5 things I learned from my Design Lab

‘SiPuó.Design’ Design Lab literally means ‘YouCanDoIt.Design’ and it’s the name of the Design Studio I ran in Italy together with one of my best friend, from May 2012 to December 2014. SiPuò.Design worked across multiple sectors — e.g. product development, branding, concept developments, user research. Core of the studio was to work towards innovative and sustainable applications of the design discipline, solving people’s needs and make them smile. I’ve learned a lot from this experience and I’ve summed up my thoughts in five key-points. For the ones who are wondering why we are not running the studio anymore…well the answer is that my business partner and I had to make a though call when I decided to move to Ireland in 2013. We kept working on the production line of the product we were developing at the time and also on branding projects for a while, but then we realized that we could’t maintain the same productivity we had when we were both in Italy and our professional careers took different directions and we specialised ourselves in different fields. I have to admit, perhaps it was too early to open the studio back in 2012. I feel more prepared to hit the market now after my experiences in Ireland and California and I’m sure we would be able of taking more projects now that we are stronger in specific sectors.

1. How to negotiate with people

As responsible for an entire production and ultimately for the satisfaction of the final client you really want to make sure the job follows everything you planned. We quickly learned that to succeed in work you need to know how to negotiate. We had to negotiate quite often, like when we had to go back to the lamp (PLAYLIGHT) manufacturer twice to ask him to review the production and discard several pieces they had already made. During the prototyping phase, we discovered that the glue he was using not only assumed a yellow color when in contact with the PMMA, but also wasn’t strong enough and the LEDs were falling apart. Luckily we spotted that on time and after explaining that it wasn’t an “aesthetic trifle” but a serious thing that could have affected the minimalistic design of our lamp, the manufacturer solved it using a different glue. The second episode was similar but unfortunately didn’t happen so early in the production phase. When all the lamps were finished and already in their boxes, we decided to randomly check few samples. We suddenly realized that one every three lamps couldn’t be mounted because the pieces had .5 mm difference with the original dimension we designed. Already upset, we also saw that few components had small scratches and the overall quality was compromised. With the success of the project in jeopardy, we had to lean on our ability to negotiate.

We had to explain that the products the manufacturer delivered weren’t as good as the first prototype and we couldn’t accept them.

When you refuse delivery of a product, you have to be prepared to make your case. In this situation, our displeasure with the product led to a direct conversation with the owner of the company, who suddenly became more compliant when we explained we were designing different versions of the lamp and we wanted to produce them with him if the quality had been excellent. The fact that I was moving to Ireland also helped him in seeing his business expanding to a new market. As result, not only they agreed on opening again all the boxes and substituting the wrong pieces for free, but they also gave us extra 3 lamps with new color combinations and various materials samples.

Always wear the shoes of the person you’re talking to, to pick the right leverage for a negotiation.

2. Look for the right expertise to be included in your team

The Design Lab designed different products, and every time we looked for different people to include in our team. Valentina and I have different backgrounds but we are both designers. For the Design Lab to be successful, we needed to identify our weaknesses and find the right people to compliment our strengths so that we could complete a wide variety of projects.

We looked for mechanical engineers when we were working on our urban furniture project (The 8’s Game). This project implied rails, moveable parts and safety issues so we needed their expertise to fix the technical aspects.

Later, when our team was faced with the task of working on a children’s book, we went searching for the right illustrators to work with. We had experience in graphic, but an expert in illustrations for children played a huge role in understanding the right color palette, the type of images, the level of complexity of the illustrations and so on.

3. Research, test, review and test again

Innovation comes when you solve a need and research helped a lot in understanding the user and her context. We soon understood that the power of testing is massive, like the time when we tested our book for kids during a workshop session. We designed different experimentations of illustrations and content, but actually see how the kids were interacting with it and the concepts they were struggling with, was something we couldn’t have otherwise predict before.

We learned that we were giving to the kids too many options per page and that confused them. We modified the second release with less images and a cleaner page and that seemed to work better.

The concept “test early in the design stage and then again during the development of your project” is true, we experienced that.

4. Tell people you need help

We learned that right from the start of our journey, when we were looking for an office which turned out being right in front of our eyes, since a friend of us was looking for someone to share the rent of her office.

Later, when we were organizing the user testing for our books for kids and we started looking for a venue. We visited libraries, book shops and schools big enough to host approx 10 kids and comfortable at the same time. Eventually we end up selecting a kids’ book shop of a friend of our partner for that project. It was the perfect choice: the place was cozy (it also had a big couch in the middle of the shop) and the owner had previous similar experiences for book launches.

5. Compare different offers before making your choice

When you think the hardest part is done because you’ve completed your research on the users; you understood their needs and you know what you want to design to solve them, then you face the production phase.

You search for local suppliers (we always preferred to act local if possible), ask and get their quotes and you realize that every single manufacturer offers you very different quotes. They usually point out several technical production aspects that you need to take into account as designers. So you learn what to ask to the next one from the answers of the formers.

For a single prototype of the lamp we had a quotation range between 950€ to 70€. We learned that not stop yourself at the first answer you get is crucial if you want to understand more about the process and also save your resources. 
Surely didn’t hurt having some prior experience working with Chinese suppliers and a deep knowledge in the lighting sector, as we worked to make the right choice.