Title: Designers on the pay-roll 1
Pages: 52 - 57
Author: Corin Hughes-Stanton
Text: Designers on the pay-roll 1
by Corin Hughes-Stanton
The two articles that follow report on the influence and working methods of two different kinds of staff designers. For the first article, Corin Hughes-Stanton (who last month looked at the methods of three consultant designers) has interviewed two designers whose employment on the staff of large companies has given them a wide range of responsibility and influence. This is followed by a feature (pages 58-63) describing the way in which a small industrial design unit operates in a large engineering firm.
Both the industrial designers I visited for this investigation are employed by manufacturing firms. The first was Richard Stevens, who is industrial design manager of Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd; and the second was Peter Williams, an industrial designer with Lancashire Dynamo and Nevelin. Although both have different types of jobs, they do give an idea of what designers on the pay-roll can do for firms which are prepared to back them and give them the right kind of responsibility and opportunities.
Richard Stevens came to STC because the managing director decided that, although the firm had in the past used outside industrial designers, it needed a design manager to co-ordinate the firm's design policy. Stevens was a practising designer, but since joining the firm three years ago he has virtually become an administrator. His office is in a modern building in the Aldwych, London, overlooking St. Clements and the law courts, and certainly does not look like the studio of an industrial designer. But then there is no real reason why a design manager should be a practising designer. What is important is that he should understand what industrial design is about, how it can make a firm's products even better, how designers work and which of them may be commissioned to a firm's best advantage.
This Stevens has shown he is eminently able to do. He is responsible to the technical director. He has direct access to all the chief engineers and managers of the company's 20 divisions, and he discusses with them new projects which might benefit from the work of an outside industrial designer. As part of this advisory, consultative work he sees the firm's development programme, which is revised every year, and ensures that an adequate amount is included in the development budget for industrial design activities. He himself does very little actual designing, but will help engineers on projects that do not justify employing a consultant, and tackles the occasional product himself. He has no design assistants and, except for the consumer products division, STC has no industrial designers on its staff. During the last few years, outside designers have included David Mellor, Martyn Rowlands, Kenneth Grange, David Carter, Wilkes and Ashmore and Roger Brockbank. Stevens likes to be right in at the beginning of a job so that, besides being able to persuade the right people that an industrial designer is necessary, the engineers and he can decide together what sort of action needs to be taken. Projects which could need attention to industrial design aspects are given a classification rating which ranges from 0 up to 10. A new telephone, for instance, rates 10. A piece of testing equipment for company use rates about 3, and cables rate 0. With a high rating - say above 7 - engineers are encouraged to use the services of a consultant designer. For lower ratings, the engineers themselves may be encouraged to handle the design aspects, applying guide lines on certain details.
STC is part of the European area of the International Telephone and Telegraph Co of New York, and for the last 18 months Stevens has also been European design co-ordinator. Once a year, in Brussels, he takes part with the technical director in a week-long scrutiny of all the major projects in the area. Thus he is now able to co-ordinate a higher standard of industrial design throughout the organisation.
The main products with which he deals include not only telephones, telephone equipment and exchanges, but also navigational equipment and marine radio, data transmission and handling equipment, electronic components and test apparatus. Decisions on the use of industrial designers are made with the chief engineers concerned, who fully realise the danger of putting new wine in old bottles.
The flexibility of choice
Although many firms employ their own industrial designers with outstanding success, Stevens likes to use outside designers because this arrangement gives him flexibility and the chance to match different talents to different jobs. Even so, he has to make sure that whoever is chosen fully understands the company's house style and appreciates that it must be preserved.
Once a decision has been made to commission a designer, Stevens holds a briefing meeting with the engineers and discusses costs. Following this meeting, he prepares a design brief and
Designers on the pay-roll
Stevens commissioned Roger Brockbank for this cordless for use where the operator is a/so a receptionist. It rated 9 in the sea/e of industrial design importance. Certain operating sequences are automatic allowing 50 per cent more calls than a conventional board. The d display screen shows information only when it is needed. The industrial designer's contribution was about 10 per cent of the cost of development. Design at STC is a team job. Stevens is shown here, bottom right, with three engineers from the Data Systems Division. Next to him is A. F. Antenbring, and behind are N. A. King, left, and P. J. Lesley. selects the industrial designer he thinks most appropriate. As part of his job as design manager, he is encouraging engineers to develop their own latent capabilities by preparing the design brief. Having selected a designer, he holds a second briefing meeting at which he, the engineers and the designer discuss outline problems as well as details like colour, shape of knobs and style of lettering, all of which affect the company's house style.
Stevens then steps out of the project, as he likes designers to work directly with the engineers. He does however like to attend key meetings, such as those when proposals are first presented or finalised; and he is always there in the background, keeping in touch with the designers and their work. And if there are any difficulties, he comes in to act as a go-between.
He does not give retainers to consultant designers. Payment is based on each individual job, and he leaves it to the designer to suggest what the charge should be. However, being an experienced designer himself, he has a wide knowledge of different jobs and is able to advise both engineers and industrial designers if the price looks too high or too low.
No longer is he having to go to the divisions to suggest the use of a designer. The managers and engineers are coming to him because they know that he will find the best people for them. Also, they know that once he has made sure that an industrial designer has come in at an early enough stage on a project and understands what is involved, he will leave the chief engineer in full charge.
