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This article is a transcription of the #18 episode of IDology - the industrial design podcast by Mindsailors. You can watch the entire episode on YouTube or listen to the audio version on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

In this episode our company’s COO, Voytek Holysz, gathered together with Thomas Weber, a business development manager of Mindsailors, to talk about common pain points and challenges of industrial machinery product design. Our experts categorized clients based on different design approaches and extensively discussed their problems and challenges in the industrial design industry. Drawing on their experiences from conversations with people broadly involved in industrial design from various countries, as well as observations from trade fairs visited in Europe and the USA, they provided deep insight and segmented various challenges and perspectives in the global market.

Voytek Holysz: Tomek, we have been discussing our sort of experience with our potential clients from different industries that we met at trade fairs, at expos. We have been to quite a few, in the last, I don’t know, let’s say, sixteen months. We have been to Europe, we have been to the US, we have been to trade fairs that are about all four different industries. And there are a few common, let’s call them pain points, that people keep telling us about, when it comes to industrial design. We have talked about this before, but when you, because you have had probably hundreds of meetings at different booths probably within that period. Do you have your own sort of notion of how you group those clients that you talk with?

Thomas Weber: I would say, definitely put them in groups or we can even call it a pain chart with different pain spots.

Voytek: How much pain are you in?

Thomas: How much pain are you in? And how can I help you to solve it? <laughter> But yes, like you’ve said, we have traveled to a variety of different countries, to a variety of, well at least, two continents at this stage. We have been to various types of exhibitions, not only industrial machinery, but also the medical sector or engineering sector.

Voytek: Yeah! Additive manufacturing, steel manufacturing.

Thomas: Additive manufacturing, right. So, we have been to a lot of different industries but the story is more or less the same. The companies that we speak to, are usually placed into three to four different types of groups. There are companies out there that have already invested in design and whether this is an industrial machinery, or medical device, or consumer electronics, there are simply devices or products out there that look absolutely amazing.

Voytek: Okay, right.

Thomas: And those are companies that don’t necessarily require our support. But it is still very interesting to speak to them.

Voytek: Are these usually big companies?

Thomas: Not always.

Voytek: Okay.

Thomas: But most of the time. Companies that have a large presence, a large corporation, that have been on the market for years or tens of years.

Voytek: Okay. So usually big companies, but not always.

Thomas: Exactly, not always. Actually, surprisingly, if it’s a relatively young company, such as a startup, that is being run by a young individual or individuals, those people know the power of brand image. Those people know that if you are trying to enter a specific market segment, whether medical, consumer, electronics, whatever it may be. And if you are selling a similar type of product with a similar technology—

Voytek: Similar to the competitions?

Thomas: Exactly! Similar to your competition. Then your best chance of entering that market, or one of the best chances that you could— or, one of the best ways to maximize your chances, is simply to have a better looking design than your competition.

Voytek: Okay. So that’s one group -  those that invest heavily in design.

Thomas: Exactly, exactly. And the next group, which is a complete contrast to that, is a company that doesn't invest.

Voytek: No design.

Thomas: No design. They just like, say no to design.

Voytek: Zero waste, zero design.

Thomas: Zero waste, exactly. And those are the companies that don’t only invest in design, they don’t see any benefits that come from working with companies such as ours.

Voytek: Okay. So, they don’t see the benefit in design in general.

Thomas: That’s the thing: they see the benefit because, you know, an exhibition... Let me go back. An exhibition is a unique place. It is like a newsfeed on your mobile phone. But it is a newsfeed that delivers the latest innovation, latest information about the current market, latest innovation and technology, latest innovation and design, so on and so forth. And companies that don’t invest in design, or don’t invest also in their brand image, because design is basically a brand image.

Voytek: Yeah.

Thomas: Investment in the brand image.

Voytek: Yeah.

Thomas: So, companies that don’t really invest in the brand image, they do attend exhibitions and they do see with their own eyes what’s happening within the market. So they see the benefit, but they decided not to pursue it. They don’t decide to go into that direction.

