Limitations as a plus

limitations as a plus

Limitations as a plus

“If they don’t invest in a mold, they probably don’t believe in the project.”

This quote from Ferruccio Modica resonates with me even today, years after our conversation at the Arper stand where he was still the product developer.

I vividly recall that moment when I proudly showcased a chair I had designed without the use of any mold. It was a challenging endeavor as I had to create a soft backrest for a metal chair, devising a meticulous process to bring it to life. However, Ferruccio’s remark left me frozen, forcing me into a period of deep reflection.

Truly, the best teachers are those who leave a lasting impact. While he may not recall that specific instance, it became a turning point for me.

Early in my career, I focused on finding optimal solutions to create visually appealing and high-quality projects while utilizing minimal resources. This approach was highly appreciated by my clients, as saving money during production is always a desirable goal. However, I soon discovered that for some clients, venturing into new product lines did not align with their investment strategies.

The outcome?

Consider this scenario: You invest €50,000 in a mold, along with additional expenses for technical development, art direction, photography, advertising, and distribution for a new product. You put immense effort into promoting it, striving to recover your investment and generate profits. However, when you have a product that can be crafted from metal through laser cutting and a few foldings, the cost involved is significantly lower, and the risk becomes minimal. In such cases, without a clear vision and firm ideas, the potential loss from a failed product attempt may merely amount to €200—a day’s worth of work.

While this approach may not be suitable for everyone, it became my reality approximately 70% of the time.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, this approach can be viewed as a creative training ground, benefiting both designers and companies. Working with simple and limited tools, especially during the formative years of a designer’s career, proves to be incredibly valuable. There is no better design gym than a restricted budget and standard machinery.

Let’s distill this concept into three key reasons:

Achievement in function: when limited by specific machines or tools, your creative workspace contracts, leading to unexpected and innovative solutions. Take, for example, this bottle opener I designed (which never went into production) using metal turning and an industrial metal profile.

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My bottle opener, never went in production because the commisioning company ghosted me after one year of develoment.

Uncovering unexpected shapes: by focusing on desired outcomes and transforming our perception of materials, we can achieve unforeseen shapes. For instance, when designing the Blossom suspension lamp (bogaerts) , I sought to imbue it with an organic feel, despite having only padded metal silhouettes at my disposal. Yet, I discovered a way to arrange them that allowed people to perceive the flower-like construction.

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Blossom lamps, production Bogaerts

Rapid prototyping: Designing products made of plastic often entails a lengthy two-year process before seeing the final result. Conversely, working with companies like Hiro – Your Design Side, which employ standardized and swift tooling, enables me to witness a prototype in an instant.

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Op stool, production Hiro, during the development phase

So, can we definitively say that a company’s lack of investment in a mold signifies a lack of belief in the project? It is difficult to make a sweeping generalization. Instead, it is better to acknowledge that each case must be evaluated individually.

Nonetheless, embracing this approach serves as an excellent starting point for both companies and designers.

For new brands with innovative ideas, a lower investment in product production allows for greater focus on development, promotion, and distribution. It also establishes a unique identity. Take, for instance, the company like FOLDS, whose viral online sensation was a chair that oscillates while you sit on it, created from a simple metal sheet with the right thickness and dimensions to function effectively.

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4mm chair by Folds

Moreover, designers can showcase their value by persuading companies to include cost-effective products in their catalogs, establishing an initial connection that can lead to more significant projects in the future. From a creative standpoint, this approach also allows for mastering various situations. Playing within established rules is an excellent exercise for improvement and skill enhancement. Francisco Jodàn from Fun Furniture for Friends once said, “When I draw, I typically start by setting a series of stakes that create boundaries but also amuse me. For instance, creating a collection of objects using the same metal tube and curve radius. Once I establish the rules of the game, I begin manufacturing, leaving room for unexpected events and mistakes.”

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A chair from Fun Furniture for Friends

Radiohead achieved numerous big hits in their early career using standard rock music instruments like vocals, guitars, bass, and drums. Only after reaching the pinnacle of success did they explore new sounds and instruments to push their creative boundaries.

Undoubtedly, limitations are a valuable asset in design. They serve as an excellent starting point for mastering skills and refining approaches before unleashing the mind with unlimited or expanded resources.

Any experience with good design with few tools? Share in the comments and let me know your story!