Title: How consultant designers work
Pages: 36 - 43
Author: Corin Hughes - Stanton
Text: How consultant designers work
by Corin Hughes-Stanton
Most manufacturers are still very vague about what industrial designers actually do, how they work, and the areas of responsibility they are given in the design process. And only a few manufacturers know how to go about getting an industrial designer, or even know that trained designers exist to help them. The author has visited a number of designers who specialise in product design, and has discussed with them their working methods and how they fit in with other members of a manufacturer's production team. Basically they all offer the same service, but the way they go about their jobs varies almost as much as the character of their designs. This first article concentrates on how three consultant designers work out their contractual arrangements with their clients.
The first consultant designer I visited was David Carter of David Carter Associates in Warwick. A young man, he has already established an outstanding reputation in this country. Among his clients are Morphy-Richards (now part of British Domestic Appliances), Standard Telephones and Cables, Stanley Tools and Yale and Towne. He has designed electric fires and heaters, scales, hand tools and telephone equipment. He has also just completed a comprehensive range of gas fittings and cocks for the Wales Gas Board, and is now working on a gas meter and associated equipment.
The growth of a practice
He and his wife live a mile or two from his office in Leamington Spa. They met at the Central School of Art and Design, where he was taking one of the school's first product design courses. When he left the Central, Carter and his wife moved up to the Black Country because there were no jobs at that time in London. He then spent four years with Radiation Ltd. followed by five years with Revo Electric Co. Here he built up an effective design group. In 1960 he left to establish his own office, because he felt that there was a need for specialist product designers working as outside consultants to industry. At first jobs came in rather slowly but soon, as his ability became more widely known, work came in so fast that he had to move his office first to Leamington Spa and then, when that was not big enough, to Warwick.
With him, Carter has three industrial designers (all design school graduates), a qualified engineer (on a consultant basis), a model maker, a part time graphic designer and a secretary. They work in two huge rooms. At the back is the photographic dark room and a model making room. This latter is particularly well equipped because most of his firm's designs are presented in model form.
Although Carter likes to hold to his normal method of working, especially as he finds that most of his clients also find it convenient, he is not inflexible. That is why, right at the beginning of a job, he likes to establish not only what exactly is wanted but also the best way of going about it.
He has a number of different contractual arrangements, varying them according to the working methods of the client, so that the system used will satisfy both sides without being too complicated. But at the start of a job, whatever system is used, he always sends to a client an outline of charges and costs and a 'conditions of contract' form.
It is a sensible and clear document which protects the interests of his client as much as it does his own. The first clause refers to confidential information. This binds him not to divulge any of his client's or employer's confidential information, production plans or production methods. The second clause gives the copyright of the design to the client on paymentfor the design work in question. Another clause allows the client to use the designer's name for any publicity for the product so long as it does not infringe his Code of Professional Practice, and so long as the design is not altered from that agreed by the client and the designer at the conclusion of the project. The same clause ensures that the designer may only inform the Press of his work with the agreement of his client.
There are also clauses dealing with the agreements for the
David Carter - two huge rooms in an old mill warehouse
Rima Electric Co's brief to David Carter for this fan heater chiefly demanded a very low cost product. He was able to reduce the design of the housing to three main components - the foot, the grill and the body.
cancellation of a project, exclusive services and fees, renewal of contracts and arbitration if any dispute or differences arise. Many industrial designers use documents similar to this one, but Carter's is a model of its kind.
He also has had one or two royalty agreements; but although he is not against them he does not encourage them. He does, however, accept retainers based on an agreed annual fee. This guarantees the client his exclusive services in a given area of design and the right to call on him at any time. His other main working method is on a job-to-job basis.
Phasing the fees
The way in which this works out in detail gives a clear picture of the way in which Carter designs. He divides any job into two main phases. The charge for the first phase is a fixed figure, and for the second phase is based on the hours worked. In addition to the estimates for phases one and two, he sometimes suggests that money should be earmarked for the cost of special research for special production discussions or conferences (should the product prove to be so complex that these take up more time than is normal).
In the first phase, he meets the client and establishes what is required. He then sends him an estimate for the cost of the basic design together with the conditions of contract, plus the hourly rate charges for the second phase and a programme of job development. If this is agreed by the client, he then suggests a more detailed production meeting. Finally, he creates the outline design and presents his proposals usually in model form - to the client. This presentation meeting is the climax of phase one. If the client does not like the design, then that is the end of the matter and the contract is terminated. If the client likes the design, then the second phase commences. This involves detailed development of the ideas, discussions and meeting with the client's production team, further visits to the factory, and the preparation and drawing of the final specifications, as well as the making of a final detailed model if this is required.
