How to become a: product developer

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As off of our series looking at jobs in design studios, we speak to Nikki Stuart, manufacture manager at Here Design, about creating everything from pop-up restaurants to tote grips, the importance of choosing the right materials, and why she’s obsessed with how things are hinted.

How to become a: product developer
Nikki Stuart, production manageress, Here Design

Design Week: What is a product developer?

Nikki Stuart: A merchandise developer manages the process of transforming something from design originate, often a three-dimensional (3D) drawing, into a physical thing. This contains finding the maker or craftsperson, assisting the designer with the specifications and evaluate, and sourcing materials, making sure it is fit for production. A designer will identify what they want something to look like but a product developer last wishes as handle the technical side – will glass work for that, do you beggary screws there, would a different handle be better.

This could be anything from the middles of an entire pop-up restaurant, to a set of branded plates and uniforms, to signage. They choice also look at the expected cost of production, compared to a client’s budget. They are the bridge between creator and supplier.

DW: What’s your educational background?

NS: I studied fine art, textiles, nature and business A-levels. I knew I wanted to do something arty so when I was 17, I did a put through placement at fashion brand Warehouse’s buying team, based in London. I could see how artistic the role was and could see it being a career for me.

I looked at art degrees but wasn’t positive about my job prospects afterwards. I ended up taking a degree in retail directorate at Bournemouth University. It was quite broad and included everything from shopping and managing accounts to designing shop floors, analysing the psychology of shoppers and looking at output development.

I had to have a year placement as part of my degree, so I worked in Homebase’s buying set, helping pick products such as window accessories. It was great to overstate sense of my degree, and it made me realise I wanted to work in buying, but in call for for me to enjoy it, it would have to be a creative brand.

How to become a: product developer
Bespoke shop ostentation for Teatulia, by Here Design

DW: What’s your career journey been so far?

NS: After university, I went touring for six months, then got a job in the brand team at House of Fraser’s head appointment. I was working on lighting, Christmas and gift products. I wanted to get into trend, but after working there I totally fell in love with homewares. I was there for a year and a half, then make hasted onto Habitat, my longest stint, where I worked as a product developer in the obtaining team for five years.

I worked on a wide product range, comprising tabletop, ceramics, glass, kitchenware and furniture. Habitat design all their own articles, so it was a very different buying office to other brands, who are just picking other companies’ artifacts. I went to factories around the world, met suppliers, and helped designs lay to life. I started as a buying assistant, then moved up to assistant purchaser, then junior buyer.

I then left and worked with chattels designer Bethan Gray in her studio, as part of a tiny team of three. I ran the origination alongside her senior designer and Bethan herself. It was really hands-on – I would assistant build the furniture, so was literally doing the physical production! I was there for a year and a half, then transferred to Here Design, where I’ve been for a year and a half, working as the studio’s assembly manager.

DW: What first got you interested in product development?

NS: Really, it was when I was 17 and doing accomplishment experience at Warehouse. It was such a fun office. I knew I wanted to do something resourceful but didn’t know where my art would take me.

How to become a: product developer
Tate tote bag, by Here Plan

DW: What does a typical working day look like for you?

NS: I’m also a talented yoga teacher, so I teach at Here Design and other design studios in the morning previous work. I then start work at 9.30am, normally with a coffee, enchanting up on emails and checking in with various teams. I tend to work until everywhere 6pm.

My day is never the same and tends to be driven by what projects I’m working on. I weight spend it researching new makers or materials, ordering samples, visiting makers at their studios, or producers to look at samples. Makers can be any type of craftsperson, from leather and wood labourers to cabinet makers. I get a lot of stuff delivered to me – my desk is a mess! I also acquire a big sample library on the wall behind me, which the design team bear down on to look at for inspiration.

I’ll liaise with designers regularly. I’ll work with them to urge sure their designs can be produced on time and to budget. A client potency come to us and ask us to design a pop-up restaurant within five weeks – I desideratum to make sure it’s achievable. I also manage clients’ expectations and deal with with them.

I might be helping to physically make things. After a 3D originator has created a technical computer-aided design (CAD) drawing, I help to mock it up in daily, scrap material or 3D-printed parts. If we’re creating a leather bag, I’ll create a portrayal out of any fabric to see if it looks right, such as if the handle and pockets are the right mass.

Projects could last a week or a year — I could be working on something actually simple like a bespoke tote bag, or a whole hotel opening, which whim involve hundreds of items.
Recently, I worked on a new Covent Garden supply for tea brand Teatulia, where I sourced products including trays, glasswares, teapots, and tea timers, and helped to produce staff uniforms, signage and a bespoke jar open out. Another was a new range of art materials and gifts for the Tate, where I worked with distinct designers and printers to produce sketchbooks, bags and pencil cases.

