The industry as seen by top designers.
A Vendor's View of What Designers Really
Savvy inventiveness, not just designs.
by Arthur Schile, Milestones Products, and Michelle Temares (April 4, 2005)
(Note: Recently CLN has reported on the changes in
(Note: The Designing Perspectives column, "How
Designers Must Cope with a Changing Industry," discusses what
designers must do to succeed – and inspired this response.)
Just finished reading Michelle's comments on effectively
designing for the craft industry (or for any industry, for that
matter), and it hit upon an issue I've been turning over in my mind
Whether reading CLN, browsing craft vendor websites, or
speaking with other vendors at trade shows, it never ceases to amaze
me how all craft vendors are all in the same small boat when it
comes to dealing with the everyday decisions of running a strong
business. We are all under the same pricing pressures, seeing the
same trends, and most of all, wondering how we can be the ones to
introduce the next big thing. The desire to utilize designers'
talents in order to increase the odds that you'll be the one to do
that is strong. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to find the
right designer. In fact, I have never met someone who is, in my
opinion, doing it right.
What we need are not more good designers, but good product
developers. There is a myriad of designers out there putting their
own unique twist on crafting techniques and materials that already
exist. There is simply not that much value in that. As a
manufacturer, a designer's true value is in her understanding of the
market, a vision for a product as it would sit on the craft
retailer's shelf, and the ability to bring that product to prototype
level working independently.
So, as I read Michelle's article, I can't help but think that the
diversification and education aspiring designers need to attain is
not in more existing techniques and materials, but in the nuts and
bolts of product design.
So here is my advice: if you want to make crafts on the side,
place an occasional piece in a magazine or host a make-it/take-it at
a craft show, continue as a designer, and start searching for that
department store clerk job. If you want to be a valued and
successful contracted resource to manufacturers in the craft
industry, learn how to be a product developer by understanding the
1. Marketing. How would my idea be packaged, promoted,
priced, and placed on the retailers' shelves?
2. Sourcing. Make contacts in Asia and gain an understanding
of what product components should cost to achieve reasonable retail
3. Graphic Design. Know how to design packaging or have a
partnership with a good graphic designer.
If you can successfully bring a product from idea to prototype,
within the constraints of our market, I guarantee you will never
have a problem finding lucrative work. – Arthur Schile,
VP Sales and Business Development, Milestones Products Company
I agree with Arthur but would just add some additional comments.
When I refer to a designer, I am thinking of her being a product
developer. It's an essential part of the job. I think Arthur is
referring to what is sometimes called a "sample maker" or
"sample designer." Very different than a product designer,
who is inherently a product developer, although often referred to by
the same title.
A sample maker or sample designer takes your products and
develops a project to place on your packaging, in magazines, or for
use as a make it/take it. They are designing the end use showcase.
In-depth knowledge of product development, sourcing, etc., is not
A designer, or more accurately a product designer, is designing
the actual product. So, for example, a product designer would design
all the actual scrapbook papers, coordinating stamps, and
embellishments. The sample designer would be designing the projects
that showcase the new product. Sometimes it is the same person but
often it is not.
Arthur's comments, I think, refer most directly to product
designers and not sample designers. Some manufacturers hire both.
Some only freelance out their samples.
When Arthur refers to product designers being most valuable when
they are skilled in marketing, sourcing and graphic design, he is
right. Many manufacturers in the industry, however, have concerns
about this. Many have their own in-house marketing, sourcing, and
graphic design departments and do not want the designer to be
involved for both strategic and cost reasons.
On the marketing side, they can be very concerned, and rightly
so, about a freelance designer knowing too much about their business
strategy, especially when the designer may also work with their
direct competitors. Same on the sourcing side. On the packaging
side, many have graphic, size, merchandising, and copy standards
that must be consistent throughout all their lines for a particular
customer or customers. Confidentiality agreements can address these
concerns, but many may still be uneasy.
Manufacturers also often want to keep their expenses down and
compensating for sourcing, marketing, consulting, trend and styling
sales support boards etc add to the fixed costs that are being paid
to the designer. Many experienced designers, myself included, do
have the skills and contacts to provide the above services but,
understandably, will need to be compensated for these services
beyond the design royalty. Most designers are very flexible and are
happy to provide a la carte services based on the manufacturer's
Thanks to Arthur for his thoughtful and insightful comments. – Michelle
(Note: To read previous Designing Perspectives columns,
click on the titles in the right-hand column. To contact Michelle, email firstname.lastname@example.org.