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Experienced Industrial Designer's Tips on How Not to Get Ripped Off

After reading the story of how Swoon Foundations ripped off designer Simone Brewster, a reader chimed in with some helpful information for other designers, particularly younger or newer ones.

Top: Simone Brewster’s design. Bottom: Uncredited production piece sold by Swoon Editions.

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Industrial designer Hans Marvell has been in the product game for twenty years, and his roles in product development go well beyond design: Sales, supplier relations, project coordination and account management are all hats he’s got hanging on the rack. His broad set of experiences has given him good knowledge of the potential pitfalls designers face, and we wanted to reprint his comments here to give them greater visibility.

Brewster’s case “is sadly not at all uncommon,” Marvell writes. “There was recently a high profile court case here in Denmark where a ceramic designer had her products copied and sold in a discount super-market chain. In the end she was able to take them to court and win.”

“I believe that there will soon be a review of the European laws and regulations regarding design and copyright, but this will not benefit UK designers anymore due to Brexit. I have no faith in the EU agreeing on any real changes that will be appropriate or easy to implement.

“Designers face a minefield when trying to get work. There are so many ways in which they have to run risks when trying to share their work online, get publicity, get briefs and cover the costs of making a proposal.

“One tip is to insist on always signing and dating all drawings. You should be making your own technical drawings anyway (or pay someone to do so for you) and know how to set up a drawings data sheet. 90% of the drawings I see aren’t made to any standard, which is extremely frustrating.

“And no, 3D files aren’t enough, they should always be backed up by 2D general assemblies and component drawings. 90% of the factories I work with in the wood processing and furniture industry don’t have Solidworks, Rhino or the time to figure out poorly made drawings. This costs a lot of time and frustration in the sourcing and development process.

“At the company I have worked at for the last four years, we often had to charge clients for re-drawing products for production before we could even start to get a quote on making the furniture.

“I don’t know what the correct name is for it in English*, but here in Denmark there is a public office where legal documents including production drawings can be independently signed and stamped with a seal, so when you send a scan or copy of these, then they bear an independently, legally binding confirmation that the work is yours and dated to a specific date. This is not that expensive. It sends a better signal than a NDA does that you are serious about the value of your work.

[*Editor’s note: The U.S. equivalent is a Notary Public.]

“One interesting point I noted in the article was that Simone Brewster was asked to make her proposal in Swoon’s layout template and without her name on it. 

Simone Brewster’s drawing.

“This might actually be due to the nature of the product sourcing process. I don’t want to defend Swoon’s actions, just give a little insight in the sourcing and production process:

“Usually there is a general NDA and solid agreement between a brand, any sourcing agent, and the producer they use. However, they need to send the proposals to several producers and sub-contractors to make the furniture at the right quality and price.

“In that process, the drawing material needs to be as simple as possible and without any hints of the final client’s identity. If a factory Googles the name of the designer, and sees what that person or the brand’s products retail for, they may very well put a higher charge on their services if they think they can get away with it.

“This is where the work of a good sourcing agent or product developer is important. That person has to evaluate each factory and have a thorough knowledge of raw material costs, labour costs, standard hardware components, packaging costs and transport. That’s the sort of work I have done for many years and it has its own set of risks and game rules.

“Having said that, as many others have commented, you NEVER send production ready drawings to a client or factory with out a legally binding contract. I could go on, but fear my record for making the longest comments on Core77.com posts really is not one to be proud of. Good luck everyone.”

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Feel free to go on next time, Marvell; we value hard-won experience, and we’re happy that you took the time to share. Thanks!

Source: core77

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