Currently, for us, technology is playing a large part in our new innovations and we have had to learn quickly to satisfy our clients’ requirements. One of our philosophies over the past 10 years has been to broaden our involvement in the development of things outside of the furniture industry. This allows us to bring a fresh approach to all of our projects as we have different levels of challenges for each one.’
Barry Jenkins (BroomeJenkins): ‘There are obvious examples of products that deliberately copy another. However, in the vast majority of cases, new products are more likely to be derivative rather than deliberate copies. Being truly innovative in any sector is difficult. For a host of commercial and technical reasons, it is especially so with furniture design. That said, all product design is about application and execution. Although any new product will inevitably conform to type, there is scope to innovate with both the application and the execution to make the design ‘original’.’
David Fox: ‘Companies have copied in the past and all my designs are registered, so it’s a simple case of sending a polite first email to the person who has copied – they might not be aware they have, its always better to resolve diplomatically. However, if that doesn’t work, move straight on with a solicitor – in general a first solicitor’s letter resolves the conflict.’
Craig Jones suggests that, if it isn’t resolved quickly, it can be costly – particularly for the smaller company ‘Design protection is a very expensive and challenging subject and, in most cases, the person with the larger chequebook tends to win. We have had issues in the past and have dealt directly with the person or persons, who in some cases unknowingly copied the ideas. Direct negotiations are normally the least costly route and have been successful for Jones & Partners. Also, some of our clients will then follow up these issues as they have ownership of the IP.’
Craig Jones is very clear that designers should be paid for all elements: ‘What other qualified profession expects this? It is a cultural indictment, in my opinion. The issue we are facing is that some designers are okay with this approach.’
David Fox: ‘When you start in business you have to (accept no upfront fee). I pitched four chairs: Korus, Kruze, Edge 15 and Smile, but nowadays I work on commission only, unless I have a genius idea where I think, ‘That would definitely fit that manufacturer’.’
Barry Jenkins: ‘In my experience, clients in the furniture industry rarely accept fixed fees, preferring to hedge the risk of product development by working on a royalty basis. This is not so common in other product design sectors where the sales volumes are far greater. However, royalties can be beneficial for the designer, providing that the product is marketed well and sold long enough to hit the threshold that triggers royalty payments.’
Perhaps not surprisingly, David Fox suggests that royalties and some fee work is the way forward because both parties are heavily invested in making the design work.
Julian Evans (BroomeJenkins): ‘Having knowledge of what has gone before and what is current works in two ways. It serves as a framework for our decision making and protects us from unwittingly designing products that could be seen as copies. It can also work as inspiration and a yardstick. Existing products can be a useful reference, allowing us to see a physical representation of how particular forms and materials might look or how technical details have been resolved. This knowledge can be extrapolated and utilised in a ‘if that worked there then maybe this idea should work here’ kind of way. All creative individuals, regardless of discipline, probably do this whether knowingly or not.’
David Fox: ‘You can’t be knowledgeable about every design that’s ever gone before, but ones that are in the public eye, you can be influenced by – but shouldn’t go too close. They are classics for a reason, and hard to better.’
Craig Jones: ‘For us, it is very important to understand the past so we can redefine the future. Knowledge of market sectors and product history plays a large part in any project as it provides a platform and is less likely to result in repetition.’
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