A Creative Head and facing off design stagnation?

A Creative Head and facing off design stagnation post crunch?

You have a growing opportunity and you feel a sense of confusion as to how to decide on the right product development direction? 

It is hard to keep our teams pumping out great designs when we feel a lack of steady valid input from the market place.  

It can be scary looking at the market and seeing a sea of opportunity on all sides while knowing our competitors are never far behind.  Sometimes we just want to be able to find a range that puts distance between us and our rivals the way we did at start-up.  It felt easy then and is now an increasingly complex uphill struggle.

Finding clear opportunity

There is a way of carving clarity out of the fog.  Firstly you will need fresh input from people who are like you and crucially those who are not:  people who design similar product but yet have a different angle because they are not in your day to day sphere. What these outreach team players do is bring you a sense of freshness and freedom.  Freshness because they have the time and energy to find new angles and freedom because they are… out there to introduce new ideas.

The emergence of the freelance insight designer means they are able to work while your team push out deadline projects… they also work while you and your team finally get some sleep.


When Nick came to us he brought all the new ideas to change our direction… he gave us a new direction using the same skills in a different way’  Billy Cheung says of China Accent Hong Kong.

‘We used the net to download all new trend from him on the road – then he came to the factory and created the prototypes directly – then he went back to UK to continue with the design and promotional material… and of course to find new inspiration’ 

For China Accent the change was dramatic yet manageable because the production teams were drafted in, trained and well bedded in.  The new product went to fairs and the orders came in from new global partners.

‘We could say Nick get us some clients from Germany or Brazil… and he created the psychological colour and motif profile for those regions… by the next Canton Fair they were attracted to the new product and we won new market share… ‘ Billy continues. 

But this is not rocket science for any pro active designer, but it is the perfect example of how inhouse designers need to stay on task while combining with the trend/insight freelancer.   

Mark Homewood of Designers Guild adds an interesting point ‘When you have this level of creativity it affects the other designers… ideas blossom… ‘  For Designers Guild the powerful colour combination of bold painted furniture mirrored the fabric and wallpaper ranges yet ignited something hugely important: the unique design edge.

Mark continues ‘There was really no one in the world doing what we did and we were pricing pieces way beyond our projections… it was incredible… one series for a photo shoot turned into 10 years worth of collections!’ 

What happened with DG was an overnight range success.  A team was formed which coordinated new tabletop publications which continue 20 years on to sell the product ranges way beyond the reach of the web or retail floor.  They sell Designers Guild product during down time, sipping coffee or chatting with friends.

The freelance insight designer enabled a whole new world of opportunity which for you, the driving force of the team, is the perfect foil.
Focus pays

Once you have the correct input of new ideas and new client reach mood boards, work life becomes far easier because it removes stress and targets are frequently exceeded.  

But here we find another rock to avoid:  JD overreach

Stagnation fear is a real sensation that creeps in when inhouse designers attempt to develop trend and fail through lack of linear strategies. 

Cezanne is senior designer for China Accent who went from JD of product design into attempting to source new trend and fell over, losing confidence in his ability:  his product development success stalled and needed careful mentoring before returning, after 2 bleak years, to success. 

Confidence and studio buzz is fuel but when things slide…

The reason for this was fairly simple: he could make linear design decisions and move products from season to season but he had no experience of how to find and  judge new dots that arrived needing to be joined up in a different way.  It is often impossible for production designers to have the regular range of outer world exposure that is necessary in judging new emerging trend, new ideation ‘codes’ and winners or losers – because they normally work on products incrementally further down the retail market chain.

When you brief the freelance designer to go out and find something new you will have to expect to be surprised the moment they come back to you.  They must convince you in seconds that they have it right.  The communication bounce must be as clearly defined by the design head as possible.

When I worked with Nina Campbell I never really knew what she had in mind in the usual sense… she implied it – because we clicked I always read her subtle ideas.  With Tricia Guild it was also very subtle cues and hints… Laura Ashley were far more clear in their brief which took you to the door of NPD success,’ reflects Nick Garrett. 

By delving into each client’s brand, the solutions come to the surface very quickly because the process is a logical path.  If you want results it must be logical.


Method does not suck

The existing client brand is the core theme which sends the insight designer into similar producers for reference. For Jatex International the brand ID was Turkish carpets and metal ware.  To convert this none existent brand into an global mix needed logical trade building decisions.

Secondly the complete retail future story must be clearly confirmed by the FIP and storyboarded into roadmap.  Jatex asked for product sourcing allowing 2 days setting up on site in Pazhou Fair China and full documentation of insight for CEO to assess on arrival. 3 key suppliers were found with both metal and ceramic collections cherry picked.

Thirdly a summary of the process needs to be published to the DH in order that the story can be fully launched and read by all product development and design team members.  This was done with Jatex and gave the project a set of clear benchmarks and targets.

With design insight onboard you move into full light of clarity, grab new product gain momentumn and feel safe. You have control over the budget, the problem and enjoy a new sense of buzz.  Because you have the FIP working from your corp look, the solution is always on ytrack, it can be easily sold to design team at the bench because it is familiar yet new.  And when you sit back to consider the key objective of staying ahead, within budget, this fresh change brings you immediate success across your chief concerns, peers and directors – not only that, the word gets out, web teams pick up the buzz which in turn kickstarts VM ideas.

Success breeds success.

Erkut Aribas, CEO Jatex has a clear final word  ‘We needed a look fast … to challenge our competitor who was growing very quickly… our freelance tie up with Nick gave us a whole new range of contemporary furnishings in 6 months:  Zen reactive glaze ceramics, bold minimalist copper and bronze metal work and global ethnic kilim furniture.  These were an instant fusion of themes.  From just selling Turkish rugs I had the whole roomset … I took on 5 new showrooms and expanded 40% margin increase in the first year. 

If you would like more information about more freelance insight design and project structures email me here at nickgarrett2828@yahoo.co.uk

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