Why Designers Need To Know All Things Production

In the current design landscape, where there’s a trend in limited pieces and customized one-offs, it’s nearly impossible for designers to ignore the small-quantity production process. Buyers are increasingly accustomed to customized products and often expect exclusivity in design. Translation: designers should also think of themselves as production multi-taskers – knowing every step of the production process in order to enhance a design is more critical than ever, specifically how and where to get things made.

Designs are only as good as their production value. When a designer thinks about production as someone else’s problem, his design suffers. A seasoned (and smart) designer is mindful of the final product from the beginning. Production is no longer reserved for large quantities or retail products. By understanding and defining the steps throughout the process a designer can create and control almost every element of his design.

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Recently, I worked on a new bar in NYC’s East Village called Drexler’s, where the owners and architectural design team placed weighted emphasis on custom details throughout. So, in addition to a hand-drawn logo, custom silk-screened wall décor, and all of the brand’s print collateral, I was tasked with developing a custom menu cover. The parameters for the cover: they had to be durable, look original, easy to change the pages, and efficient to produce. After several test runs with mock-ups made from various materials, including cardboard, we chose leather that would hide spills and would age over time.

My design process almost always involves creating a model as close to the finished product as possible before I begin working with an outside vendor. Whether I sew, get in the woodshop, print shop, or literally go back to the drawing board to sketch, working with my hands allows me to think like a manufacturer. If I am able to find a step that is not necessary, rethinking my design can translate into big savings of time and money. With low-volume manufacturing, every design element is important.  

While creating my design, I think about how to reduce the total number of parts, or how I can use standard components versus custom. Fasteners and hardware are very expensive, so it is best to be mindful of how many you use. If I decide to use a certain piece of hardware, I may explore ways to cross-utilize that piece as much as possible, or choose to adjust my design to allow for the components to serve multiple functions. Making something aesthetically pleasing means bridging functionality to optimize the end product.

In the case of making a sample Drexler’s menu cover, I used leather and two fasteners I had on-hand and my 1940’s straight-stitch sewing machine to construct a mock-up.  I then silk-screened the logo on the front to simulate the embossed logo that would eventually go on the front.  Using minimal materials and hardware, I was able to ensure minimal production handling – and control the entire design from start to finish.

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For final production it’s important to find the right manufacturing company and exactly what they will need from you. After researching leather production facilities, I found Gotham Textile on Maker’s Row.  Since I had already gone through the entire sample making process myself, I could easily convey exactly what I wanted. Because I created a detailed tech pack and supply list for the design, the sampling process was fast, simple and I was already aware of what I was getting.

Knowing how to sample products and get anything made in small or short-run quantities improves the quality of a designer’s work in every capacity.  Not every designer’s work is intended to be sold in a retail setting, but by knowing how to produce low-volume products, a designer can elevate any brand to the high level of originality that clients demand. It’s a win/win situation for everyone involved. Simply put, being a designer often means if you want something original, you have to make it yourself.

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