Voytek: You have mentioned brand image, I remember a couple of cases where companies were so sort of in the middle of a process or something like that or maybe made, for me, weird decisions where they had quite good product design. You can see that they invested in designing the outer chassis of their product, let’s say, an industrial machine. So there was a big machine and it looked very modern. It looked like it’s at least approachable or easy to use but they had the ugliest brand logo sticker in the middle of the device. So they sort of took care of the device's looks, the design, the branding, but sort of forgot about their company. This is something that can also ruin the effect: you spend a lot, a lot of time and money on designing a great machine, and then you slap this ugly logo on it.

Thomas: Exactly, maybe the marketing team managed to convince the CEO of changing the looks of the machine, but they didn’t manage to convince them to change the logo. This might also be the case.

Voytek: They said the difficult decision of choosing either this or that. You decide.

Thomas: You decide. And really a new designer, for example, if you are a company that never invested in design at all and never really invested in a company's brand image. And like you said, it might be a logo, it might be a website, it might be a color palette of your company.

Voytek: That is so important.

Thomas: Which is so important, right? Because sometimes, you can have even a standard looking enclosure for a specific product, right? Like an enclosure that you can just buy, let’s say, from Asia. And probably half of the companies on the market use the same enclosure. But by just developing awareness of your brand around the color choices, it can distinguish your product from the competition.

Voytek: Recently, I have been to this show for agricultural machines. It was huge. I was visiting one of our clients. And as I was walking through the lanes of farming machines, tractors— I am unable to name them at all - but they were huge and they were impressive. Skipping the design part, the color part was interesting because most of the machines were either green or red. Very few were blue, very few were blue. And there was literally one, that was white. For me it was interesting, because it was difficult to spot our client. Because I was looking instinctively for that color, that I thought was in some way unique to them. But it wasn’t. It turned out that at least a third of the whole exhibition was their color. But the most interesting thing that happened was, I stopped for a burger or something and there was this family, I assume a family of farmers, going to buy some tractors. And it wasn’t the stand of a manufacturer or other distributor or something like that, because they had a few different brands on their stand. The father stopped at the white one, it was actually a silver sort of colored tractor. He merely stopped by it, he wasn’t interested specifically in anything, and the whole family grabbed him and said, “Not white. We need—” I don’t remember if this was black or green, but “not white. We need green!”

Thomas: Interesting!

Voytek: So they didn’t even let the father get into the specifics of the brand or the product, because it was so much different than the rest of the industry. Or maybe simply, white isn’t the color for the industry, I didn’t know. But I was shocked because those machines are incredibly expensive. And they are incredibly important for a family business. Picking by color doesn’t seem like a reasonable way to go. Right?

Thomas: Definitely not.

Voytek: But still, like you said, we buy with our eyes, with our emotions. No matter what we are buying, right?

Thomas: Yeah.

Voytek: So still, even the colors are important, like you said. Just a small digression.

Thomas: Yeah, exactly, and relating to the agriculture industry... If you look at this industry, actually there’s maybe three to four different companies, each with a different color of their machines. And they basically own this color. Like John Deere owns green with little bit of yellow—

Voytek: Specific shade of green.

Thomas: A specific shade of green with yellow.

Voytek: Yeah, but then there are a ton, a ton of other green companies that also include the yellow but maybe not just yellow, maybe also a little bit of red.

Thomas: Interesting.

Voytek: But as you go through the rows, you can’t focus yourself on color because everything is so similar. But there are companies that differentiate themselves on top of that, like John Deere, like CLAAS. There are companies that you look at their design, and you can immediately say, “This is this company.”

Thomas: Yeah. Exactly. So that’s what I was saying about how important it is to invest in your brand image and this can be done either for a website, or through colors.

Voytek: Or product design.

Thomas: Exactly. Product design is probably a design change or a brand design change that would bring the biggest amount of benefit to your product, right? Because at the end of the day, you are not only changing color, you are not changing your website, you are changing the look of your entire product, of something that your customers will interact with on a daily basis.

Voytek: Because design is not just the looks, it is the mechanics, it is the user experience.

Thomas: Exactly, you don’t really want to make a new design that decreases the functionality of the product.

Voytek: Ahh! That’s not good design.

