After chatting with our Design Director, Tim Rochford, about his career in part one of our series – if you missed it, read it here – we discussed more about his work as Design Director at PDL by Schneider Electric.
Getting the insider info on how products come to life and the special approach he and his team take when designing products for New Zealand – a task they don’t take lightly.
What’s first when designing any new product?
For Tim, it always starts with the customer. As we learnt in the first blog, he takes a hands-on approach visiting job sites, talking directly to homeowners, electricians, or whoever can provide insight into how he can make a product the best it can be.
“People rarely tell you what they want or need,” explains Tim, “you have to listen and go deeper. Find the problem, the underlying reason for why they’re saying what they’re saying. We have as many conversations as we can with the people the product is for to try to understand their needs. We go as deep as we can into the customer experience, building a picture as we go.”
Is it different when designing products for New Zealand?
“Yes!” Tim explains it’s crucial to “design for the local kiwi norms.” Kiwis consider all local, environmental and cultural factors – as the team learnt the hard way that while a product might be great, it doesn’t mean it’s practical for the NZ environmental conditions or building regulations.
“While travelling around NZ for a project, we discovered that the concept we were working on couldn’t be installed in NZ. Local electricians said ‘oh yeah, we love the look but we will never use it’ The product was to be co-design for Australia and New Zealand but was just a flat no go in NZ,” laughs Tim. “The team took all the feedback on board and adjusted accordingly.”
What are some other special considerations when designing a product for New Zealand?
“There are a few. For instance, NZ ‘leaky house syndrome’ means there’s extra consideration whenever you put a hole in anything,” informs Tim. (For those that don’t know: ‘leaky house syndrome’ refers to a construction and legal crisis that happened in New Zealand between 1988 and 2004 when timber-frame homes weren’t weather-tight.)
“Because of this NZ is a bit ahead of the curve now on some regulations – such as pressure testing, particularly down south where the environment is more extreme,” continues Tim. “With heating and things like that, you also have a big temperature range that you need to factor in.”
“Kiwi’s also aren’t followers so it’s a great market to bring in changes that are a little disruptive to the status quo. When we changed the indicator colour from orange to green on the Iconic switch,” mentions Tim, “something we did to emphasis our commitment to safety and the positive nature of electricity in our lives we saw a really positive reaction from Kiwi consumers.”
Describe your design process.
“It’s never strict. Strict processes lead to incorrect outcomes,” says Tim. “I might be sketching out ideas as I chat to customers, or I might be drawing stuff with an electrician. It’s not a ‘research first then draw’ approach, instead, it’s a ‘constant cycle’. We’re constantly reworking, re-imagining, checking and questioning, and asking why,” explains Tim. (Just as they did with the design concept they discovered wouldn’t work in NZ.) Once Tim and his team have talked and workshopped with as many people as possible, “then it’s the fun part – using the insights we’ve got and saying ‘what could this start to look like” describes Tim.
However, throughout the entire design process, his team are ‘always looking back at their research as that’s where the customer needs are’ he says. ‘The final product is never the thing you had in mind – but it’s about what we as a group achieve to improve the situation.’
How do you know you’re designing something that works for NZ
Tim explains that when they design, they “focus on the lifestyle – the product has to work for the local lifestyle.” Products aren’t ‘adapted for NZ’, but designed for NZ. “We also have a Kiwi designer in our design lab who brings that context, cultural understanding and local perspective on how to make it work for NZ,” highlights Tim. Whenever Tim or a member of his team travel to New Zealand, they focus on gaining as much customer research and local industry insights as possible.
“You’ve got to talk to a lot of people – you can't go and just talk to 10 people because you’ll get 10 opinions but as you talk to more and more, you’ll see themes coming out,” explains Tim.
Who else is involved in the design process and how do they work together?
Just as his process is fluid and inclusive, as is how the teams work together. “You want everyone from every stage involved,” urges Tim.
“Engineering should be part of the design process, design part of the engineering process, etc. – swapping stuff back and forth between us,” explains Tim. For although there are different skills, expertise and experience between the different teams, Tim emphasises that they’re “unified by the same purpose.”
What’s the purpose? It might be different for each product, but the fundamental design goal for all products is to deliver an amazing product, at the right price for the customer. “We focus on the people who use that product – who’s buying it, who’s living with it. We remove our own personal motivations and remember the situation we want to improve.” For ‘improving the situation’ with each product is what true innovation is to Tim.
Are there any particular ‘NZ norms’ you like and use?
“The emphasis on sustainability that New Zealand has,” says Tim. “To me, the best thing my team can do for sustainability is to make our products speak to people. Because even if it’s being recycled, it’s still taking energy, they’re still making another product. Fundamentally, the first thing you do is to give your product the longest service life you can.”
“When someone has a positive relationship with our product, they’re no longer buying the cheapest option that only lasts 6 months,” explains Tim. “Make a quality product that people feel positive about, that speaks to them, their lifestyle and what they want and they’ll opt for that long-lasting product.”
What’s your favourite PDL product?
“The 2AX Connected Smart Switch Module,” answers Tim. “It turns your ordinary switch to any kind of switch.” The Red Dot Design Award-winning switch is instrumental in enabling smart home functionality and while it “seems like nothing – the amount of energy and effort it saves is huge,” describes Tim.
“It challenged the engineers but all the constraints enabled a great technical solution and a great end result for the electrician,” he adds. “Plus, fundamentally, it’s a cool looking thing!”
You’ve won a few awards recently! What are they?
“The Red Dot Design Award was special as the Iconic 2AX Connected Module is the first Pacific Region product to ever win a Red Dot,” tells Tim. “It also went on to be nominated for a Best Design Award and won an iF Design Award.”
“Iconic Outdoor also won an iF Design Award, and together with PDL Pro Series are finalists in the Best Design Awards too,” adds Tim.
To finish, tell us a surprising fact about PDL…
“The cool thing about the PDL logo is that it’s round because when you make a plastic part, the tool needs a little round thing, called an ejector pin, to push it off. The PDL logo was always put on the ejector pin – therefore, they made the logo round,” explains Tim.
‘So everything, down to the PDL logo, is very practical!’
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