Title: Geared for export: three case histories
Pages: 30 - 39
Author: James Dreaper
Text: Geared for export: three case histories
James Dreaper explores the way three British companies went about designing products which have become outstanding exports. They illustrate the three main categories of export design thinking: products which sell well abroad because they are superbly well designed; products which have been designed for specific overseas markets; and products which have had the needs of foreign markets built in to their basic concept.
1 D-mac's Cartographic Digitiser
The three units that make up the Cartographic Digitiser Type CF are a control pedestal, a reading table and an electronic console; together, they fit into an area 10 feet by 6. The system provides a rapid method of converting data contained in maps, photographs or films into a form suitable for computer processing. The "pencil" develops an electrical field which is tracked by a sensing mechanism.
Maps and charts, plans and photographs, drawings and graphs - all communicate in one pictorial dimension. The dimension is necessarily a bulky one, so bulky that it would be virtually impossible to synthesise large amounts of information for purposes of comparison. Thus, a problem is posed - how to communicate this information in a form which can be synthesised ? The answer, or at least an economic answer, is to convert the data into the form of digits for computer processing. This is the achievement of D-mac Ltd. of Glasgow, which has for the past 10 years been in the business of producing systems which can achieve this basic conversion -from information on the flat surface of maps to digital form for automatic data processing by a computer.
The list of possible uses for this system is almost endless and already covers such varied activities as quantity surveying, traffic analysis, pattern grading of garments, and the analysis of the fat-lean content of bacon and other meats.
D-mac Ltd. which pioneered the system, was only founded in 1956, but is an offshoot of Dobbie Mcinnes Ltd of Glasgow, a firm which dates beck to 1802; it has a proud record in the field of scientific instruments and is associated with Lord Kelvin, inventor of the galvanometer. For the last three years, D-mac has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Thomson Organisation.
Development of cartographic digitising, to give D-mac's system its rather cumbersome name, has proceeded steadily into areas of increasing complexity and higher performance. The Cartographic Digitiser Type CF, introduced last year after three years of development, derives from the design of the firm's Pencil Follower Trace Analyser which is currently used in the major universities, and scientific and industrial research establishments of 19 countries. Both systems make use of the very simple inherent human ability to point.
The Cartographic Digitiser consists of three main units: reading table, electronics console! and control pedestal, together with the various output units as required. Maps, charts or photographs to be processed are placed on the reading table, and films may be projected on to its surface. A "free" pencil with only a slender connection to the reading table allows the operator unrestricted access to the whole reading surface.
In operation, the pencil develops an electrical field which is tracked by a sensing mechanism within the table, under the reading surface. The sensor, which is on X and Y co-ordinates, follows the trace of the pencil in accordance with the operator's movements. In this way, graphic data is converted into positional data and a vital link is established in conveying visual data to the computer. The precision with which the pencil is pointed is determined by the operator, and the generally accepted limit of accuracy of a skilled cartographic draughtsman is about 0.1 mm. This means that, for example, contour lines on a map, or fathom lines on a marine chart, can be conveyed into digital form with the greatest of ease.
Outputs of information can be passed to three alternative sources of storing: magnetic tape, punched cards, or typewriters. Teleprinters and punches can also be used.
The flexibility of the storage system enables it to cover a wide range of different uses. Its greatest overall ability is to act as the vital link in building data banks for such purposes as field and aerial surveys, automatic map making, ship design, forestry and land conservation, aerospace research, and medical and environmental research. However, the variety of possible uses for the system has meant that the D-mac design team has had to liaise very closely with potential customers at all stages of development. The vital feed-back of customer requirements has played an important part in ensuring that the design of the system, in both technical and ergonomic terms, has taken user needs fully into account.
The electronics console, left, houses de-code unit, output serialiser, output interface, and power unit. The reading table, top left, can be tilted to 15 degrees. Special Marking Pencil, above, is one of a range of "reading pencils" designed for maximum accuracy in operation.
D-mac's Pencil Follower was developed before the Digitiser and is a simpler unit, embodying the same technical and design principles.
