Thursday, December 4, 2008

Designing with Your Customer

Roger is my doctor, my friend, and now also my customer. He owns an antique brass tray that was his parents'; it had been used by a construction crew working in the post-war rubble of Birmingham, England, to cook their morning sausages, but that's another story. Roger thought it would be cool to build a table to display the heirloom, remind him of its history, and actually use it; and so it was that he asked me to design and build a tray table for him.

To work out some details, I decided to build a full-scale model of the table. I built the one at the bottom first and invited Roger to come look at it. He thought it both "clunky" and "stark", and had some ideas how to improve it. I sulked when my wife agreed with him. Model #2, in the middle, incorporated Roger's suggestions and gave him different leg and apron treatments to consider. He selected the legs he liked, argued a few subtle points of design, and chose a dye and glaze combination for the finished piece. The completed table is shown up top.

The design process for this small tray table was as important as the design itself. It gave Roger a real sense of ownership, allowed him to flex his aesthetic muscles, and ultimately claim the piece as his own. For the maker, it's always satisfying to make something your customer really likes.


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