Better Furniture Design, Higher Profits
At a Conference about Furniture Design and Housing Business
Tulga Beyerle, a furniture designer who works for Section. a Art Design Consulting, a Viennese firm, spoke about the larger design context into which laminates fit. The audience, being mostly technically-minded, listened politely. When it came to the time for questions, none came immediately from the audience. As I was moderating, it was my job to generate some.
“Is it your opinion,” I asked, “that if the laminate industry would work more closely with designers, consumers might pay a higher premium for those designer-oriented products?”
“Absolutely,” she said. I waited for follow-up questions from the audience but none came, so I continued.
“We’ve been listening to great ideas about how to increase our margins by squeezing costs out of the process of making laminates. But what you are saying is, we can also increase our margins by creating products with higher design values?”
Product Category of Furniture Design
“Designers–and their clients–will pay more for great design in many product categories, such as Single seat: chair, lift chair, recliner, stool; Multiple seats: bench, couch, divan, love seat; sleeping: bed, futon, mattresss, sofa bed; entertainment: Television set, billiard table; Tables: desk, lowboy, computer desk,…” Ms Beyerle told us. “They perceive them to be worth more, even though they are created with the same raw materials and with the same processes as products that are not as appealing.”
Still no questions from the audience. After one more paper, the conference broke for lunch, and a very interesting thing happened. As Ms Beyerle left the conference stage, a crowd quickly formed around her, wanting to hear more about her ideas. I was surprised; it was as if an idea as abstract as creating profits through good design–rather than from the concrete sciences of production and materials–was something that should only be discussed in private!
I was reminded of this experience at the Surfaces exhibition in Las Vegas (North America’s Domotex) at the end of January. Noted European designer Clara Welkens of Toko Design was telling me how she was showing a concept to a potential client in their stand at the exhibition. Attendees walking by got very excited by the design, thinking it was a sample of a product they could purchase from the fair. Needless to say, that made an impression on the company looking at Ms Welkens’ designs.
“We put a lot of soul into our designs,” says Hungarian-bom Ms Welkens. “Without soul you can’t do anything. Our designs tend to look like they’ve been lived on, not pristine and new, so they have a `life’ to them that many designs lack. Everything we do is very dimensional, not flat, and even though many laminate flooring producers use them, they do not look mass produced.
“We don’t design to any trends or specific goals, but we make sure our designs are realisable: they work with the technology that decor printers have. You can do very fine designs, but nobody can reproduce them. To be successful, designs must be practical, but this doesn’t mean that they have to be flat or uninteresting.”
Because Toko designs are unique among the many woodgrains and tiles in the laminate flooring market, they can command a higher premium when sold by companies that understand how to market design. This isn’t easy for an industry that has long sold its products as lower-cost alternatives to `real’ materials, and has had to force its own costs down–sometimes at the cost of quality–to maintain profitability. But it can be done, and those who master this approach will be the ones to watch for the future.