getting the customer to engage with the design

Several times on this web site, and also with designers that I have met, I have discussed how important it is to connect with a potential customer - to give them enough background story for them to ‘engage’ with the design. It really does help if a potential buyer can say ‘now I know why you designed it like that’ or ‘now I see why that was made in that way.’

In an age of social media, some buyers might expect even more back story and some people might even want to understand more about the design process or ask for more technical information or be interested in the design theory behind the product. That’s more difficult for a designer to judge. How much information is too much information? Do you sell more or sell more or less easily if a design moves from being an impulse buy to being a carefully considered purchase?

Three different companies at Finderskeepers at the weekend have taken buyer participation further than most and I thought it might be interesting here to look at the way they have tried to involve their customers.


Wood Junkie

Jonas Jensen started his company Wood Junkie just over a year ago. His products are simple, beautifully proportioned and really well made so customers are attracted initially by the appearance and then quickly move on to appreciate the quality of the wood and of the quality of the workmanship and finish. But there is a next stage.

His current catalogue has a number of shelves, circular tables and items such as a clock with a drop-shaped face. But all can be adapted or modified to suit a change of mood or changing needs … so the deeper shelves and tables have circular drop ins that take cylindrical glass burners, plant holders, a holder for three night lights or trays in contrasting materials. There is also a choice from two different base/leg types. Wider shelves have combinations of hollows and pierced slots to take keys or jewellery if they are used in a hallway or as a bedside shelf and the narrow shelves have an angled front edge that forms a rail with wood blocks for candle holders that can be moved along to sit at any position along the length. 

Wood Junkie have produced a video for their Instagram site to show how easy these transformations are ... in the film a girl comes in and changes the table over to a burner before settling back on the sofa to relax. 

Even the Drop Clock has three slots in the back and a short tab of wood that acts as a foot that can be moved to set the clock in different positions.

 
 

The designs are flexible and adaptable … so to an extent they can be customised … but it also taps into the idea that well-made, high-quality design can and should have a role in your life for much longer. If furniture or design objects are cheap and are purchased for the short term then it doesn’t matter if they are more obviously of a style that is fashionable now but will soon date and it doesn’t matter if your life or your needs change because a cheap item can be dumped and replaced. But if you are buying a well-made and well-designed piece of furniture it is better if the style is less obvious and less likely to date and it certainly helps if the piece is, to some extent flexible or adaptable, changing as your life changes.

Wood Junkie

Blinkenbike

Nikolaj Blinkenberg Willadsen started his company Blinkenbike about 18 months ago and he has taken customer involvement in the design process a step further. He has used two nephews and two young nieces to test-ride the bikes at each stage and he took prototypes to the Trafiklegepladsen in Fælledparken … thats the Traffic School with child-size roads and round-a-bouts and small-scale traffic lights in the main park in the north part of the city where children in Copenhagen are taught to ride bikes on a safe simulation of the public roads …. and left them and walked away to watch from a distance how toddlers played with his bikes.

The results are pretty amazing. Children, watching the bikes being put together, engage with the whole process very quickly and at a much younger age than I would have anticipated … I think Nikolaj said that his nephew was just 14 months old.

There are very clever ideas here like the round, square and triangular slots in the cover to the ‘tool box’ on the cross bar which links to the standard shape-recognition toys nearly all young children have seen but that quickly develops to the next stage with a nut and spanner arrangement and a robust screw driver that is used for a wooden bolt with a wood screw thread that adjusts the height of the saddle. If you think about that, it is a very complex mental image, to try to work out how and why a screw thread works and it’s something that is hidden as you turn the top … many adults I know still struggle with remembering which way you turn a bolt or screw to tighten it or slacken it.

Again, as with the shelves from Wood Junkie, there are various accessories to customise the design and, that important word again, ‘engage’ the user.

Blinkenbike

Haeng at Finderskeepers

Perhaps the ultimate in customer engagement that was shown at Finderskeepers was the Haeng light system designed by Jakob Forum. In fact I was so engaged I ended up buying one of the lamps.

The starting point is a large “mega Edison” bulb in a standard lamp holder on a long coloured or flecked cable with a large wood sphere that is hollowed out with a hole in the top so it drops down over the lamp holder. You start by choosing the colour of flex and one of a number of timbers used for the main bottom sphere. 

Then the top of the counter of the stand at Finderskeepers was divided up into compartments. In the different sections, protected by straw … well actually shredded paper that looks like straw … were smaller wood spheres in oak, beech, walnut, wenge and other beautiful timbers along with cones, cylinders and drop shapes either in smooth, sanded wood or painted in colours including light and dark grey or cream or dark green and there were large spheres wound in coloured thread and spheres cut from cork. All have a hole through them and they are strung like beads, onto the electric cable dropping down to rest on the bulb holder.

 

All the shapes are carefully finished to bring out the grain of the wood and the painted elements are perfectly finished and compliment the colours and tones of the timbers.

A rectangle of leather was laid across the counter and slowly you put together the arrangement you want. The final lamp you design is packed in a strong box in unbleached card with more straw/shredded paper. And that’s it. Hooked. Or do I mean well and truly strung.

Of course the level of engagement in selecting the combination of pieces is important and everyone will remember where and when they bought the lamp and who they were with and what influenced their choice and of course if you move the lamp to a different room or want to change the design you simply pull out the flex and re string the elements into a different arrangement. Now there’s customer engagement with a design.