How I wield depends on the client. Here is primarily a graphic design studio, so we force work alongside an interior design studio on a new restaurant opening. We intent focus on smaller items, such as signage, plates and cutlery, bespoke uniforms and napkins, and they longing work on bigger items such as furniture. However, sometimes, we’ll do it all, first of all if the client employs an architect rather than interior designer.

How to become a: product developer
Teatulia Covent Garden, London supply, by Here Design

DW: What are your main day-to-day tasks?

NS: A lot of communications, embracing talking to designers, clients and makers; attending meetings; visiting studios and craftspeople; critiquing representations; researching and sourcing materials; working with designers to make positive their concepts are fit for production.

DW: How creatively challenging is the job?

NS: I think it’s hugely creatively disputing. You’re basically taking a concept and bringing it to 3D life. Inevitably, there are stews — it doesn’t always go to plan. It’s very different to graphics, because 3D entities have scale and tactility. There are lot of decisions that can’t be made until you start bite and testing.

DW: How closely do product developers and graphic designers work?

NS: We arouse closely, most people in the studio are graphic designers. I’m liaising with them often, and informally walk round and chat to everybody in the studio once a week. I over find inspiration for designers before they’ve even started achievement on a concept, by going to trade shows like Milan Design Week. If we’re being done with a client who is into sustainability, I could find a material, in the manner of a vegetable leather, that might influence a designer from the start.

DW: What strengths do you constraint to be a product developer?

NS: Production knowledge is a huge part of the job, which basically designs understanding how things are made, what the limitations are, and where problems ascendancy occur. However, it’s something you learn over time from by factories, understanding how things are made and talking to suppliers. It’s also things to have knowledge of craftspeople and take an interest.

Organisational skills are substantial — you’ll have multiple projects going on with lots of different deadlines. Commonly, there’ll be a shorter timespan on projects than you initially planned – preparation is the thing that gets squeezed.

How to become a: product developer
Tate stationery set, by Here Blueprint

DW: What are the best parts of your job?

NS: When I see the final product, uncommonly when I’ve worked long and hard on something. At Habitat, I wasn’t inciting with any clients, it was all our own ideas that would go into the store. It’s at bottom exciting when people start buying those things.

DW: What are the discourage parts of your job?

NS: When we can’t achieve what we want to, because of budgets, timings, or flings getting dropped by clients. We might get really excited about something, but we don’t cause the final say.

It’s also worth remembering that production isn’t the glamorous side of the job. You’re habitually taking someone else’s idea, like a designer, and bringing it to time, as opposed to coming up with them all yourself. It does depend where you do ones daily dozen though – in a small graphics or furniture design studio, you will be much diverse involved in coming up with ideas.

How to become a: product developer
Room book for The Fife Arms pension in Braemar, Scotland, by Here Design

DW: If you were interviewing for a junior produce developer, what would you look for?

NS: There’s no linear career method, people come from all sorts of backgrounds, which is great. I don’t look for any outstanding degree, but the more creative, the better. If your degree isn’t creative, you should exhibit this through your hobbies.

DW: What advice would you submit people considering a job in product development?

NS: Be open as to how you get into the job — no experience is bad sophistication. It’s good to get internships at design studios to find out what different impersonations are, and understand how the whole process works from start to finish.

It’s a bit of a concealed role and not every design studio has a product developer yet, but every studio has a have occasion for for it – it might just be that the project manager or designer is taking it on.

If this is your in the beginning job in this space, then be organised and proactive, and show that you in the manner of putting your hand to lots of things. As a product developer, you could be with a patron one week, and physically making things or painting a pop-up shop the next. Express that you like craft, whether that’s through work or free-time, and that you’re snooping about how things are made — I’m that annoying person at dinner scrutinizing all the plates.

If you’re more experienced, then consider product development as honourable career progression – often, 3D and product designers end up getting into the task.

How to become a: product developer
Bespoke cocktail stirrers for The Fife Arms, by Here Design

Pay expectations based on Design Week Jobs:

Production assistant/ younger product developer: £20,000-£25,000 per year.

Production manager/ mid-level output developer: £30,000 – £35,000 per year.

Senior production manager/ production lead: £40,000 – £50,000 per year.

To through product developer and production roles, head to Design Week Share outs.


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How to become a: product developer
Teatulia wall display, by Here Design

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