Thomas: Exactly. With a new design, you want to increase the functionality, you want to improve the product, you want to maybe improve its transportation, you want to decrease the amount of material that is being used, you want to make it cheaper by doing manufacturing right, despite being better looking. So you can do a lot of different things with design.

Voytek: Yeah but we’ve digressed. So, we had the first group of customers that was 100% in - they had their own design team or person or persons. And there was the second group, which didn’t want to have anything to do with design, which sounds kind of weird. But like you say, you have met literally companies that weren’t interested in design – It seems easy to talk with such a company and to sort of show them that, “Hey look! Design actually makes sense for business. Here’s proof: this company, that company, this company.” How do we talk with clients who seem not interested in investing in design?

Thomas: It’s really, for us, and I think, for most companies out there, investing in design is really common sense. It’s a way of going forward and not standing still, right? If you are standing still, whether this is design or technology-wise, or anything else, you are basically fallen behind. And most companies, thankfully, are aware of this aspect. And conversation with them is easier -not easy, but easier. Whereas a company that is basically a bit ignorant towards that aspect, it is a more challenging conversation to have. Let me give you an example: a few years ago, I was out there in an exhibition called Formnext in Germany, which is one of the biggest exhibitions dedicated to—

Voytek: That’s additive manufacturing, right?

Thomas: Additive manufacturing. I will never forget this conversation, because there were a lot of companies out there that specializes in post processing, right? But there were two companies out there that literally had booths right beside each other. One booth that I have, kind of over the years, seen it expand quite significantly, had a truly amazing design of their post processing machine.

Voytek: So, we actually knew this company from before?

Thomas: That’s right. They were the first company - I knew this company before. I saw how their product range has been increasing over the years, and how much they have been investing in design. Actually from what I have noticed, this was one of the very first companies within the post processing world that actually started investing in design, right? And from the very first exhibition that I saw that company, they had just a standard, four by four booth, nothing really special. The last time I saw them, they had the center stage of the exhibition hall that you could approach from any angle, just showing you this is a big player. And their booth was absolutely filled with people who wanted to find out more about their machines, and so on and so forth. And right next to them, there was also a German company that also offered post processing systems. I would say from the technology aspect, it was precisely the same as the competition.

Voytek: Right.

Thomas: But first of all, they didn’t really have much variation in terms of different machines but they didn’t invest in design at all. And there wasn’t really much work, to be honest. There was nobody out there. So that’s the reason why I decided to push them first, and just simply have a chat and see if I will be able to have a conversation about the design of their machine, of their systems. Also my plan was, if I am going to come across any trouble, then I have a brilliant example right next to me that I could just point them to - like, here somebody else is doing it. And unfortunately, I had to use that card because the person I was speaking to wasn’t convinced at all. He kind of really stopped me halfway mid-sentence and said, “Sorry, but we don’t really see any benefits in the design.” And I literally showed them with my hand gesture that there’s a competition out there. It is from Germany. It does exactly the same thing. But they are investing in design. And you can see—

Voytek: Obviously, what you just said, it’s not just about the product design, the difference.

Thomas: Exactly! It is not like a company’s management, or a marketing manager is against the design. If introducing a new design to a specific machine, or a medical device would have been easy, a lot of companies would have done it already, right? Product development can be a long process. It can be an expensive process but there’s a reason why companies invest in the design, right? Why it is so important across a variety of different industries. Not only consumer electronics and medical, where we look at products that have a good design. We don’t even think twice about them. It’s just a standard basically, in certain industries. But if you take into consideration industries, such as industrial machinery, or industrial lasers, for instance, those machines will never see daylight in their lifetime. They will be stuck somewhere or a place somewhere in the manufacturing hall. There’s really no need for them to have a cutting edge design, there’s really no need for them to do something out of an interstellar or a sci-fi movie, right? But they still do. People and companies still invest in that design, simply because it sells better, right? Like I mentioned, just going back to the brand image - it improves the brand image, it attracts the attention of their customer, and also it improves the functionality of the device if it’s designed and developed correctly. But like you said, or you point out, it is not only a design - a design is not the only reason why companies don’t invest in it. They don’t invest in it because it’s expensive, because it’s long. Also relating to that, another type of companies that I ‘ve come across at exhibitions, are companies that already tried working with other industrial design studios, but failed in some respect.

