What is Product Design?
Read this page for an answer to this and other not-often asked questions.
Soon after completing my degree I began looking around for a job. At first, things seemed a little bleak in the relatively small business community of Perth. Australia isn't known for its huge product manufacturing sector (unless the product is mineral rich dirt). Fortunately, serendipity stepped in: My Uni' lecturer Steve Rubeck was contacted by a toy company looking for a "inventive product designer". Steve thought of me.
I turned up to the interview with my folio and some of my movie props. The company, LPP created products for small children. My mini-gun and science fiction prop work seemed a bit off-the-mark, but they loved it. I suppose I shouldn't have been all that surprised, most people like weird science fiction stuff they can hold and mess around with.
LPP, is a small company owned and run by two great people who invent and design toy, feeding and hygiene stuff for the 0-4 age group. Their story is a fascinating one, starting with one clever spoon concept and a single distributor, and growing to 100s of products spanning all of the major western markets including Australia, the U.S. and Europe.
In the eight years I worked with LPP, I generated 100s of concept drawings and co-conceived and developed over 40 separate retail products, from simple feeding utensils to truly unique educational and developmental products. These products have gone on to be sold throughout the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia in some of the larger retail chains including Walmart, Woolworths and Target. Nearly 20 years later I still spot them in baby shops and chemists.
I had a great time at LPP. Designing toys is designer dream-job stuff, it's all about playing with fun concepts and turning them into real-world products. I learnt loads about product development: prototyping; computer & hand modeling, stereo lithography & rapid proto, mass-production manufacturing; injection molding, materials technology, assembly processes, packaging... Don't get me started!
I developed a lasting friendship with the people at LPP and we continue to keep in touch. I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who can see an idea through the long and expensive development process to a real product on a store shelf. It isn't an easy path to negotiate even for big business.
Here are just a few of my favorite LPP products: (All images remain the property of their respective owners.)
After my time at LPP I took some time out to weigh my options... Did I want to find another regular design job, go freelance or maybe design and market my own products? In the end, I came to the conclusion that I should at least investigate all the options.
I talked to a lot of people about product development, financing and marketing and inadvertently found several freelance design opportunities. Which was a good thing because it was becoming abundantly clear to me that in order to successfully market my own ideas I would need more; money, time and an effective promotional strategy. Ultimately, I decided to focus on freelance projects and put my own ideas back in the oven to bake a little longer.
The freelance projects covered a broad set of genres, including:
- - Electronic dental tool,
- - Surgical/medical tools,
- - Depth sensing device,
- - Lean manufacturing concepts,
- - More children's toys and feeding products!
- - An industrial power assisted vice,
- - Icon graphics for an experimental OS,
- - HDD repair alignment tool,
- - Automotive LPG conversion parts,
- - Ultra portable underwater breathing apparatus concept,
- - DIY DVD repair parts for PS2 console.
Unfortunately, most of these products are still covered by non-disclosure agreements (NDA) and I can't discuss their details openly.
In the meantime, I also worked on updating my skills. My time with LPP had been mostly; designing, inventing, model making and problem solving with only fairly simple and ink-and-paper concept art required. I hadn't touched Photoshop or CAD in years! Fortunately, the basics were still burnt in from my Uni' days so it wasn't hard to pick it up again, even after years away. I was happy to see how user friendly (and less crashy - damn you Photoshop 3.0 on Mac!) things have become.