Carter likes to be closely involved with every stage of development, and to finalise the finished design himself so
Another heater designed by Carter, this is a convector by Morphy Richards. Again, it was a low cost job, and one which had to accommodate in a slim device the client's existing element and a time clock. Carter's kitchen sea/es for Albion Foundry are made almost entirely out of the same material - though the pan is a plastics moulding, and the mechanism is shrouded by an extruded plastics cover.
that the end product will be as near as possible to the original and of the standard he was commissioned to produce.
Engineering that complements design
After I had left Carter, I went to see John Barnes of Allen-Bowden Ltd in his office a few miles away in Leamington Spa. A large classical Victorian house set in the middle of green lawns, it has seen the creation of some of the most successful selling designs manufactured in this country since the war.
Allen-Bowden Ltd. of which Barnes is chairman, has a staff of 20 people. It is composed of an industrial design unit under Barnes, and an engineering department. The engineers are primarily there to assist in the company's industrial design activity.
Barnes, who joined Allen-Bowden in 1946, is best known for his design work for the engineering industries. He is also well known for his designs for Avery's weighing and testing machines, contributing complementary industrial design to the firm's outstanding engineering achievements. He has produced a wide range of domestic room heaters, wash basins and taps, and other types of builders' hardware. He also works on the industrial design side of heavy capital goods like furnaces, machine tools, heavy electric gear and textile manufacturing machines. In the last category, for instance, he has been faced with a fine piece of engineering, but one which is antiquated in appearance. His job has been to make it look efficient and also work more easily from the point of view of the operator.
Often this kind of work has been triggered off by a firm's competitors in foreign markets. As one production manager said to him, "I don't have much time for this sort of thing, but if you can convince the salesmen, then you win". Barnes has won over and over again, not only to his own advantage but also to that of British manufacturers.
Briefing starts at the top
He told me that for industrial designers "the greatest problem is regularising briefs", and that is why he likes to establish right at the start exactly what the job is. At the first meeting with a client, he always goes to the client's office or factory and insists on dealing at this stage only with the top management. Since he rarely gets written briefs, he asks as many questions as he can, looks at the client's plant, and finds out what kind of components the firm has in stock and whether it intends to use any bought-out parts.
On his return to his own office, he discusses the project with members of his staff, always including a senior engineer. He then writes to the client and puts forward his interpretation of the brief, and his estimate of the cost of the job. After his services have been retained - and usually after a trial period ~ he drafts a 'letter of appointment', to be signed by the secretary of the client's company and himself. This document has much the same purpose as Carter's conditions of contract, but takes a rather different form. To begin with, it is
How consultant designers work
John Barnes-successful selling designs
from the client to the designer, and it goes very fully into actual payments. These may be divided into fees for actual design work and also consultation fees. It lists in considerable detail exactly what the designer's services will include, with clauses like "preparation of such engineering drawings as may be required to support the designs".
It also lists all kinds of other basic services such as "preparation of designs in forms suitable to us". Then there is a clause listing the client's main types of products and an agreement that if the designer is not actively concerned with any of them he will only consider designing such products for another client with the agreement of his existing client. Like Carter's document, this letter of appointment also states that the designer will not work on any similar projects for another client, that the designer will strictly maintain trade secrets, and that the copyright of the design belongs to the client's company. But Barnes also designs for clients on an ad hoc basis, and this arrangement is governed by the same principles of secrecy as those in the letter of appointment.
The estimate is based solely on likely working hours, and covers fees for the total job - the actual designing, outline and detail drawings, and final working drawings. Barnes rarely presents his designs in model form, and if a client wants a model then he charges an extra fee for this work. He always submits one design only. However, Barnes points out that nowadays 'estimate' has come to mean actual cost. Since it is often impossible to gauge this with complete accuracy before embarking on the design of a complex or new type of product, he uses the term 'probable cost', quoting between a high and low bracket. If it looks as if costs (in terms of working hours) are going to overrun the original estimate, he lets the client know at once and discusses the situation with him.
When actually designing, Barnes first likes to attend a meeting of all the members of the production team including, of course, the senior engineering manager. Although he personally controls a design from beginning to end, he has four assistant industrial designers. The one selected to be most closely involved in a particular project usually attends this meeting as well. When the product has been designed - and the process usually involves several visits to the client's factory and more production staff meetings - his studio produces outline drawings. After this, another major meeting is held with the client's engineers to discuss production costs, before the final outline drawings and visuals of the design are submitted to the client.
Standing on the lawn outside his office I asked Barnes, as I had asked Carter, whether being so far from London was a disadvantage for an industrial designer. He hotly denied this, and pointed out that his office is in a central position in Britain, and that his clients are scattered over a wide area. In fact, both he and Carter are very close to some of their most important clients.