The complexity of the technical standards of the system, which involve a very high standard of electronic control, is balanced by the comparative simplicity of the design approach: to produce units which are comparatively easy to understand and simple to operate. This is a vital factor in enabling the system to be used all over the world by operators who can become proficient with minimum training. Thus the controls have been designed to allow the simplest possible operation. Mode functions and output media are selected by push buttons, and the unit incorporates both audible and visual warnings to ensure correct operation.
The "pencil," which sits flat on the table, is a specific area where operator needs were taken into consideration. The ease with which it can be moved across the data allows a very high degree of accuracy.
The visual styling of the three main units is the result of constant analysis of the operating process, together with an understanding of the need to satisfy aesthetic preferences, especially when supplying overseas markets. The essence of the styling policy has been to reduce extraneous pieces of equipment to a minimum and to concentrate on simplifying all external parts.
D-mac has accepted suggestions at all stages of development, including some outspoken advice from American customers about the visual aspects of the earlier models. As a result, the rather crude and stark outlines have given way to a cohesive visual styling in the system's three units.
Awareness of the design needs of overseas markets, and the technological superiority of the system, has enabled Dmac to export more than 50 per cent of the total production; and its vigorous policy of seeking new markets overseas suggests that there is still further opportunity. Last year the company began collaboration with a Norwegian firm, Kongsberg Vapenfabrikk, to offer complete systems for analysing graphic material for computation and producing drawings from computer-generated data. The Digitiser will provide the input to the computer and Kongsberg's Kingmatic machine will draw from the computer output.
The scope of this joint system is enormous and suggests ever-expanding areas of application - the achievement of the full cycle of information.
2 Chubb's Treasury doors and Cash Dispenser
Physical security must be one of the few subjects which fascinates everyone. We are all to some extent affected by the need of security, or the lack of it. And this is also true of valuables. From the small householder anxious about the wad of banknotes in his teapot, to bankers entrusted with the care of valuables worth millions, security is of great importance.
The struggle between the forces of law and those of disorder ensures that firms involved in providing security forvaluables must, if they are to remain in business, keep one step ahead of the villains. It is also important for those who provide security to be seen to do so.
These underlying demands dictate the approach of firms concerned. This is particularly the case with Chubb & Son's Lock and Safe Co Ltd. which: has been in the security business for 150 years. Chubb has an international reputation which is maintained only because the company is engaged on a constant programme of research into materials and systems to keep one step ahead of "progress" in criminal methods. This programme includes design capability as an essential ingredient. Technological, ergonomic and aesthetic considerations are taken into account at all stages of product development, and are applied across the range of the company's products in a way which establishes a recognisable style and ensures the highest quality of product.
The application of the design policy can be seen in two separate Chubb developments: the Treasury doors and the Cash Dispenser, each of which highlights different aspects of the policy but embodies common characteristics.
The Treasury doors are among the latest in a long line of bank strongroom doors, but their development illustrates the need in modern competitive conditions for all aspects of the design problem to be defined and considered with the greatest accuracy.
A key requirement for these particular doors, as with all strongroom doors, is impressiveness. Customers in many countries choose their bank because the visible strength of the vaults is greater than that in the bank along the road. Thus the ability to create a feeling of security is playing an increasingly important role in modern banking and must be taken into account in the design process from the very beginning.
The finished face of Treasury Door 3 is raised to by opening the pair of small folding doors above allow a smooth stainless steel surface with only the bolt wheel. Relocking devices give the bolt wheel projecting. Access to the locks is protection against explosives attacks.
Chubb considered the whole problem of design in modern banking premises, and realised that different areas and different firms require different solutions. The answer to this problem was to ensure adaptability in the design of the Treasury doors. Thus, although the basic design of the door and its protective capacity is standard, there is enough flexibility to allow various possible exteriors, which are selected after consultation between the manufacturer and the architect. In fact, there are three alternative exterior finishes, each designed to meet different customer requirements. The flexibility of the exteriors is enhanced by the availability of architrave sections in stainless steel, which allow the complete installation to form the focal point of a modern banking hall.
