Product Design During Challenging Times

Our President Brownlee Currey and designer Ian Thornton during a 2018 trip to China.
Our President Brownlee Currey and designer Ian Thornton during a 2018 trip to China.

In an earlier post, we shared insights from our Vice President of Product Development and Design, Pamela Bailey, on aesthetics and trends. Today, she and our President Brownlee Currey share their thoughts on product design during challenging times. It’s a much-discussed topic in the media, and both professionals have been asked to give their thoughts on how product development changed with the onset of a global health emergency.  

Product Design During a Pandemic

The Currey & Company design team in China, there to work on product design.
The Currey & Company design team in China, there to work on product design.

In case you missed it, we also posted about the supply chain issues Brownlee has been seeing. Given that he is one of the members of the team who would normally be regularly traveling to Asia to explore the development of new products, he admitted his recent research as to how they could get back there resulted in the decision that it’s still too soon. “It’s really challenging,” he adds; “countries will let their own nationals in but foreigners have to submit a visa application, and in China, there is a three-week quarantine mandate.”  

As the design team is at work on product design on the ground in China, Clarence Mallari checks out a fixture.
As the design team is at work on product design on the ground in China, Clarence Mallari checks out a fixture.

To make each trip overseas pay off in pre-pandemic times, the design team would travel to many locales during any given trip. That’s definitely not possible right now, he explains, adding, “Those of us who were used to bouncing around Asia won’t be doing that for quite some time. Fortunately, we’ve filled in the gaps with virtual sessions. We built our own teams and ecosystem overseas, so we’re in good shape in that way, and we’re busy working with those people on the ground non-stop.” He cites a normal schedule now may be an evening meeting with engineering in the Philippines at 9 p.m. followed the next morning by a 7 a.m. call with China. He adds that visual preparation is key. “You have to be concise because everyone is working at 12-hour offsets so you don’t want to go on for four hours. We have people on the ground who are working with the product developers there and sending the assets to us.”  

Pam Bailey discusses pandemic impacts on our product design and production process.
Pam Bailey discusses pandemic impacts on our product design and production process. 

Pam agrees that a shift has had to take place, noting that because timelines are far less predictable due to those challenges up and down the supply chain, the size of our team has expanded in the last year to help us better manage the process. In an article by Allison Zisko for HFN/HAT that included an interview with Pam, our PD pro describes how the new way of working has evolved: “We use a variety of video calls, pre-arranged presentations, and lots of virtual time spent with our overseas teams. It’s different, but things are getting done. The real key to where we are succeeding is that we have strong relationships and overseas teams in place to support our activities, even if we can’t travel.”

In terms of processes like 3D-modeling, she says things are not so different. “We use a variety of different software for rendering images,” she explains. “That really hasn’t changed so much for us. We’ve been serious users of Rhino and Solidwerks for years. What has changed is that we are spending more time in virtual conversations about drawings, designs, and samples being developed, and are spending less time on the ground physically reviewing our samples.”

In pre-pandemic times, the design team would be on the ground overseas in meetings like this one during which they were working on the Reeves Desk Lamp.
In pre-pandemic times, the design team would be on the ground overseas in meetings like this one during which they were working on a Desk Lamp.

She also points out that we’ve continued to release a hefty number of new products each year. “We introduced a regular-sized collection, about 300 new items, in April of 2020,” she says. “Then, in the fall we introduced approximately 200 new pieces and then introduced approximately 100 new items in January of 2021. So while we are spreading the introductions out, we really haven’t slowed down at all.” She explains the schedule change succinctly: “We’ve opted to introduce product four times per year: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. We will introduce a little heavier in Fall and Spring and a little lighter in Summer and Winter. This keeps up a steady flow of fresh new items to talk about.”

When she was asked if she thought homeowners’ or designers’ views on lighting have changed after last year, she responds, “Absolutely! We’ve all been home for the past year and those of us who worked outside of the home never realized where we needed light during the day. Everyone had to scramble to create work areas for themselves and for their kids, and very quickly realized where they needed to add lighting. As we were all stuck at home, we looked around and noticed what we wanted to improve. For some folks, that was a complete bathroom renovation. For others, it was new pendants for their kitchen island. For those of us lucky to have outdoor spaces, we created outdoor entertaining areas where there were none before, adding garden furniture, outdoor lighting and, voila, there was an instant oasis where you could visit with a friend!”

Spoiler alert: in the fall introductions in a few weeks, we are adding a larger desk in the Kallista family, which will be a big sister to the Kallisa Writing Desk.
Spoiler alert: in the fall introductions in a few weeks, we are adding a larger desk in the Kallista family, which will be a big sister to the Kallisa Writing Desk.

Pam was also asked what sort of uptick or changes she has been seeing in home-office related products since the pandemic began. “People are craving workspaces that feel calm & nourishing,” she replies. “All of our writing desks, credenzas, etageres, and lighting are selling well for home offices. People are bringing elements of nature indoors to their workspaces, so our unique vases and vessels are used as cachepots for beautiful plants. Pretty vessels and trays are objects of beauty that are important to have around you to both organize your supplies and enhance your sense of wellness. Bookcases are being styled with decor in consideration as a ‘set’ for Zoom backgrounds. Etageres are being used as room dividers to carve out designated work areas in homes that may not have an extra room.”

Zisko asks, “What are some of the latest innovations in lighting for the home office?” Pam offers this: “People are incorporating more beauty into their work areas and not only looking for the traditional ‘task’ lamp. Every lamp must serve both form and function but because our keyboards and screens are already lit, the desk lamps we select do need to serve dual purpose of both function and as a piece of beautiful décor. It has to look just as lovely turned off as it does when turned on.”

She was also asked if home office is an area where residential lighting design more closely mirrors what’s happening on the commercial side. “Dimmable requests come up frequently, and luckily that is an attainable request whether it is built into the lamp’s switch, or added after-market,” Pam says. “Our interior design customers are challenged to create both beautiful and functional workspaces for their clients. In some cases it’s a separate room, but in just as many cases, it’s a desk in one corner of a bedroom. Everything from the desk to the chair to the lamp to the accessories is part of the overall design scheme and needs to complement the rest of the room.  Some people want a lamp that disappears and some want a lamp that makes a design statement. It’s the jewelry of the room, and some want go big and bold while others choose more delicate designs—that’s why everyone loves us because we have something for everyone.”

Almost Time for New Introductions!

One of our collaborations that began overseas is with Hiroshi Koshitaka, seen here with Brownlee. Second spoiler alert: we have a new colorway of Graduation Chandeliers coming in a few weeks!
One of our collaborations that began overseas is with Hiroshi Koshitaka, seen here with Brownlee. Second spoiler alert: we have a new colorway of Graduation Chandeliers coming in a few weeks!

We can’t thank Pam and our whole team enough for moving through the pandemic impacts with as much grace as is humanly possible! And speaking of product development, we are less than two weeks away from the introduction of new fall products so be sure to check back here in the coming weeks to see our shiny new offerings! 

2 thoughts on “Product Design During Challenging Times

Comments are closed.