Voytek: Okay. I even can recall a few examples of companies that worked either with a studio or with a single designer, and the effect wasn’t what they expected or even wasn’t something that they could even use and still it cost money and still it took time.

Thomas: Exactly!

Voytek: And then they are like, “Design doesn’t make sense ‘cause it simply doesn’t work.”

Thomas: Exactly. I will give you a good example. We have a customer, who is also in an industrial and laser market segment - large machines, that really have no right to have a pre-design, but they do. But basically, that company went to a local university and asked them to come up with a variety of different concepts for the next generation of laser systems. And naturally students have some amazing creativity.

Voytek: Yeah. So, they got some great designs.

Thomas: Some great designs out there, right? But this design wasn’t manufacturing friendly. It wasn’t mechanically friendly, right?

Voytek: Okay. So, the college students just designed good looking designs, but not necessarily practical ones.

Thomas: Exactly. Good looking but not necessarily practical designs. And I know firsthand that they’d spent a lot of time working on a design, that they felt from those designs that were produced: the one design that was selected, they worked quite long developing this design into a mechanical design. And ultimately, what was left at the end, they didn’t really—

Voytek: Match to their expectations—

Thomas: Yeah. Didn’t really match their expectations, didn’t really match their original concept, right? Which kind of lost its purpose here. So, that’s really one example of how you can have good intentions, but the final results might not be what you were looking for.

Voytek: Yeah. I mean, I understand it, because it’s a costly lesson to take but it’s like buying a bad apple at the grocery store and saying that, “All apples don’t make sense because I once bought an apple and it tasted like shit.” That doesn’t make sense simply.

Thomas: Exactly.

Voytek: But on the other hand, when you are not a huge company and you can’t afford to spend time and money on a process that you feel like you don’t have a guaranteed result at the end. Like, it might turn out to be an expensive experiment - that’s simply something you can’t afford. So until those companies need to have a guarantee, that at the end of the design process, not only will they have a design that’s like you said, not only attractive but also manufacturable in an easy way, that the manufacturing cost will not rise, preferably will go down, I don’t know, assemblies are easier or the interaction with the user is easier.

Thomas: That’s right.

Voytek: They need to know that this will be the effect. Right?

Thomas: That’s right. That’s right. They want to gain all the benefits that come from that.

Voytek: That’s what they are paying for.

Thomas: That’s what they are paying.

Voytek: For improving their product.

Thomas: Exactly. And surprisingly the example that I gave, it was and it is a large, relatively large company. One of the market leaders in the laser segment, or industrial laser systems in Europe. And this process obviously didn’t cost them any money, right? Because it was probably some type of a competition that was made internally within the university. But like you said, they wasted a lot of, a lot, a looot of time during this process. For a large corporation, the cost of development of the design, it’s not really taken that much into account, versus how much it will take them to make it.

Voytek: Just the time.

Thomas: Time is a crucial aspect here.

Voytek: And time is money. Because like you said each year at all those exhibitions, companies try to outdo themselves to be better than their competition, if you’re a year too late with a new design that—

Thomas: Exactly, exactly. And the inflation is higher every year.

Voytek: But the story that you gave, it seems incredibly irresponsible on the sight of the university that was providing those designs. If it was a competition made in cooperation with the university, then there should have been some sort of judges, or professors, industrial design experts leading the competition.

Thomas: Exactly.

Voytek: Something went really wrong there. That’s not something that happens really often but it’s a good example of how when you try to skip an important part of the process, you are gonna get burned.

Thomas: Yeah, you are gonna get burned.

Voytek: Like you said, it costs money, it takes time to get to certain results.

Thomas: Exactly. And really companies I believe that would like to introduce a new product or a redesign of an existing product, whether a machine, or a medical device, or whatever it is, they don’t really know how to approach this problem. And I think that is the reason why that specific company decided that asking university students to develop some designs might be a good idea here. But there are also companies out there that feel that they can do the product internally.