Speaking an engineer's language
If Stevens' office does not look anything like an industrial designer's studio, Peter Williams' office, which he shares with the production engineer, is full of plans, drawings and working details. Young, he does not look like an industrial designer, or even as if he had ever been to an art school. He speaks the language of an engineer and is as at home on the shop floor as he is discussing sales points in the sales director's office. Yet he is a good example of what a qualified and imaginative industrial designer can do for a firm which gives him scope and calls on his ability at the right time.
His firm is part of the Metal Industries group of companies, which produce among other things welding sets, rectifiers, and transformers. He is, however, best known for the electricity sub-station which he designed for Foster Transformers, one of the firm's subsidiaries. He is directly responsible to the technical director, and is on call through him to all the firm's companies and divisions. But, since his work is financed through the technical director's budget, everything he does is costed and has to be closely justified.
Before he came to the firm, he was in the design department of General Electric. It was here that he put his training at the Central School of Arts and Crafts to use and learnt how to think quickly and overcome problems. He then spent one and a half years in the drawing office at Lancashire Dynamo Nevelin. While there, he designed an electricity sub-station for the company. The technical director liked it, took him under his wing and gave him wider opportunities to produce industrial design in an office in the firm's Oxted, Surrey, factory. At the same time, the sales director decided that the company needed an industrial designer because although the firm's products were continually being modernised they often failed to look up to date. Nor were they as well designed from the user's point of view as they should have been.
As a result, Williams found himself with not only the right kind of support, but also the right kind of facilities. On industrial design and aesthetic matters his word is taken as authority, just as the engineer's word is taken as authority on engineering matters. This
Stevens does not always commission outside people to work on the industrial design aspects of STC equipment. Part of his job is to provide guide lines for the project engineers, enabling them to improve their own industrial design skills. This was the appreach used for the automatic data exchange system shown here, a computerised unit which receives, stores and redistributes information. It is a low-cost unit, made in small quantities, which rated 7 in Stevens' scale.
For this car transceiver, Stevens brought in Kenneth Grange. Stevens prepares the brief and prod aces cost estimates, but the designer works direct with the project engineers. The knobs used here are company standard items. The transceiver, which rated 8 in the sea/e, has a dark grey OrganisoI case with a brushed aluminium front panel. It is largely used for installation in taxis.
About half Williams' time is spent on important but comparatively mundane jobs such as this module unit. He is supplied with a technical specification and the components, and his responsibility is then to design the complete assembly.
For this three-phase thyristor unit, Williams' job was to translate a 'bread board' model into a saleable prod act. The unit is used to demonstrate to students the way electricity is changed from AC to DC under controlled conditions. The mimic diagram is silk-screened on to a Bakelite panel. Holes behind the front cover panel allow pieces of conduit to be slipped through so that the unit can be carried like a sedan chair.
Peter Williams' design for the sub-station housing, made by Foster Transformers Ltd for the South Western Electricity Board, is a modified version of the original design (DESIGN 202/66). It provides for access to the distribution panel at the front, instead of at the end, so that the substation can be placed between buildings (see model on the right). Nearly 70 substations have been ordered.
mutual confidence has enabled him to use his talents to the full and to bring credit and profit to the company. Now, when there is an industrial design job, Williams is automatically called in. In addition, because the technical director is also responsible for the research and development laboratories at Leatherhead, Williams is able to work with the researchers right at the beginning of a job.
For a new product, he will produce perhaps four or five basic designs. These are presented to the technical director who, with Williams, whittles them down to two or three. These are then sent to the sales director, who presents them to the client. The presentation of several designs is the general rule, but in certain cases, as for example the design for the South Western Electricity Board's substation, only one design was submitted to the client.
At these meetings with clients the technical director is present to deal with technical matters, and Williams is there to deal with industrial design problems. Notes are taken of modifications requested by the client and these are then incorporated into the final re-submitted design.
The sub-station is a good illustration of the way in which Williams works. Demand for electricity is expanding by about 10 per cent each year in the South West, and this means that over the next eight years the number of substations in the board's area -3,250 at the moment - will more than double. Since the board is charged not only with supplying electricity but also with preserving local amenities, it asked 12 companies to submit designs which would fit successfully into the landscape. Out of the 12, two were chosen for prototype manufacture, one of which was Williams'.
Working with a team
Foster Transformers was given technical specifications, including the demand that the switch gear and the transformer should be able to be delivered to sites as a single unit. The transformers and switch gear to be used were standard company designs already in production. But to produce his design Williams had to work closely with the company's engineers and researchers. It was his idea to mount the sub-stations on a steel chassis and to put only the low voltage switch gear and meters in a steel cupboard, leaving the transformers and high voltage switch gear hidden behind blue pvc slats. This makes the housing look less bulky. The door of the cupboard opens upwards, giving inspectors and service engineers protection from the weather.
This job is of course typical of the kind of thing for which industrial designers gain their reputation. Williams, however, is a representative of the new breed of young designers who also work closely with technical specialists on what some people would regard as more mundane problems - but ones which are in fact just as important to manufacturers. For instance, he has recently been helping the researchers at Leatherhead to design a cheaper and more convenient winding technique for the company's transformers. Making products cheaper to produce is the responsibility of the production engineer, but he sometimes calls in Williams to help cut costs. His redesigning of a core cutting machine and drilling fixtures are examples of this type of cost cutting work.
Another job he has carried out for Lancashire Dynamo Nevelin has been to cut the cost of producing rectifier bulb caps, again not the type-of work normally associated with industrial designers. These caps used to be made by deep drawing from flat metal. They would have become very expensive because three costly tools used in their manufacture wore out and had to be replaced. Williams looked at the problem, and instead of redesigning the tools redesigned the caps so that they could be made from parted off tubes on a drilling jig.