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Blender Design has a vision to make the world a better place by developing products with an impact. It’s that word impact, that really resonates with Oliver (Ollie to the Blender team), during my interview stage to join Blender as their first Marketing and Sales Manager, I was introduced to the concept of impact, first and foremost, to create products that serve a purpose and shift the mindsets of their user. I sat down with Ollie to have a chat about the world of product design today, getting an idea actually developed, the future of products, and some of the blunders to avoid.  It’s a sincere discussion to say the least.


So Ollie, What does impact mean to you? What considerations should people keep in mind when trying to develop products or solutions with an impact?

In the context of what we do, impact is all about having a positive effect on the businesses we’re working with to help them achieve their goals whether they be financial or otherwise. It’s also about having a positive effect on society and the environment. When it comes to product development it can mean a lot of things , but for us what it really means is that we’re focused on our work delivering a positive difference rather than just new products for products sake.

What does it take to turn an idea into a product? Say I’ve got an idea, now what?

A LOT of hard work!  The saying that It’s 1% inspiration 99% perspiration is true.  Trust me there are many great ideas out there, but the real trick is actually executing on them. So,  to turn an idea into a product the first thing is to make sure that the idea is technically feasible, but also that there’s something about the idea that people would pay for, otherwise it’s not a business. Validating your market and making sure that there is a market fit is the number one task. Once you’re able to answer that question then it’s a matter of going through the motions of product development and first of all understanding what the requirements for the product are?  who are the people that are buying it and what are their needs? how much does it need to sell for? and the considerations around pricing.

It's all about constantly making compromises

Is it sometimes difficult to balance the business of product design with the design itself? Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a battle between commerce, art, and science?

Yes absolutely!  I mean that’s our role though, I think our role is at the intersection of technology, business and the market, so we have to balance user needs with the commercial needs and the technology particularly with the costs of the technology to make it all happen. So yea, absolutely our job is a big balancing act, and it’s all about constantly making compromises between one or the other  to balance those needs appropriately. it’s a bit of an art.

How do you see product design changing over the next 3 – 5 years? What are some interesting spaces to watch?

I think product design itself won’t change much , but the tools that inform us in terms of user needs and insights will, for example our ability to access big data and user insights using tools and platforms like Facebook, opens up the possibilities for some powerful market information that we can then turn into product requirements, and then actually developing the product. In turn that technology can help validate through the process, so for example we launch a product online before it’s even made with an A/B test page to validate what the market wants.  You can go to the point where you can involve the users in decisions and Kickstarter is a great example of that.

In terms of the actual hands on design process, 3D printing and similar prototyping technologies are going to continue to keep getting better and help speed up the process, but I don’t think it’s going to revolutionize the way products are made, yet.  Maybe 50 years in the future, our decision making in terms of what looks good and what features could be in a product could be done by AI algorithm, that’s something to think about, but I don’t see that as a risk for us yet, I think our role will continue to adapt.

What is the most radical change required in the world of product development? Is it a change in process ? is it a change in business model? What pivots are required to take this service industry to the next level?

That’s a tricky one ! I’m quite socially and environmentally conscious , I like to look out for the planet, I guess that’s what my generation is really focused on. A really critical issue for product developing moving forward is designing for the circular economy, and that means thinking about the environmental impact, it’s basically going against consumerism and what the industrial revolution has created.  We need to create less products, but more high quality products that last longer and have less of an impact on the environment.

In terms of a service industry, we build up so much know how and knowledge of our clients business that we become part of them, we’re not a work for hire business, I think what’s really important moving forward is exploring new ways of partnering with our clients rather than just being paid fees, and we become a part of our clients business  longer term. It’s not a vendor relationship its a partner relationship.

Can you remember the moment you decided you wanted to be a product designer? Was it just a simple connection of dots or was a mix of passions?

I think it was a mixture of passions for me, It was just all timing. When I was leaving school I was deciding on whether I wanted to be an architect or an engineer, because I really loved the creative side of art and architecture , but also combined with the technical problem solving side of engineering. I was then introduced to this degree called industrial design, that was opening up in the Albany Massey Campus, which was in my area , so I thought it was perfect and didn’t look back.  It threw in the entrepreneurial side of things too which is another passion of mine.

Be real with who you are

And since were looking back, what advice would you give the 22 year old Ollie at the start of this journey?

Probably go and get a job before starting a business haha! But to be honest if I could give advice to a young student, I would say find your happy place. Industrial Design is quite a broad set of skills, generally people are good at one area of it, so find out what you’re good at, and aim to find a job in that area. Instead of being pigeon holed in to a role which doesn’t play to your strengths. Be real with who you are and what you like.