Voytek: Let’s not criticize the situation entirely because, probably, there were quite a few details that we are not aware of. Okay, so we have three groups: one group - “heavily into design”, second group - “design: no, thank you”,  third group - “design: yes, please but I don’t want to waste the time or the money, so I will skip a few steps and try to do it quicker, cheaper, or whatever”. And they get burned. And then they believe that either the process doesn’t make sense, or the end product doesn’t make sense. How many other groups do you have?

Thomas: There’s one more group after that but I would just like to add something to that third group. The companies that get burned during this process: They don’t really know the best way of starting this process, of starting a new product with enhanced aesthetics, or starting a process of redesigning an existing product. And the example that I gave here about the university students that were given a task to design a new machine, a new system - it was a unique example. And only one of such type that I have heard in my time of working at Mindsailors and just speaking to people at exhibitions, right? Usually companies have already had an opportunity to work with companies such as ours. However, there’s not a lot of industrial design consultancies that actually have experience working with industrial machinery. This is a very specific industry. And even though most of the time, an industrial design studio in this process would only be responsible for the design aspect, later on whenever the process is going to reach mechanical design stages, whatever was created is being passed to the mechanical design team. But this transition is the most difficult aspect here, right? Because just like university students, whenever they were trying to pass the designs to the engineering team, they have discovered that they cannot do anything with that design. And true. Probably working with most industrial design studios out there, they don’t get the engineering team on their side, of their client, they don’t really have that problem, or not to that extent, but for an industrial design studio that don’t have experience in working with large industrial machinery, or an industrial design studio that don’t have internal mechanical engineer, or don’t have experience in manufacturing technologies that could be suitable for that specific product on those specific needs are called for a customer. And even though this is just a concept, and it has no right to be mechanically correct, it has no right to be optimized. If it lacks those crucial key components, the transition is going to be very difficult. And during this transition is where the bad taste in the mouth stays, when it comes to the partnership because those companies suddenly receive a design that they cannot really do anything with. And unfortunately, that’s the stories that I hear from companies that I speak to.

Voytek: So, it’s like, if I understand correctly, what you are saying is, when those companies work with outside designers, whether it’s a studio, or a freelancer or a small group of freelancers, it’s crucial not to pay the most attention to the conceptual part because maybe it is the most attractive, but it’s not going to be the right way to put it... But the least important business wise, because even you might get a great concept, but so what? If you won’t be able to manufacture it or it will be incredibly expensive to manufacture it. So probably, it’s best to make sure that the company that you are working for, the person that you are working for, is not just a good concept artist, which is somebody that is not an industrial designer, but you work with several experts, who have their own fields of expertise. Because if you work with a freelancer, a single person is unable to cover the whole process from conceptual art to manufacturing basically.

Thomas: Exactly.

Voytek: Okay, so you have mentioned there’s one more group.

Thomas: There’s one more group. And the last group of companies that I come across doing exhibitions, are companies that are pretty aware of the benefits of the design, of the brand image. And they’d decided not to work with an external design studio, or an external university, or a group of freelancers but they decided to actually try to…

Voytek: Work with their own engineers.

Thomas: Work of their own engineers.

Voytek: Yeah, I knew this was right. I love those examples. Because, from my perspective, engineers are the designers that need to optimize everything for the biggest efficiency.

Thomas: Yeah.

Voytek: So, if they design how a machine works, what components it uses, everything needs to be extremely optimized. And they are very competent in designing those machines. So, they have the technical skills, basically, to also do the housing for the machine because, why not? But then you can easily see immediately that the machine’s exterior was designed by an engineer that designed the machine itself. Because it is as simple, and as optimized, and as bare bones as possible. And that usually doesn’t work as a good attention grabbing design. I think I know exactly, I could name a few companies from the group you are talking about.

Thomas: Yeah. I mean, you have basically described everything that I was going to say, for me. That’s basically what it is. It is an internal engineering team, it is a backbone of every company that is producing a physical product out there. And those machines are extremely practical.

Voytek: Well, every machine inside needs to be.

Thomas: Exactly. But this one is not only internally, but also externally practical, right? And also cost-effective sometimes, not always in its own respect. So, a job of an engineer… it is not to design a pretty product, it is to design what is the most important of the company and that is a functional and reliable product, and also cost-effective to an extent as well.

