Industrial design at Catalyst is a hybrid profession.

On one hand, there is a phase of unbridled artistic expression which produces a slew of attractive aesthetic.  Flowing lines, dynamic patterns, color scheme, and tactile feedback are all paramount in creating a new product that is pleasing to the user.  But as our CEO, Jack Lawson has stated time and again:

It is a simple fact that even the most attractive conceptual design is worthless if it cannot be made using common and efficient manufacturing methods.”

Catalyst prides itself on providing clients with an attractive, yet proven and functional design that is ready for large-scale production.  As a result, our industrial designers must live with their heads in the artistic clouds and their feet firmly planted in reality.  Creativity with purpose is not an easy task, yet it’s what is expected in every Catalyst design.  We have a term for it here:

Reality Driven Design.

We asked two of our principal industrial designers how they’ve managed that balance over the last 22 years.  Here is their candid take on the Catalyst approach to industrial design.

Industrial Designers discuss the importance of Reality Driven Design

Andrew:  “One of the things that’s different about Catalyst from a lot of design firms is that that we live in an environment of near immediate production. A lot of design firms don’t get the benefit of seeing the impact a good or bad design has on the manufacturing process. That can have its positives and negatives of course but we do get to see things become real much sooner than other design firms get to.”

Paul:  “We all live in a physical world with physical constraints, right? So really, what Reality Driven Design means to me is not necessarily what it is to you or our customer. When you approach design from a reality-driven standpoint, you have to factor in the expectations by the customer, what their goals are, what their hopes are for their product idea. And constraints are good things for creativity. Honestly, time and again there’s been studies that have shown that people are actually more creative when they’re given specific conditions versus just asked to be creative without any kind of constraints. In my experience, it’s a lot easier to be creative in that realm.”

Andrew: “There is a point in our job where we get to be completely artistic and creative. We can just dream of the wild blue, but then we can flip the switch and say all right, let’s think about how to make it. So, a lot of our approach is to first design the ideal product and then making certain that our concepts quickly become something that can be built

Reality Driven Design 1

in maybe an injection-molded process or something like that. That’s the ability we have at Catalyst. Not many designers have the benefit of an entire tool shop dedicated to quickly implementing a design.”

Reality Driven Design 2

Paul: “Yeah, exactly. I agree and really, it’s critical. You have to lay some of the constraints aside for that initial brainstorming or design sprint. And then at a certain point, bringing those constraints back in and say, ‘OK, we love this really creative idea, but I have concerns about how it’s going to be made.’  Then we get to roll our sleeves up, get our hands dirty and

figure out how we can make this really cool, seemingly unmakeable thing.  When we have these constraints of hitting a certain price point or maybe your design needs to perform this specific way or it needs these features or whatever challenge presented by our client, whatever the goals are, that’s good for us, right? Because then it gives us a target and then allows us to be creative within that lane.”

Andrew: “People ask, ‘Well, how do you stay creative if you’re just thinking about the manufacturer?’  And you know, through some of our experiences with customers, some peers in the design world and things like that, I’ve noticed that not everybody can do both. Maybe we don’t pat ourselves on the back much, but in the 20 plus years here, we’ve gotten pretty good at striking that balance. Know when to be creative and know when to think like an engineer to bring it down to earth … make it manufacturable.  What would you [Paul] say we do to stay creative?”

Reality Driven Design 3

Paul:  “Right. So, I think my answer to that would be you need to understand the manufacturing process. One of the great parts about working at Catalyst is being able to go talk to our engineers and injection molders to understand the limitations. An important part to Reality Driven Design is knowing the rules so then you know how to break them.  I think it’s just keeping the open mindset and then tackling the problem of manufacturability along the way, but not letting it limit you too much particularly in that upfront process where you’re really letting those ideas surface. It boils down to what is the goal of our clients and how can we help them creatively achieve those goals while designing something that is also easily manufactured?”

Andrew tends to first push the limits of creativity then flip the switch to think like an engineer and make it all work.  Paul invested years to know the rules of manufacturing and now looks for ways to break those rules.  Together, they tackle some of the most challenging projects here at Catalyst to create innovative, yet functional designs.

These are just some of the key factors in the Catalyst product development process which has led us to the Reality Driven Design approach.  Paul and Andrew actually discussed several other subjects ranging from their personal sources of inspiration to the role field research plays in a successful design.  Visit Mass Appeal in our blog for further insight on those topics.

If you have a concept that requires a creative yet balanced approach, just Contact Us.

Catalyst Product Development Group