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Starting a Product Design Consultancy - One year on

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Well we did it, we navigated a tough first year in operation and we're still in business!

It’s been an interesting twelve months for sure, much has been learned about the running of a business, and many new exciting projects are ongoing. Many thanks to our amazing clients who have supported us over this time and we’re very much looking forward to delivering some cool new designs to market in 2021. Here are some of the things we’ve experienced and learned along the way:

Starting a Business is Hard
Our first year has certainly been an experience, and it goes to show that even with the best planning in the world, acts of god can conveniently strike when you least expect them. Despite having spent several years planning the company and building up a client base, early in 2020 it seemed as though the universe wanted to put a stop to our ambitions before they’d even begun. To say this time was stressful would be an understatement, we were locked into starting the business however, and determined to make it work.

The effects of the pandemic were probably the most difficult to predict early on. With everybody working from home, and many businesses closed, it was reasonable to expect that most companies’ focus would shift away from new product development projects. With the exception of products directly related to the pandemic, this was certainly true for several months, where we saw a noticeable drop in web traffic and people getting in touch for new consultations. When would things start to pick up again, and what was going to be the effect on the economy long-term? These, and others, were just some of the questions that contributed to the many sleepless nights of 2020. 

- The pandemic definitely wasn’t something that we had planned for, but that just highlights how unpredictable life can be for all of us.

Covid 19 worldwide map

Covid-19 - Global pandemics don't usually feature in business plans, maybe they should!

In spite of everything going on in the world, there wasn’t any time to simply down tools in despair. We still had design projects to get on with, and a new business to set up and run. With regards to the latter, the sheer number of hats you need to wear, on top of trying to deliver your principal service / grow your business can make your head spin. The long hours and days doing unrelated activities can certainly be hard work at times, but the old adage rings true I suppose, nothing worth having comes easy.

Working from Home and beyond
Despite hearing many anecdotes to the contrary, I remain unconvinced working from home is more productive/better. From a design perspective, the lack of any human-to-human collaboration, and space to do prototype testing is a clear problem. Amongst other industries, I dare say that after the novelty of working on the couch in your pyjamas all day, or having a siesta after lunch has worn off, the drop in intrapersonal interaction will start driving people back to the office. Human beings are social creatures after all, and even if you don’t very much like your work colleagues, it’s good to have a routine where we interact with other people.

From our perspective, working from home was never a realistic option, and one of our first priorities was to find a decent office with additional space for prototyping and associated tinkering. After touring several options in and around Cheltenham, we came across the interestingly named Dodo Works, a co-working space conveniently situated next to the Bottle of Sauce pub (Dodo Pub owned). Offering the space and facilities we we’re looking for in a well-adorned environment, we signed up for an office and moved in!

The Dodo Works - Our current office and afterwork drinks location.

Having secured a workspace and after-work refreshments, the next phase was to develop our in-house prototyping capabilities. At the outset, we built our work area around a Prusa Mk3s printer and a small but highly useful pillar drill. On a side note, I really must say how impressed we’ve been with the Mk3s, with much praise to Prusa for making such a sturdy, easy-to-use piece of kit. The printer has probably been running for the majority of 2020, producing some high-quality parts whilst requiring minimal maintenance.

Moving later into the year, we decided some further investment was needed to help meet the needs of our current projects and growing workload. First on the list was a new set of hands, and so after reviewing several graduate applications we finally decided to offer a junior designer position to Brodie Dart. Possessing a good mix of both conceptual design skills and engineering experience, we’re very much looking to see how he develops taking on some of our challenging briefs!

The Office Space - A year in the making, we're starting to fill up the office with a wide variety of random items.

Further expansion was seen in the prototyping department, where we invested in an enormous Phrozen Transform SLA printer. Able to produce parts at an extremely high level of detail, we now have access to some really useful new materials which will support more functional testing in the future. It’s certainly been a bit of trial and error getting it all to work smoothly however, and there is quite a big learning curve when it comes to this type of printing. The resin tends to be extremely temperamental and don’t get me started on changing the FEP film on the bottom of the resin tank.

Moving Forward
After getting through a difficult year, we’re very much looking forward to the future and resumption of full social normality. The pandemic definitely wasn’t something that we had planned for, but that just highlights how unpredictable life can be for all of us. If anything, this whole experience has made us more determined than ever to create a successful business – providing the best possible service for our clients and the customers that use our products.

Moving through the rest of this year, we’re well on target to release several interesting products to market, so watch this space for some new case studies. Beyond this, we plan to continue growing as a business and use the resilience we’ve gained from a tough start to push on well into the future.

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