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What makes some designers so successful?

 

Does it feel like it is always the same people in the organization who come up with great solutions and ideas worth of further development? Why is that? Are these ”innovators” simply smarter than everyone else? I’ve had the privilege of working with some of them. The technical understanding mentioned in my earlier article, is certainly one factor. Below I list some of the other factors I have found to have importance in being a successful plastic product designer:

Experience

An experienced designer has worked many years on multiple problem solving tasks, witnessed well-working designs and fixing product faults. Each case has added to their knowledge bank of possible solutions. This is valuable, because new solutions usually consist of the combination of existing solutions. Experience breeds self-confidence, but more importantly also the awareness of the limits of one’s knowledge, the ‘conscious incompetence’. Valuable experience does not automatically come with time, but depends rather on the way a designer works and the attitude he or she has.

Problem solving mentality

Lack of experience can be partly substituted by right attitude. This means patience and curiosity but most of all the passion to solve the problem in a new and better way. In my experience, this is a quality one either does or does not possess, it may be difficult to adopt and a burden to carry.

Understanding the relevancy of things

Design efforts often focus on developing hopeless solutions much too far or on refining details that have no relevance. If the design is useless it should be abandoned, not improved on by some 3% involving a significant amount of work. Talented designers understand that everything is relative and can focus their time and energy on the relevant.

Humility

Successful designers are respected on the factory floor, because they are humble enough to go there and ask for advice. The amount of expertise and knowhow available in every organization is substantial. A successful designer is able to facilitate conversation and create material for others to observe and comment on. Help and consultation through collaboration is essential in steering the design in right direction. In return, the final outcome should be satisfactory for the whole value chain.

Hands-on model making skills

A few blocks of wood, a dab of hot glue and a screw can be put together even more rapidly than 3D printed rapid prototypes. I recognize a good designer by their ability to present ideas through functional prototypes – no matter how ‘quick and dirty’ – not through fancy renderings. Working on a prototype or building one is a source of ideas that should not be left unused.

Someone might ask why CAD is missing of this list. Clearly 3D-software, FEM and filling analysis are all great tools. However, companies like Braun and Fiskars have made great plastic products 30 years ago already, and even earlier, without any 3D or numerical control. CAD and CAE are tools only, like the power mixer in your kitchen. When you push a button it minces the ingredients fast and efficiently. But if you can’t adjust the ingredients to make the soup taste good, the mincer is useless. The combination of CAD and old school physical prototyping are the secret of a tasty ‘soup’.

Designers are often seen as resources that can be easily outsourced like a laundry service. But one person can make a difference for any company. Who is it in your company?

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