Working as a product designer

 30 August 2012

Kal Chottai is a designer and founder of product design company Damdesign. He talks about how he started his career in design and has 9 essential skills for a design business.

Kal Chottai is a designer and creative consultant.
Kal Chottai is a designer and creative consultant.

Becoming a designer

I wanted to be an inventor ever since I could remember. A designer was as close to that as I could get as a suitable career option.

"If you're not constantly exploring the environment around you, you won't have the inspiration to do something new."

I took Design at GCSE, then Maths, Physics and Design at A Level so that I could enrol for an Industrial Design degree.

I studied a BSc (Hons) in Industrial Design as a thin sandwich – meaning I spent 6 months working for a design studio and 6 months in Italy studying Design & Architecture.

Having fallen in love with Italy, I won a Bursary to return to Milan and do a Masters in Design Management.

Running a design business

Running your own business requires a lot of multi-tasking and managing your time and effort effectively. Then there's the business of design, and of making it pay for itself  and creating products/provide services which will actually make a return.

Some of the tasks include:

  • Design & creating products
  • Presenting products at trade shows
  • Getting press
  • Following up on leads
  • Getting production organised
  • Converting leads to orders and then fulfilling these.

All the while you need to keep abreast of what is happening in the design community, global trends, new technologies and processes etc.

Staying creative as a designer

My inspiration comes from nature and the interaction of people with everyday objects.

"Working with experts means that you can get things done faster and with better results."

For keeping creativity at the forefront – it's about making sure it's not just another light or chair or table. If you're not constantly exploring the environment around you, you won't have the inspiration to do something new.

Innovation in materials and technologies also inspire me to create new designs. They can be inspirational, but also change your approach in the creative process. It is important to capitalise on these innovative opportunities.

Developing creative partnerships

Complimentary skill sets are always a good idea and can lead to fruitful partnerships. It has definitely been important to do this in order to work with manufacturers. And also to share knowledge or collaborate with other designers/companies. 

I have designed several products in collaboration with different designers and craftsmen who have specific design skills. For example, I worked with a leather designer to produce cushions with moulded leather inserts and worked with glass workers to produce a chandelier design.

Working with experts in their field means that you can get things done faster and with better results.

Challenges in the design industry

There are more and more independent designers and lots of one-trick ponies. Many designers are not geared up for business, so cannot deliver on their promises that they have made to potential clients at trade shows.

"The smaller the outfit you are, the more skilled you need to be."

High street retailers are fighting a losing battle with the internet and e-commerce sites, and so are turning the screws on designers with regards to commissions/royalties.

The internet has changed the way designers are seen. They are more visible globally, especially on specialist websites and forums. It's hard to be seen on your own website when there's so many things about on the web. My business needs to sell through larger outfits on the internet that have more user traffic.

Getting your designs noticed

I have done several design fairs and trade shows around the world, including some important ones such as 100% Design (London) and Salone del Mobile (Milano).

It is important to get my work seen by bigger audiences and to get international contacts. This can take several years of doing the same shows in order to establish yourself and be taken seriously. It is also important to visit shows in order to understand consumer trends and what the competition is up to.

Professional development and support for designers

Other than the education system, all else is through experience and 'on the job', as well as making use of support networks to trying new software and processes.

"It's great to know you are not alone in the issues that you face as a designer and as a business."

There are many one-day and three-day training courses, so you can get knowledge in bite-sized chunks.

Working with other designers and making use of a designer network also means that you can learn a lot without having to make mistakes. This sort of knowledge sharing is beneficial to one and all.

Support networks are very important. It's great to know you are not alone in the issues that you face as a designer and as a business.

It's also great to have support organisations which allow you to expand your business and offer help on improving certain skill sets. They are available for advice on key areas such as skills, training, access to funds, and grants for exhibiting abroad.

9 skills to be a designer

The smaller the outfit you are, the more skilled you need to be. There are several skills that help to run a design business. Some of the most essential are:

  1. Come up with creative concepts and solutions to existing and new problems.
  2. See where the market is going and how to capitalise on this.
  3. Write press releases, chase the press and provide material in a digestible format.
  4. Build a network of contacts within the community and press and trade.
  5. Get prototypes made, products costed – design for minimal cost, maximum function/aesthetic.
  6. Create sales by contacting retailers, other trades.
  7. Set up and present at trade shows.
  8. Chase leads and convert to sales.
  9. 'Cost' your product effectively, so it is viable for you and your customers and their customers.

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