Thus, the thinking behind Chubb's development of the doors has been that they should contribute visually to the buildings in which they are housed. And the attention to appearance has come about not by accident, but as the result of a management decision which led to the company's design teams being reinforced by the addition of an outside industrial design consultant, Jack Howe. Howe worked as an integral member of the development team from the earliest stages of development, particularly on Treasury Door 2 and Treasury Door 3, which embody progressive simplification of operation resulting in external appearance shaped to the needs of modern architecture.
The need for flexibility to meet changes in customer requirements, as exemplified by the strongroom doors, is shown even more clearly in the development of the cash dispenser, which was first installed in a London bank in 1967 and has now won export orders from all over the world.
A cross section of the thickest version of the vault door shows the 24-inch layer of Chubb torch and drill resisting alloy. With the outer and inner plates, of continuously welded steel, the door's overall thickness is 33 inches. Chubb uses two basic stainless steel sections, right, to construct architraves for the doors. The surrounds can be designed to suit individual installations, incorporating any one of the Treasury doors. The steel is usually trimmed with bronze, but other materials can be used.
On Treasury Door 2 a central box houses lock dials and bolt handle. Part of the box slides back to permit access to
Chubb became aware of the opportunity which could be presented by the development of a dispenser of money in 1965. Cash Dispenser is the theoretically simple answer to the problem of how to dispense cash to customers after hours, or during periods when a bank's counter staff is exceptionally busy. In other words, it is the opposite of a night safe. Within the very short period of two years, Chubb produced designs, prototypes and the first run of actual models, eliminating a series of complicated problems as development proceeded. But, although the basic requirement might appear simple, the mechanics of design were quite extraordinarily complex.
Research established that the elements of cashing a cheque which had to be taken into account in the development of the system were: the material of the cheque itself; recognition of the customer; verification of the customer's credit; the act of counting out and paying over the money; debiting the customer's account. The complexity of ensuring adequate security while performing these five tasks required that Chubb should co-operate with electronics experts, and the whole project was pushed through in conjunction with Smiths Industries Ltd. which provided the electronic knowhow.
Simplicity for the user, balanced against complexity within, are the key characteristics of the design. Chubb had to take into account all possible permutations of a mistake by a genuine customer - and deception by a criminal. The result is a machine which is simple enough to be operated by the reasonably intelligent customer who can remember the straightforward operation and his own individual code number. Pushbuttons, a clean fascia, lighting at night, and the minimum number of sequences enables the machine to fulfil its prime design requirement, that of providing a service which customers will be encouraged to use because of its convenience to them.
The Dispenser represents a technological breakthrough in the banking field and its acceptance by customers as a genuinely new service justifies the original confidence placed in the overall design concept.
Together the Treasury doors and the Cash Dispenser illustrate twin facets of a policy geared to meeting the demands of worldwide markets. Chubb products are developed in the knowledge that they are going to be challenged. Their design simply has to be one step ahead.
A customer's branch provides a card and code number to be used at any of the bank's Cash Dispensers. In a simple operation, the customer inserts her card, then tabulates her identification number (three chances to get it right), receives her money and her card is returned.
3 Spearwell garden tools
"Changing from production to marketing orientation" is one of those easy managerial phrases which often sound more dynamic than their results. And in those cases where the reality is impressive, it is often difficult to pinpoint the contribution made by design.
Spearwell Tools Ltd. of Wednesbury, is an exception to this vagueness. The company offers not only a consistent story of reorientation linked with a new design policy, but also tangible results to justify the risks involved. For there are inevitably risks when a medium-sized company undergoes a complete reappraisal of its outlook, and then has to continue the thinking into the complications of a merger with another firm of similar interests.
Spearwell Tools, now the largest maker of garden tools in the UK, is in fact less than two years old, having been formed by the merging of the garden tool interests of Edward Elwell Ltd. Spear & Jackson Ltd and Brades & Tyzack. Each of these companies has a strong individual identity built up over many years, and one of the complications of creating a group identity is to achieve unity while retaining the goodwill accorded to the member companies.
