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When it comes to any product, or just about any design, there are often many months or years of development that take place, happening in a variety of different ways based on the task at hand. One of the things that I love about what I do at Blank is that, throughout the design process, there is a constant & heavy dose of making. I have found that (at least for me personally) the sooner I can get an idea off the paper (or out of the computer), and make it into a prototype, the better the development process will be.

To have an understanding of what things will actually look like, what might work, and what might be completely aweful, I always want to look at projects in physical form as quickly as possible. To this end, I am constantly making, mocking-up, and prototyping – whether that is looking at one small connection, or making the entire project, I am on the sewing machine daily. And I love it.

In this post, I’m going to give an overview of what that process looks like here at Blank. For the sake of time, some of this will obviously be compressed, but will give you an idea of how the design process happens here on a daily basis, and also how things progress over the course of the development of a product.

1. Initial Thoughts/Design (Sketch & Computer)

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Sketching an early idea for the CarryAll Tote

For me, the initial work most often happens in a sketchbook, or on whatever piece of paper may be available at the time. This way I am able to quickly get an idea out of my head, put it down on paper, and see if its something worth moving forward with. (As I’m sure is the case with most people who design, I am constantly amazed at how different – better or worse – things look once I see them drawing drawn out on paper or the computer.) Depending on the size or complexity of the project, I often try to move through this step fairly quickly, and into making.

2. Initial Quick Mock-up: Overall or Detail (Sewing)

Similar to the first step, this part of process is something that often happens quite quickly. I want to look at an idea in physical form, using the actual materials I see in its final form, and how it will actually look & act compared to what was in my head. This usually involves using extra or scrap material (which was leftover from previous prototypes or production runs), rough measuring & cutting, and some quick sewing to start to give the idea form.

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Using actual materials, even early on, is often very important to the development process.

In these iterations, there is often little to no finish, and the usually don’t look very good. But they’re beautiful in their own way, and they help me to understand what the idea could look like in physical form, and give me some initial thoughts on how the materials might act. And that usually gives me enough info to move into the next & longest part of the process: steps 3 & 4.

3. Additional Drawings & Refinement (Computer: Repeats Many Times)

From those initial, rough mock-ups I go back to drawings, and am usually drawing in the computer at this point. This allows for a much higher level of detail, gives me a better way to look at the complexity of the item, and better sets up the project for changes & edits throughout the process.

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A working design file from the hand-dyed sleeves, showing multiple iterations in one drawing

I have a number of years of experience drafting in cad programs, and take much of this process with me when I am drawing bags & other items. I will sometime draw in 3d, but most often am drawing the designs through a combination of plan, elevation, and section. This gives me a clear way to look at all of the different layers that go into a design, and how those pieces can overlap and work together (for example, to make sure that a stitch line to sew two pieces of fabric together isn’t actually sewing a pocket shut).

4. Product Prototyping (Sewing: Repeats Many Times)

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Stacks of materials, ready for sewing

From those drawings, I move into sewing iterations of what could be the final product. As a side note, steps 3 & 4 are repeated many times, and represent the majority of the development process. I develop the drawings to the point where they give me the information for the entire prototyping process.

This includes:

A. Developing a cut list & production order
– This is crucial to ensure nothing is missed
B. Cutting & organizing of materials
– To make sure all items are readily available when needed
C. Sewing of details & individual pieces
– Work on all parts that will eventually make up the bag
D. Sewing together of all major parts
E. Details & finishing
– This can include setting any final hardware, binding edges of materials, etc

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Waxing vegetable tanned leather

After the prototypes are built, I’m usually testing them immediately. I want to see how well my ideas are working, and after taking a while to get to this point, I’m usually getting anxious to actually use the product.

When I’ve gone through steps 3 & 4 a number of times (sometimes needing to step back to 1 & 2), and also having a few meetings along the way with the production company, I’m ideally ready to move into step 5.

5. Final Prototyping & Patterning (Sewing & Drawing)

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Sewing one of the final prototypes

After working through most of the details, both in the shop, and with the production team, I am ready to sew up a final prototype, and make a final pattern for the design. These represent how I see the piece will be in its final form & when it goes into its first production run. And these will be the items I take to the production company for production sampling & pricing.

From there, the design is almost always refined to some extent, and the production team will give me ideas and options on how to streamline the cutting & sewing process without compromising the quality & integrity of the final product (the team at Spooltown is very good at this).

That is the general process, which often happens over the course of 6 – 12 months, but can take much longer (and look much different) based on the complexity of the product.

If you have any questions, or would like to know more about any part of the process, you can drop me a line at matt@blankbrand.co. And if you would like to know more about the bag that is being prototyped in the images above – The CarryAll Convertible Tote – you can click here to check out the Kickstarter page.

 

Thanks for reading!

Matt

P1080893

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