Saturday, 2 February 2013

Design Sheets Part 1 - Prototypes

I've had this card up on both Etsy and Folksy for a while now - and it's been selling slowly but consistently (that'll be my lack of promotional activities) but since I was featured in this years Valentine's Cards Guide on Folksy, there was a sudden flurry of 3 orders, which wiped out my stock entirely.  A good feeling!

Crazy Valentine's 9 Heart Trifold Card - buy it from Etsy or Folksy

Normally I'd be quite relaxed about that and just add it to the list of things to make.  But, this weekend is probably when most people will be looking for Valentine's cards, and given the 3 sales happened over a 2 day period, which is considerably faster than usual, it seemed a good idea to pull out the raw materials, and make another batch this weekend so I've got available stock ready to send out late Monday onwards - I make a dozen at a time.  

Which was the point at which I realised (oh ok, I panicked) that for some reason, I didn't have a Design Sheet for this particular card - just a set of pretty inadequate random notes.  Guess who's making up a Design Sheet as she goes along this weekend!

And, I then I thought, people might find it interesting to see what goes into one of my card designs - from inspiration to listing - and how and why I keep records of each design.  Or rather how and why I feel I should keep records....

What goes into a Design Sheet?

The short answer is, enough information so that if I want to make the design again, I can just pick up the Sheet and get on with it, even if it's years since I last did it. 

In practice, it's not just one Sheet of paper, it's also the Backup (if any) of how I developed the design - it either lives in a bound kid's school exercise book or if the design is complicated/ too big to fit in/ there's lots of backup - in a plastic pocket in a file.  

I find it useful to keep this Backup, because, as with this Tri-Fold, often, one design can be given a little twist and a whole new design pops out - with considerably less development time and effort than a totally new design would take, because I can piggy-back the information for the original card into the new one.  Can you tell I'm an huge fan of killing as many birds as possible with one stone (metaphorically speaking. I leave the actual massacring of real birds to Ivorcat).

The Design Sheet needs to cover the design itself (measurements, techniques, workarounds etc), raw materials (tools and actual supplies needed), and costings for time and materials pricings so that I can work out both how much it costs me to make it, and also how much I want to sell it for.  I also have information about packaging materials required & weight.  And I keep a note of how long it took me to develop the design.  More about what I use that information for later.


Some people just create something from scratch without worrying too much about the end result, and if they like it, they play around with it and then, bingo, one new item for sale.  Me, I find that a quite difficult.  It works for some of my designs, like the needlefelting, but not so much with cards.  

I like being systematic so my first step with a card design is usually to develop it in plain scrap paper using sellotape & bluetak to temporarily hold everything together whilst I play with ideas - especially if I'm playing with the card shape or mechanism itself.  I keep all of these initial attempts, even the ones that don't work, because again, sometimes when I go back to them, it's a jumping off point for going in a different direction.  (Yes, my house is full of failed designs).

For this Valentine's Card: the design started life way back in 2009 when I designed a card for the 365 Cards Blog, which I talked about in this post  - as a challenge to use the technique of paper scoring in the card.
This Red Tri-Fold Flowers design is currently not available for sale, although I do have a batch of yellow/ green/ blue colourway in this design that haven't been photographed for listing yet.  Ooops!

And this is my prototype for that tri-fold flowers card - which I kept going back to as I moved from thinking about the basic shapes and placement, to the colours and shading I wanted for each element in that particular design.  
In the prototype I've just drawn the rough flower shape for each element and roughly cut around them before bluetaking them to the tri-fold card.  The numbers on each flower are a record of the colour/ shading for the design - these get added at the end.

So, back to what inspired the Valentine's Card.  In January 2011 a friend asked if I could design a Valentine's card based on the Tri-Fold Flowers design.  

This is how I got from the tri-fold flowers prototype to the tri-fold valentine design prototype:  first I tried using a regular heart shape, using a symmetrical heart stamp as a template.  

This is the first prototype:

You can't see the stamp marks because they're on the back of the heart elements - the actual stamp design wasn't what I wanted, I was just using the outline of the shape.  

I used the same symmetrical heart stamp in exactly the same way on the back of the element in these two cards: a Kirigami Valentine and a Matchbook Valentine
This is the front of a valentine's card (again for 365 cards blog challenge) using the symmetrical stamp on the back to give me a template for my cutting lines.  The inside of the card uses Kirigami you can see it in this post.  This card uses someone else's design inside, so it's not one I'll be selling.
I used the same heart stamp on the back of this heart element to give me a template for tearing the edges.  See the full card in this post

Because I'd already used the heart stamp in two other cards, I had a pretty good mental picture of how the finished card might look - with cut or torn edged hearts - which is why just working in white paper works for me.  But, using the same underlying card dimensions and the same number of hearts and positioning as I had flowers in the Tri-Fold Flowers card didn't really flow.

