Theme-Furniture, like all consumer products, must satisfy the target consumer's wishes, needs and values through know-why manufacturing and timely delivery of pieces compliant with laws and regulations.
In order to achieve this, the Theme-Furniture development process can be divided in 1. Research, 2. Design and 3. Manufacturing Development.
1.Research – Market research and legal research.
a.Market Research…sensing and detecting market niches.
As Theme-Furniture is niche-oriented furniture, the design and development of any piece requires prior understanding of the niche dynamics and underlying forces at hand. The only valid tool is your own functional model of a given pilot niche.
Step One: Define & study the target audience because niche consumers are not usually included in mainstream trending analysis. If successful, this should mean a competitive advantage for the designer-developer which could sometimes guarantee total dominance of the niche for a given time period.
Step Two: Research the competition in your jurisdiction, products, retailers, distribution channels, etc.
Research key focus: tastes, habits, products usually bought, favorite colors and trends, usual places visited, work habitat, family relations, friends, home, hobbies, music, political inclinations, ergonomics, mentors, TV and radio programs, income, feelings, etc. Specific subjects: Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or White Glove Service folks (logistics), $$ spent on that category of items.
Tools: Internet surfing and searching, travel, focus groups, interviews, exposure to diversity, bibliography, observation, brainstorming, etc.
Designer Attitudes: wide open mental radar screen, detective's instincts and skills, sincerity, willingness to break new ground, self-confidence, belief in innovations, accepting that designing is giving birth to something as good as a newborn baby.
b. Legal Research
As any consumer product, Theme-Furniture is regulated in the United Sates by Federal, State and Municipal Agencies and Regulations thereof, destined to guarantee consumer safety.
Legal Research is needed before and during the design process. Otherwise, you may find yourself with lawsuits, refunds, recalls or, at the very best, poor reputation.
All Regulations apply to the product’s design, labeling & warnings, assembly & use instructions, manufacturing flaws and aging that may affect consumer safety. Special care should be placed with children products and with do-it-yourself product designs!
· The Consumer Product Safety Commission (cpsc.gov) may instruct a mandatory product RECALL, which means that the importer or the US domestic manufacturer, the wholesaler and retailer must recall and withdraw the sold products that may be considered hazardous or potentially hazardous for buyers or end users, with possible refunding and adequate care of the products' disposal. CPSC applies its regulations to past production also. This is particularly true in the case of children's products.
·Bhfti.ca.gov - Flammability issues & labeling - California Regulations.
·NHFA.com - Testing Standards
·ASTM.org - Testing Standards
·Jpma.org - Voluntary standards for juvenile products.
2. Design -
The Theme-Furniture designer should have in mind 5 criterions simultaneously:
a. Consumer oriented design
b. Retail & Logistics oriented design
c. Legal oriented design
d. Manufacturing oriented design
e. Design Management
a. Consumer oriented design = customer satisfaction. Consumer orientation is the most important design focus in order to achieve the esthetic, functionality, price, availability and delivery terms expected by the target consumer as per previous Market Research.
b. Retail & Logistics oriented design entails competitive advantages through lighter and/or smaller freight, better packaging and palletizing, assembly advantages and service (quality and timing), improved labeling, etc.
For example, stackable furniture many times can "make it or break it" as non-stackable pieces would increase freight costs beyond the consumer's pocket (especially in the case of imported goods).
RETAIL ORIENTED DESIGN is essential for assembly issues. Theme-Furniture should adapt to the assembly facilities available at the wholesaler or retailer, and/or to the retailer's White Glove Delivery Service capabilities. Proper instructions are also a must for successful do-it-yourself Theme-Furniture assembly.
c. Legal oriented design = compliance as per Legal Research
As the designer knows more about the product than anyone else, including its aging, strength and failure mode, etc, it's the designer who should be in charge of wording the Safety Technical Data Sheet, which can also be an integral part of the product's Warranty.
d. Manufacturing oriented design = KNOW WHY production.
Focus on timely manufacturing as risk-free as possible, including anti-copy features in order to enhance or ensure the sustainability of the product's life cycle. Legal protection and/or manufacturing complexity and ingenuity are the solution. Obviously enough, if available, all possible legal protection should be applied. But legal protection (patents, copyrights, etc.) is not always available and sometimes is not as effective as shrewd engineering techniques and tricky manufacturing processes (both machine-wise and/or labor-wise) which do not necessarily imply high costs or leading-edge technologies.
e. Design management = demand satisfaction strategy and supply side considerations in order to keep a couple of steps ahead of competition. This includes the timing for launching a new product and our strategy on how to offer our current and future line of products (line by line, color by color, size by size, season by season, etc.?) Retailer information and opinions are key factors for reaching the most adequate decisions on these issues.
"Secret card" - creativity through product innovation and niche research & development & maintenance are essential to successfully avoid high impact from "me too”s and imitations.
3. Manufacturing development
a. Prototypes are essential. No prototype means no idea of what real, down-to-earth production could possibly mean. As soon as theoretical conceptualization allows it, prototype or prototype precursors should readily be prepared, for better or for worse. The material specs and the drawings are essential but useless without the practical expertise of a good hands-on individual who would adequately interpret, enrich and maybe modify the design concepts and the engineering theoretical plans and calculations in order to achieve successful prototypes and pre-prototypes and the specific tooling required for manufacture.
b. Specs: After final prototype has been successfully developed, product specifications and the Production Procedures Manual should be recorded as precise as possible. A short production series and subsequent in-use tests are strongly recommended.
c. Suppliers: you need them as much as they need you, don't forget ! Sample preparation capacity is as important as price advantage. If you pay them peanuts, expect them to behave like monkeys. The low cost bidder is usually the worst. Logistics considerations are part of supplier's pros & cons. Suppliers are also good for technical advice and samples and parts development.
d. Planning: Production demand and capacity, including seasonal and non- seasonal variability. Personnel training with specially developed tooling.
CONCLUSION: The design process involves a lot of trial-and-error experiences, uncertainty management, stamina and persistence, both sensitivity and thick skin, ingenuity, funding, availability of materials, vendor and suppliers, and an adequate balance between theoretical and practical inputs. A difficult-to-find mix of individuals and attitudes are required, including clerical and analytical skills for market & legal research, creativity and innovation shrewdness for new product/ideas, wise engineering criteria, and a good craftsman-mechanic. The material specs and the drawings are essential but useless without the practical expertise of a good hands-on individual who would adequately interpret, enrich and maybe modify the design concepts and the engineering theoretical plans and calculations in order to achieve successful prototypes and pre-prototypes and the special tooling required for manufacture.
Special interaction and adequate “chemistry” is required between the individuals involved, including the capacity to withstand and live with a different opinion and failure, lots of patience, tons of hard-working hours, etc. Teamwork is a MUST.
Copyright by Cecilia Vilches (2004)
Furniture World Magazine-Business solutions for furniture retailers