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  • Alice Pegman

Design as a team effort

For 11 years, I have been a non-designer in the world of industrial design.

I have become well-versed in the technical lingo needed for our line of work, yet can do little more than draw a couple of lines in any computer-aided design programme. My sketching abilities and spatial awareness are negligible to say the least! My degree in Spanish Studies with Marketing would seem at first glance to have little to do with the career path I have ended up taking. But our work at Neko and our many collaborations with people from all different backgrounds have made me appreciate that great design is that which stems from an amalgam of ideas and points of view. In our experience, designing inclusively will always enrich the final product.

At Neko, creating a brand has been at the heart of what we have always strived to achieve. Despite the insistence of many people to want to put an individual's name on each design, we have always said that our designs are made by 'Neko'; the result of a collaboration between several members of our team.

There is so much more to a finished product than the initial idea. True, our designers are the ones who will eventually make the idea a reality, prepare the renders, 3-dimensional drawings and prototypes, but the process of a successful design from idea to finished product ready-to-go on sale is very much a team effort, involving not just the designers, but also architects, engineers, sales people, marketers, administrators, etc. It would seem unfair to credit such a lengthy process to one single person! It’s important for non-designers working in the field to realise the value that their contributions can bring to a design. After all, we are all consumers, we all have an idea of our likes and dislikes and how much we would spend on a product, for example. One person's design might seem completely unfeasible or unnecessary to another and only by making the design process as a team effort we can tweak ideas and concepts to create a product which is attractive to a broader audience.

Many of our products started out as something completely different. Our first published and prize-winning product, the Orbit bracelet, began life as a desktop pen holder! A team brain-storming session in which one person took an elastic covered circle hanging in the workshop and put his hand through it exclaiming ‘what about a bracelet?!’, and a new product was born. Our current urban furniture line is no exception and we frequently get the entire team together to brainstorm their opinions on a new idea. It sometimes emerges that the majority cannot see the point in an idea, or think it looks uncomfortable, or that they’re not sure about the colour, etc., and these opinions all help us to really polish the final product.

One of my partners once commented that the views of non-designers are often particularly useful because we are not constrained by preconceptions of the properties or limitations of a material as someone who has extensive experience using it. If you don’t know what can and can’t be achieved with a material, you can question it more. This is what happens often in our team brain-storming idea sessions. More often than not, the designers have to say that it can’t be done, but occasionally a new idea emerges, a fresh way of looking at the material, and the final product is enriched as a result.

It is important to bear in mind that a well-designed product in itself does not necessarily result in a successful design business. How you get the product to market and sell it is the key part of making a living from your designs. How to price your product, market it to your target audience, package it, how to run the business to create a profit – all of this goes on behind the scenes and involves a whole team of people with a wide variety of expertise. When we first started out at Neko selling our home accessories through design stores in Mexico, we were struck by how many store owners congratulated us on having ‘the complete package’ – a price list, labels, logo, invoices, etc. What we had considered obvious things necessary for the creation of our brand, actually helped us to position ourselves from the very beginning as a brand synonymous with quality. The invaluable input and collaboration of each member of our team has undoubtedly helped us to achieve this.

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