I took two semesters of glassblowing in college and the best thing I made was a lopsided 3" vase, as heavy and dense as a rock the same size. If it didn't roll it could at least be used as a paperweight. It's purposeless other than to serve as a physical reminder to me that I can't champion every challenge the way I may initially plan. I studied glassblowing because I hoped that I'd be able to make exquisite glassware to accompany my ceramics. It almost makes me laugh out loud when I read that now.
Fast forward seven years and I'm working collaboratively with a team of talented glassblowers here in North Carolina to create a line of Suite One Studio glasses based on my designs. This isn't my first step into product design (thank you Anthropologie!) but it is the first time that I'm independently handling the process for my own business. We released the first glass collection three months ago and I've already learned so much about navigating the world of product design! I've been asked a lot by other artists about how I'm making the gradual change from full-time maker to designer, so I thought I'd share some of the key points I've learned so far.
Be realistic. Before you begin any conversations with other companies or makers, know your goals. Do research to prepare yourself for those conversations. It will help your entire project if you begin with realistic expectations about what can be done and what the timeline for the project is.
Calendars rule. Not in a they're so cool way, but in a they're totally in charge way. You must, must, must stay on top of your calendar when you're designing (this is one of the areas that requires the most intentional effort for me. As a maker I can work more spontaneously but when I'm designing I have to plan and plan some more). You need to put plans into action early knowing they'll likely take months to mature into a polished, finished product. Depending on a variety of factors, you should expect to plan at least 6 months out. Minimum.
Communicate well, often, and always professionally. Having worked as a maker for other companies on collaborative projects over the last seven years and as a designer over the last two, there is one thing I can say from experience will either make or break a partnership and that's communication. Advice I give myself is to eliminate any possibility your email could be misunderstood. Nuance and tone are often lost in email, so be direct and respectful, always. You each have something to gain from the relationship, communicate to respect that balance.
Encourage feedback and accept it. Working with glassblowers who are (duh!) the experts in glass, I welcome their feedback and suggestions at every turn. I've had some product ideas that presented production challenges I couldn't have anticipated. Without their knowledge and the open communication we share, I could have put a lot of money into products that wouldn't have worked out anyways. Recognize when you're not the expert and value the feedback from those who are.
Anticipate your audience's desires and be ready to change directions. Ahh, so this point is about you guys! I knew you'd love pink wine glasses, because you're Suite One Studio fans and we're all in it for the pink and love entertaining. But I'm still learning what other colors or shapes will preform best in the shop. I'm thinking now about designing a taller glass, like a water glass or maybe something perfectly designed for cocktails. Thoughts? I'd love to hear them in the comments!
Improve. It's only been three months since we released the first collection of Suite One Studio glassware and we're already making small adjustments to improve our collection. I designed a custom brass stamp for the glassblowers to use in the studio, which is now stamped onto the bottom of each glass while they're still fluidly hot. It's a special little branding detail that makes these handmade glasses even more unique!
Look ahead. I hit on this point in a few ways already, but it's worth emphasizing. Not only will looking ahead keep your design plans on track in production, but it will help you respond to and even create trends that'll keep your work relevant and competitive as you move into new product categories!
If there is anything else you'd like to know about how I'm entering into the product design space please ask away! I know from experience that this information can be tricky to come by, and there isn't always an openness about how artists/makers handle this move and I want to change that. I don't have it all figured out but I'm learning as I go and I'm happy to share my experiences with you!