Establishing a visual identity is necessarily a slow process in a field where there are many traditional preferences and loyalties. One of the main points underlying the group's design thinking is an open-minded approach, which will enable design to meet what at first appearance seem to be conflicting market needs. This flexibility of outlook is a continuation of the design policy of Edward Elwell Ltd. which in 1964 decided to make a complete reappraisal of its existing graphic design policy, a move which itself helped to reorientate the company from a production to a marketing outlook.
Elwell's problem was simple enough once it had been faced: how to use design to create improvements in marketing a huge range of traditional gardening and agricultural tools. The initial revolution lay in realising that there was a problem to be tackled.
Following encouragement by the Design and Industries Association in Birmingham, the company commissioned Kenneth Bickerton to institute a small research programme in which both consumers and retailers were interviewed. The research opened the way to the first important contribution - a symbol to unify the graphics. It combined the company's initials in a motif which had an affinity to garden tools and was then applied right across the board, from letterheads to lorries, from packaging and labelling to point-of-sale promotional aids. The colour combination of olive, black, and white proved a winner in competition at retail outlets.
Linked with the graphics overhaul, and stimulated by it, went a design revolution in the firm's actual products. Labelling in the new style showed up flaws in the whole operation, in which the application of a coherent graphics system was virtually impossible. Indeed, the economic unwieldiness of a system which produced a range of tools numbering over one thousand became glaringly apparent once thought had been given to a unified graphics policy.
Rationalisation and standardisation of design were then vigorously pursued by the company. A young designer, Roger Williams, joined the firm on the marketing side to work slowly towards establishing a more coherent family style across the whole range, working with a newly created production team consisting of a production engineer, a draughtsman, and two others which covered the company's operations section by section and established new standards in finishing, labelling and packaging. At the same time, new production processes were tried and new materials tested, and the whole range of tools was then reduced from over 1,000 to approximately 650 - achieving a drastic reduction in tooling costs.
Elwell's King of Spades stainless steel spade, garden fork 2322, and Claymaster cutting spade share the same visual impact although they are part of different ranges. This kind of tool sells well abroad because its design is excellent by any international standard.
The Scrake combined scarifier and lawn rake has been successfully introduced Into export markets
The design programme was essentially pragmatic, a necessary characteristic for a market where ingrained habits are a strong factor. Elwell's design team consciously avoided the trap into which designers fall when, having created a good graphics idea, they restrict it to a framework of instructions which eventually diminishes its overall value.
The combined effect of the new design approach on the marketing potential of the company's products bore fruit within 18 months, reinforcing Elwell's position in home markets and increasing its competitiveness in sophisticated overseas markets where customers are exposed to a greater variety of similar products. The design approach also proved a considerable advantage when Elwell eventually merged with the garden tool interests of Spear & Jackson, and Brades & Tyzack. The joint group symbol, which emerged after the new alliance and will eventually be shown on all the tools made within the group, can exist happily alongside the present individual company graphics, and both contribute to the marketing potential of the products. The stylised S of the new symbol will be white on deep red, or red on white, as appropriate.
Alongside the new design approach, the group had also to face a minor design problem:that of catering for the unchanging preferences of intensely individual markets in underdeveloped countries. Such markets demand tools with exact and exacting specifications, often in quantities which are hardly economic, and with labelling, colouring and identification unique to each product. Catering for these markets called for flexibility to avoid imposing a design solution virtually irrelevant to the special needs.
The group has a considerable marketing strength overseas, where Elwell sells approximately 35 per cent of its total output in more than 50 countries, and Spear & Jackson more than 20 per cent of its garden tools.
Trimming axe and log saw. Elwell developed a special range of axes for the Australian market which has proved particularly successful.
Elwell's coconut pruner, Ieft, made in England for use in the West Indies, is one of a wide range of tools produced for different markets with special demands. The tools' high standard of design and graphics nevertheless makes them recognisable as products of the same firm. Below, are four other tools made for export: a cane bill manufactured for use in Mauritius; a gollock bush knife (back) for cutting through jungle in the Far East; a fern hook for Australia; a pickeroon, used by lumberjacks in Canada, and the coconut pruner again.