Case Study: The Design Department
In certain industries, a company’s design department is a key to keeping customers interested. It’s the new products coming out periodically that bring excitement to what’s next. Think about the Cell Phone industry as an example. There is hype in the press in anticipation of each year’s new product improvements, and each company works hard to make sure their new product delights customers.
Industries like these thrive on repeat customers year after year, so innovation becomes a business strategy. They must “publish or perish” (to borrow a phrase from scholastics). And so it is for many industries.
One such very competitive industry is the automotive aftermarket. There is always another gizmo or nifty thing to add to your car. And, for License Plate Frame manufacturers, that is for sure. Customers always want to see something new for bling and attractive decoration.
Synthesis has worked with license plate frames for more than 15 years doing all sorts of artistic expression. Our customer prides themselves on being the best in the industry through continual focus on customer wants and attention to detail — which aligns well with our thoughts.
Collaborating on many projects over the years is a wonderful case study in leveraging talents for success. Having Synthesis as an extension of their design department has allowed Cruiser periodic access to talent beyond their in-house skills, and working together has given us insight and experience we otherwise could not have acquired.
Combining Art, Science & Style
On the surface, frames may seem simple or easy, but there is so much more than meets the eye. True, it is an artistic expression, and some of the frames are simplistic — just a band of chrome around the license plate. Yet, proportions and effects are important. And, there are always concerns about aesthetic appeal, legality, manufacturability, cost, packaging, patents, product line overlap, competitor cross-over and so much more.
In more complex frames, there are the added concerns of how to make (manufacture) the parts easily, distorting features for an optical illusion that appear more complicated than manufacturing can actually make. It’s certainly an area where skills in complex CAD are essential.
Handling all these details is the job of the design department. And, assisting in that has been one of the roles of Synthesis from way back.
When we succeed in bringing art and science together with style, we call it “the elegant solution”. It’s not quantifiable, and it takes creativity, but when you hit that target, you know it. Interestingly, we find it a great compliment when the boss says “That’s so simple, why did we need you?” It’s a compliment, because we know the hoops jumped through in order to get it there. It always makes me smile.
Feeding the Design Department
Our job often starts with a sketch from an artist — often something that is impossible to make, and something that violates rules for manufacturing, or of space and legality. To meet requirements, the design department must know where the boundaries are.
Legality is an interesting topic for license plates. To be legal, there are certain areas you have to stay away from — certain things you can’t cover. To learn all the details for every situation, Cruiser collected license plates from every jurisdiction in North America. No kidding, we have a license plate from every state in the US as well as from Canada and Mexico. Then we went through every one to document where tags and state names and other details are. Finally, we put all this work into a graphic so when we design a frame, we know what it’s going to look like and how it will fit in every case.
Does that seem crazy? Maybe, but our customer has a passion for being the best, and it’s important to know your business. Their bulk customers like AutoZone know that we know what we’re doing — even if the competition does not.
Art To Science
As mentioned, an artist rendering is often the starting point. Our job is to shape what they draw into something that meets the practical requirements (legality, manufacturability, cost, etc.). Oh, and we must preserve the look the artist intended with their sketches. Sometimes, that’s a really tall order. Sure, it’s compromise, but it’s more. It’s finding ways to manifest art within the analytical sphere.
Art is in the eye of the beholder, for sure. Sometimes it’s difficult to please an artist when we first have to mutate their art. Interestingly, we have done this kind of work for many customers — from Rock Shox to Cell Phones to toy manufacturers.
However, when we finish, it’s purely analytical — meaning it’s something that a manufacturer can produce, cost effectively. We take it from sketches and 2D images into 3D CAD, then prototypes and technical docs for production. In essence, we take the nebulous and give it a mathematical description. Our work with the design department is moving Art to Science — while preserving the essence of the art.
Often, it’s the almost over simplistic, yet creative thinking that bring artistic concepts to reality. The above chain and spinner concept from a long time ago is an example — because you can flip the frame over so the dangling spinner is below the plate for cases where it is not legal to dangle as shown.
Another example is the the skulls above. The three center skulls are actually a removable emblem that can be placed on the frame upside down. This means you can flip the frame over with this piece on the now “bottom” to avoid covering a state name on the license plate. Yes, it’s simple, and yes it seems so obvious. Yet, it had not been done before — which is exactly the elegance of the solution.
We believe the best solutions come from multiple sources, and that certainly proves itself over and over as we collaborate and innovate together.
Success In The Design Department
Company success is a chain of successful activity. Starting with the right artistic selections, then the activity and success of the design department. If we do our job well, the sales department has a much greater chance of success. Add in success in other areas like manufacturing, logistics and human resources, and that makes the recipe.
Beyond the “design”, our contribution extends into the assets for our customer — in the areas of Intellectual property. Patents to protect the work are common, and you’ll find Eldon on many license plate related patents — both utility and design patents. It’s not a solo act, however, because the best ideas are influenced by multiple sources. In this relationship, Synthesis is but one of the creative inputs. That said, we believe our influence is a catalyst in this area of success. It’s one of the added benefits in working with us.
The design department is just one of the links in the chain, but important, nonetheless. At Synthesis we understand the impact our work can have, and we also understand the risks a company takes in choosing to work with us. The importance of our activity is not lost in timesheets, and we bring our best work to every project — to work together with customers for a united success. That’s just who we are.
The Synthesis Series of Case Studies highlight some of the work we do with examples, images and detail. Our work is broad, and acting as the Design Department is just one of the many roles we play. See the additional case studies for more examples. Please see our Engineering Services pages for more information on the services we provide. Thank you for visiting.