The Designers Background
Until the age
of 40 I was a New Zealand hill country sheep and cattle farmer, and that is where I discovered I had a
tremendous talent as an inventor. Almost everything on the farm was modified to make it work better or be
easier to use or able to do more jobs etc.
But at 40
health problems forced me out of farming. I subsequently got a job with the New Zealand Industrial Design
Council, a job I absolutely adored. My job there was teaching people how to have successful products and I was
able to help many small manufacturers dramatically improve their profitability.
again, I found that each manufacturer, when questioned, had no real idea exactly who was going to buy their
product or why they would buy it because they had done no research. The one thing that will separate a
successful product from a lemon is RESEARCH. Let me relate a true story.
Director of the Council used to own one of the earliest plastic injection moulding machines in New Zealand, and
he had the contract to mould plastic auto battery boxes when they first came in. He was making $80 an hour
(all these dollar amounts are as I remember them). When all the initial orders were filled, there was spare
capacity so he started making plastic buckets, and he was making about $60 an hour – not as good as battery
boxes, but OK. Then in walked one of my predecessors, who quickly discovered the standard problem – no
So they hired
a bunch of high school kids, gave each one a plastic bucket full of questionnaire forms, and sent them to knock
on doors one Saturday morning (the main question was “how could this bucket be improved?”). The results that
came back were astounding, they couldn’t believe how much they discovered about what consumers actually wanted.
This resulted in a new tool being made, and he started making an improved bucket that outsold the old
one so dramatically he could raise his selling price and the return went up to $120 an
So I was able
to guide many small businesses from struggling to handsome profit just by getting them to do research. But never
mind them, it was a HUGE learning curve for me too. Three years after I started with the Council (which was
a 'QANGO'), it was disbanded as a cost saving measure by the government.
I had heard
that theft of toilet rolls from public washrooms was a huge problem, so I took that on as a project for myself.
I did a huge amount of (you guessed it -research), talking to many people including owners/operators of public
toilets, janitors and even fellow users when I was in one.
I used that
knowledge to create a DESIGN BRIEF, which is the next critical step to creating a successful product. That
design brief birthed an all new concept of dispenser that I sold to distributors for $50 each. They mostly
on sold for around $75 which was three times the price of competing products! But I sold a staggering 24,000 of
them over six years just in little New Zealand, plus 2,000 in Australia and
You can be positive a product will work in the market place if
you do adequate research and plan the product in a professional manner.
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