As a ‘designer maker’ I’m often asked where I come up with an idea, or how I go about making something. The honest truth is that every time I create something new my process varies greatly. It ranges from ‘here’s something I found in a junk shop and cleaned up’, to ‘here’s a complicated set of technical drawings that I’m about to take into production’.
Since I started making my new line of jewellery, however, this has changed somewhat. Why? Well, whilst I may have been making (and taking apart) for years, I’m relatively new to the world of precious metals. I thought this could be the perfect opportunity to up my game and become more structured in my approach to making and selling. Put simply, new projects; new me!
This little Rodology blog series will be broken down into four separate bite-sized chunks that show how I go about getting the seed of an idea from my head into someone’s hands as a finished product. It’s by no means a definitive guide, it’s just what’s been working for me on my current journey to take the jewellery world by storm.
Still reading? Awesome. Go grab yourself a cuppa, pull up a chair and let’s start designing!
PART 1: DESIGN
Ok, so you want to make something. You’re not quite sure what it is yet, but there’s a little niggling feeling somewhere in your mind that feels like it could be an idea. Where do you start? How do you keep that flame lit so that it grows and spreads? Well, every good fire needs fuel, and what better fuel than the paper and wood of a sketchbook and pencil!
Got yourself a sketchbook? Good. Use it. Not got one? Get one. Or grab a post-it note. Or a paper napkin. Use the back of your hand if you have to, but start scribbling down shapes, patterns, words, ridiculously fanciful images of finished pieces way, way, way out of your knowledge or expertise and keep going. For me, it’s the only way to start.
My sketchbooks are full of very badly drawn objects that just had to be visualised off the back of an idea. The images aren’t neat or tidy (and in some cases don’t even make sense), but they serve as reminders of ideas that I would have otherwise forgotten about. They can help ground an idea before it gets too crazy or allow an inexperienced idea to develop.
GET RESEARCHING AND GET INSPIRED
For the most part, my sketches tend to lead me on to the next part of my design process: research and inspiration. What’s the difference? For me research is about finding out what‘s already out there that’s similar; where it’s stocked, how it’s made and packaged, who buys it, etc.
Inspiration on the other hand is about finding things that excite me. This could be an existing product just as much as it could be a colour, a material or a sound – something that makes me smile because of the way it makes me feel can easily inspire me and vastly influence my work.
When I start researching existing products in my design phase it’s normally by way of search engines and social media. Has another jeweller already turned my idea into a reality or are they just doing something similar? Either way it’s a good question to ask, as intellectual property is very important. They say that no idea is 100% original these days, but whilst you’re not reinventing the wheel you do need to make sure that any ‘wheel enhancements’ aren’t already being produced.
As well as searching online, I also like to visit other jewellers. I sell at a lot of craft markets so try and have a chat with other jewellery types when I’m setting up or packing down. I’m also regularly in central London on supply trips so will always make sure I give myself some extra time to go exploring.
Clerkenwell is home to a huge number of contemporary and classical jewellers and designers. Craft Central on St. John’s Square always has great pop ups, and twice a year hosts an open studio where you can explore the workshops and meet their resident makers.
If I’ve got a spare half an hour I’ll grab a coffee and head on over to London Rocks on Leather Lane or go and see the exhibits in the foyer of the Goldsmiths Centre on Britton Street to see what’s new (they’re light years ahead of me in terms of what they’re physically producing, but it gives me something to aim for in the long term!).
If I’m looking for more classical design, I’ll have a wander up and down Hatton Garden and look through the windows of the vintage jewellers there. If I want to see something really old school then the British Museum is only a bus or scooter ride away – there I can check out the ridiculously intricate Anglo Saxon jewellery from the 7th century like this belt buckle from the Sutton Hoo hoard. Inspiring stuff!
It’s important to keep a record of what you find as you’re going through this stage. Make notes next to your sketches or snap photos. Use Pinterest or, if you’ve got the space, even create a physical ‘mood board’ with images from magazines or newspapers and attach your sketches to it.
I’m definitely a ‘make it with your hands’ kind of guy so notebooks and mood boards are my kind of thing, but I’ve just started using Pinterest and my goodness what a way to get inspired! My next collection will be themed around space and the universe so I’ve just created a Pinterest board that’s helping me think about how this might come across. Researching images from around the solar system as well as how space travel is perceived and advertised is a great starting point, but it’s very easy to lose an hour or two on it!
All of this should hopefully have given you a pretty good idea of what it is you’re going to produce. From a jewellery point of view I like to mock up pieces by carving them out of wax or making parts out of silver wire, and then adding small pieces I’ve found on my travels that I will eventually make myself.
Having something physical to work with allows you to work out the potential limitations of your design and start thinking about the next stage of production… is it too big or too small? Can you resize it if you need to? Can you come up with variations on each design?
Personally, a lot of my finished designs come from playing around at the prototyping stage. It’s great if you can stick to an original sketch, but for me working out the design kinks during sample production makes for a more organic and considered end piece.
Packaging is also incredibly important at the prototype stage. In my experience you should aim to spend a similar amount of time considering how your piece will be presented as you do on the actual prototype.
Packaging includes any copy or wording you might want to include that tells people how and where it was made, and how they can get in touch. It’s as much a part of a product’s design as the product itself!
Once you’re happy with your samples and packaging it’s time for a bit of market research. If you have any existing stockists, a new prototype or sample is a great way to get initial feedback from someone on the front line of retail. They’ll provide you with more honest feedback than friends and family, and you can feel out whether they’ll be interested in taking them on when you get around to full scale production.
Take note of their advice but also remember that, as retailers, if they like your pieces and wish to stock them they’ll likely want to do so for as cheaply as possible. If you haven’t done so, now’s a good time to start thinking about pricing (I’ll touch more on this later in the series).
It’s also worth speaking with those jewellers you met whilst out researching. If like me you’re in the early part of your jewellery career they’ll not only give you constructive criticism on your designs, but will also help you start thinking about how you might make them on more of a production line scale.
So there you have it! You’ve lit the match under your design idea and you’ve drawn, researched, prototyped and sought feedback. Sounds to me like it’s time to build up that fire and get the flames really burning as you invest in your design and turn it into a physical reality.
For Part 2, I’ll be waxing lyrical on taking your design into production so do pop back. And in the mean time we’d love to hear about your own creative process – are you working on something new? Got any questions you’d like us to answer next time? Let us know in the comments, or hit us up on Twitter!
Latest posts by Rod Barker-Benfield (see all)
- Rodology on Making, Part 4.1: Pricing Your Products for Sale - September 18, 2015
- Rodology on Making, Part 3: Finishing - August 11, 2015
- Rodology on Making, Part 2: Production - July 10, 2015