Voytek: I remember talking to companies that would fit in that group, that first group of yours, which also one of the reasons why they decided to work on the outer shell of their machine with their own engineers was this lack of trust with giving their, like you describe, their baby, their machine, to someone else to you dress it. Let’s put it like that.

Thomas: Yes.

Voytek: Because, I have often heard that, and it’s clearly visible once you start getting into conversation with such companies, that the engineer that is at the table is very confrontational. He feels like you are not skilled or equipped enough to deal with his creation. So that’s an interesting group.

Thomas: Exactly. Imagine being that engineer, right? You are sitting at your desk in your office, having a nice warm cup of tea or coffee and suddenly you hear a knock on your door and you see a managing director or CEO saying, “Listen! There’s this company that I have met at the exhibition. They make really cool industrial designs of machines. Get in touch with them and see if we can work something together.” Automatically being in that engineer’s shoes, he’s probably not too happy about going and seeking help from an external party. And very often then, I think almost all of our customers that we had in our company were always asking, “What does this partnership look like?” So they weren’t only asking about just the product development process, or what are they going to achieve in the end, or what are the benefits in our design, but they were also asking what basically the partnership looks like?

Voytek: How will your team work with my team?

Thomas: Exactly? How are we going to work together? How are we gonna take what is the best from your team and what is the best from my team? Are we going to put this together at a specific phase in the project?

Voytek: I think a good summary for this conversation would be the anecdote that Mikołaj used to tell, or still tells, probably will tell to the end of days.

Thomas: I think so.

Voytek: Mikołaj is a friend of ours, here at the Mindsailors. He’s a senior designer. He used to work with a company that needed to switch their manufacturing facility, basically, from old machines to new machines. But they weren’t able to have any halts on incoming orders. So while the old manufacturing park was working, the old machines were producing, they built a new hangar beside it and started equipping it with new machines. At one point, they had both those halls running: one was the old building with the old machines, one was the–I am not sure if it was a new building–but it had new machines in it. And so, they consciously didn’t shut down the old hall, as soon as they were able to because they decided that since they had this unique opportunity, they wanted to see if this move even made sense. So when they were getting new incoming deals or prospects were coming in to talk about possibly giving them an order, they would go with some leads, some clients to the old facility and say, “This is our manufacturing grounds. He will do this. He will do that. etc, etc. Let’s call prices.” And with other clients, they did the same but went to the new facility and said, “These are our machines. Here we do this. Here we do that. Now, let’s go to the office and talk about prices.” And they were able to get 30% to 40% more margin...

Thomas: Amazing!

Voytek: —just by showing the new facility and delivering more or less the same quality product. It wasn’t a leap -it was the new machines' precision or something like that. And if I didn’t hear it from Mikołaj, firsthand, basically, I probably wouldn’t believe it so easily. Because it sounds crazy!

Thomas: Absolutely!

Voytek: Not just the margin bump, because that’s amazing also. But the fact that someone actually had the opportunity to have this testing ground of having two identical but entirely different facilities running, just to run tests on the clients, you know.

Thomas: Amazing!

Voytek: That’s an incredible sales insight for that company. But yeah! This example shows what good design can do. Design can also screw up your business, definitely! If you work with the wrong people, with the wrong companies, or not having experience you don’t find a partner that will guide you through the process, so you are sort of going in blind.

Thomas: That’s right.

Voytek: You can get burned. And it’s understandable if you get burned or will get burned. It will burn for some time so you will not be eager to go back to that experience again. But like you said, being a year late at an exhibition show next to a competition might mean being in the business or not.

Thomas: Exactly. Yes. Yeah. And our job is basically to provide you with those oven gloves that you won’t get burned, not to get burned and to walk you through this development process as easily, as comfortably, as quickly as possible.

Voytek: Yeah. Great. Thanks for the talk.

Thomas: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you having me. Thank you.



Thomas Weber is a business development manager at Mindsailors with over 4 years in this field.








Voytek Holysz is the COO of Mindsailors with 16 years of experience in running a business in creative B2B services, marketing, sales and video production.

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