Village in a scientific centre
I also discussed this problem with Alan Bednall, the third of the independent industrial designers to whom I talked, when I
John Barnes has worked as a consultant W. & T. Avery for about l9 years, during which time he has designed for the firm over 200 projects, including sea/es and weighing machines of all kinds as well as testing machines, exhibition stands, etc. This design is a 14 lb shop counter scale in cast iron, vitreous enamelled for easy cleaning.
The Viking cistern, designed by Barnes for Valor Cisterns Ltd. is a best seller in its field. Barnes was able to change the conventional cistern form not for arbitrary aesthetic reasons but because of the capabilities of the injection moulding process used in its manufacture (previously, cisterns were generally of vitreous china).
went to see him the following week. He lives and works in a small village three miles outside Cambridge, and specialises in consumer products and scientific instruments. Many of his clients are situated close to him, for instance Pye of Cambridge and W. R. Prior & Co Ltd of Bishop's Stortford, for whom he has designed a biological microscope. He is surrounded by booming new towns like Harlow and Stevenage, and in addition is in the middle of an area which is a centre of instrument and scientific research. Indeed, he probably has better contacts with modern engineering and scientific development in Cambridge than he would have in London, to which anyway there is a fast, regular rail service.
In the domestic field, his work includes not only radios and television sets, but also stationery equipment. In the industrial field, he has worked on audio visual aids and has recently completed the industrial design side of an image analysing computer (manufactured by Metals Research Ltd), which is a microscope geared to a camera and a computer for analysing metallurgical specimens.
A variety of approaches
We held our discussion in his offce/studio, where he works with two assistants. I asked him how he went about a job of designing, and he told me that his approach varies with the type of work he does. For example, the design of radios mainly means designing the box. But even here he will discuss the layout of the inside with the engineers in an endeavour to make the arrangement of the control knobs more satisfactory. Equally, in the case of something like a microscope he designs not the optics but the appearance and control mechanism. Yet Bednall will also design the actual mechanism of a product if he is asked to do so. For instance, for a ballpoint pen he not only designed the shape, but also invented the retraction mechanism.
He is thoroughly market oriented, travels widely to look at different designs, attaches a lot of importance to market research and inspects rival models to check what is selling and why. Even though he freely admits that in the case of consumer products like radios the box may have to be redesigned several times during the life of the machine itself, he also believes that any satisfactory step forward in appearance must be based on technical advances. Therefore, with firms with which he has a close working relationship he often takes the initiative himself. Rather than go to, say, the Radio Show and suggest "Let's try that kind of shape", he will visit the factory and ask whether the research department has developed a new technique or has experimented with a new material. If it has, he discusses it with the researchers and engineers and then goes away and works out how it could be used in a new, more satisfactory, design. "The most important job for industrial designers", he says, "is to take new materials and engineering techniques and to apply them
How consultant designers work
Biological microscope made by W. R. Prior & Co Ltd. The sculptural shape Alan Bednall gave this device resulted solely from the engineering, production and operational requirements of the product.
Alan Bednall - in the fields behind his office, but with booming industries all round
in a way that consumers can use".
It is obvious that Bednall thinks industrial designers must work very closely with other members of a production team. At the same time, he points out that "Big firms can employ all the designers in the world and get nowhere because the supporting policy and machinery are not there." He then told me how he likes to design. Like Barnes, he finds that the major problem is finding out what the client really wants in order to be able to avoid designing on a trial and error basis. Getting the brief right is also vitally necessary so as to hold down development costs. So often he finds the brief is merely "We want a refrigerator". This usually means that he is being asked by firms to tell them what they want.
Therefore, he first works out the brief, which is, inevitably, the basic design from which the final product will logically develop. This enlarged brief, or outline design, he submits with estimates to the client. If it is accepted he then works very closely with the factory production team as well as the sales staff, as do all the other designers I spoke to. Indeed, Bednall thinks that industrial design plays a very important role in sales: "Cost is very important, but once most products are of a high standard, design becomes the deciding factor".
His fee covers the outline drawings and design development work, all the necessary travel, research and conference time, and the presentation drawings, as well as the production drawings. He uses a number of different contractual arrangements, including Carter's two-phase system. In addition, for one-off jobs he charges a fee based on the number of hours worked, keeping the client in touch with how things are going and where the complications may arise.
He also has a number of retainers. These are paid quarterly and are revised, if necessary, once a year. They give the client exclusive services in a particular area of industrial design, and also top priority if a rush job is necessary. He also has an interesting arrangement with Pye, a firm where he spent five years as a staff designer. Ten years ago, when he decided to set up on his own, Pye was extremely helpful and gave him a long term contract. Its fee for a design is divided into two parts; a flat fee for the design, and a production fee if the product is put into production.
Bednall points out that his work on Pye's 3026 table model radio represents the opposite approach from that followed with the microscope. This is essentially a packaging job - putting a box around the guts. Though even here he was able to work with the engineers to design a control layout and determine the position of the knobs on the panel.