Haeng

'lifestyle' at Finderskeepers

 

Actually, I’m not very keen on the word lifestyle when preceded by the word designer as it smacks too much of advertising and too little of design but then it is too easy to think of design for the home as just being about furniture or lighting and tableware. There are many other things that deserve to be and are carefully designed and well made. 

There were several companies at Finderskeepers that produce leather goods including Silleknotte with their bags, key hangers, loop handles and shelves hung from leather straps and Ham/Lerche of Aarhus produce a range of leather boxes and desk tidies. It was someone on the Ham/Lerche stand who said, as I was looking carefully at their designs, “Go on … you can look with your fingers” … maybe an odd phrase but an extremely important idea as so much good design, particularly in wood or leather, doesn’t just look good but is tactile.

As well as tables and desks, Christoffer Jørgensen of Manufakture, makes linen-covered pin boards with frames in oak, ash or Oregan pine; matching black boards or chalk boards and a range of linen-covered boxes for papers and documents in sizes from A5 up to A1.

 

ceramics at Finderskeepers

 

It was interesting, so soon after meeting several of the ceramicists behind Den Danske Keramikfabrik, to see the work of more from the group at Finderskeepers at TAP1 last weekend including Birgitte Ran Bennike Mayall and Tina Marie Bentsen. 

In fact, pottery and ceramics and ceramic sculpture were well represented at the event so it was possible to see just what a wide range of styles and forms and colours are possible in ceramics. 

Works included among others the crisp, white, faceted vases by Dorte Kjettrup and Susanne Holmvang of Piece of Denmark; the tightly folded works, almost like textiles but in porcelain, by Helene Søs Schjødts or the translucent vases decorated with fern fronds or leaf studies by the same artist; the tablewares of Birgitte Ran Bennike Mayall, Mette Duedahl and Kristina Vildersbøll or the studies in deep concentrated colour from Tina Marie Bentsen.

For many ceramicists, having a stall or display at a design fair for the public, rather than at a trade fair, is an important way to reach a much wider audience and possibly slightly different audience to the customers who might visit a studio or a gallery.

 

Birgitte Ran Bennike Mayall

 

Mette Duedahl

 

Kristina Vildersbøll

 

Tina Marie Bentsen

 

FINDERSKEEPERS at TAP1

 

FINDERSKEEPERS has been promoted as “an indoor market where innovative design meets luxury secondhand clothing.” 

The clothes are a mixture of retro/antique or good second-hand (neither term derogatory) along with hand-made clothing or clothes from a small-run by an independent producer. That was mostly in the back half of the huge hall and across the front half were crafts and design of all types and between the two a lively and really good food area. What’s not to like for a Saturday afternoon.

The venue itself, TAP1, is a large industrial building on the Carlsberg site - where the brewery was, to the west of the centre in Copenhagen, before it was moved out of the city in 2008. 

It was all pretty amazing and pretty inspiring. It’s a sort of alternative Northmodern and I hope that is taken in the way it was meant - as being very very positive about both.

Design included leatherwork, textiles, ceramics, some surprisingly substantial items of furniture (including armchairs and tables) along with lighting and all from small and young independent companies and craftsmen.

Ceramics from Tina Marie Copenhagen Handmade

Here again I come up against this slight problem I have with the term craftsmen. Maybe it’s an English sensibility because I've seen too many poor-quality craft “fairs” in the UK. The word I keep coming back to is makers but I really don’t know if that translates into Danish.

Here, at FINDERSKEEPERS, the maker or, to use the Danish term, kunsthåndværker … art handworker is the clumsy literal translation into English … is also an entrepreneur and again that is used in the most positive way. Talking to people and looking at the stalls, it made me realise that everyone, with usually a very small team of people, has to design and make packaging, design and maintain a web site, deal with the finance and business side, cope with marketing and spend their whole weekend at an event like this, working hard, and that's all on top of designing and making their work.

Looking at the internet site for the venue, this event was organised through TALL GROUP and their “vision is to create sustainable companies that thrive on a global market, achieving this by encouraging pioneer thinking, guts and a clear path away from mainstream alternatives.”

Really the main point to make is that although most of the work here was 'hand made' rather than being from a large-scale factory manufacturer there was an all-pervading sense of professionalism, real commitment and self belief with a clear sense that each designer is working towards a carefully-considered and distinct style that carries across all their products, and there was, overall, great presentation, packaging, labelling and graphics. Having lived in Copenhagen for over a year now, none of this comes as a surprise to me … I am simply spelling it out for anyone who is not fortunate enough to get to the event.

What is also important is the crowd that was queuing at the door to get in. These were mostly couples and groups of friends in their 20s and early 30s. The event was packed and people were buying so obviously there is a very serious demand for high-quality design that is slightly different, more unusual than what can be seen in a store. Of course, many of the companies here sell through conventional outlets as well as their own on-line sites but people coming to the event certainly seemed to be looking for something that says a lot about the person who made it and probably, they hope, quite a bit about the taste and interests of the person buying. 

 

BLINKENBIKE ApS

 

Finderskeepers opened on 26th September 2015 and continues on the 27th

TAP1

FINDERSKEEPERS has photographs and links to the internet sites of the designers. Note that Finderskeepers hold comparable events in Aarhus and Odense so see their internet site for dates.