So I tried again: second prototype: using a different, asymmetrical commercial heart stamp, this time on the front of the element.  Because the stamp is bigger, I played around with the number of elements, and eventually came up with fewer than with the Tri-Fold Flowers card.  Why? Because it looked better, the fact that there's less cutting out to do was just an added bonus!

The second prototype - the one I took forwards to make into a finished thing 
This time you can see the stamp on the front - but only one of them, because once there's one there, I can imagine what the rest will look like.

So, all three of these prototypes (which are at 100% scale) form part of the Design Sheet Backup.  And now I look at the first attempt Prototype again, and at the Matchbook torn heart, I feel the stirrings of a slightly different new design... But I digress.

Recording the Prototype Design

It's all very well having the Prototypes -  by themselves they tell me the size of the underlying card, where the folds should be, how many hearts I need and where they should be placed.  I could just leave it there - and I did - which I now regret.  

But to streamline my processes - and in the interests of aiming to do a task only once - in an ideal world, I would list out the actual measurements themselves so that I don't have to take out a ruler every time I want to make a new batch of that design, and all the information I need is there on a plate for me.

For this design, the visual information I need to start writing down now on the draft Design Sheet is:
  • Dimensions of underlying cardstock fully stretched
  • Dimensions of underlying cardstock folded up
  • Precise placing of folds and whether they're valley or mountain (origami speak - very useful) and on which side
  • Precise placing of the diagonal - with this one it would be measurements from bottom of card to the diagonal, with others it could be degrees of angle etc.
  • Dimensions of finished card (including overlapping elements)
  • Size of envelope required
  • Arrangement of multiple cards on a single sheet of card - ie a jigsaw plan of how many cards I can get out of my basic cardstock with minimal wastage/ offcuts.
  • Note of how many heart elements are needed per card. And because this design is based on another finished card, I can also note down the number of different colours/ shadings that might work when I move onto the finished card.
All these details are written down on a drawing of a 'plan' of the card.  

For this Tri-Fold card, because it has elements on both sides when open, and a 'footprint' when closed (because of the elements that stick out the sides), I need 3 plans - footprint, left side and right side.  Which means I need a large A3 piece of paper to fit it all on one page.

After I've roughed this out, then I sit down and work out if anything needs to be adjusted or refined, say to the dimensions of the card so that I can use a standard size of commercial envelope (as opposed to having to make one myself which increases time and materials costs and therefore the retail price).

Shooting myself in the foot

Whilst I did all this work the first time around, I didn't write it down.  To be fair, at the time I wasn't really thinking in terms of making more than one card.  Although I did then make a full batch of an additional 11 cards, so really there is no excuse for the continuation of the failure!

So now I need to do it all over again. 

Which takes time. Time which needs to be factored into my prices, because I'm running a business where the items I sell are priced for both the raw materials and the time they take to design, manufacture and market.  

Which gives me a problem.  

I've already done a design costing for the time for this design from inception to listing - and set the retail price.  So any extra time I spend reinventing the wheel either has to be covered by an increase in retail price for the batch (the customer pays for my inefficiency) or, covered by a decrease in profits (I pay for my inefficiency because time I spend repeating myself and reinventing the wheel is time I can't spend doing something more productive which will 'earn' me money).

And annoyingly, my failure to properly record for next time means I've gone in the wrong direction on this batch.  But investing the time now to put the Design Sheet in place, will mean I'm back on track for next time....  

Getting ahead of myself or catching up?

With every batch I make of a design, it's good practice to reconsider my pricing structure. Can the market support a higher price?  Do I already have the raw materials on hand, or do I have to buy more? Have the raw materials prices increased?  Is my estimate of time spent accurate?  Have listing fees changed?  Am I still going to make the same profit? and crucially - what can I do differently that gives me the same quality of product, maybe the same price, but potentially a higher profit (usually in terms of time saving - which is why I make batches of cards, it's quicker than a single card overall).  

I note on the design sheet the date I've considered these things, and what decisions I made.  

I also note down when I make successive batches, any changes to the design and how many I've made.

Because I'm working with hindsight, these things will be part of the Design Sheet I'm putting together today whilst I'm waiting for the paint to dry on the first side of the new batch sheet of paper.  Because it's got to be more fun than watching paint dry, no?

Which looks like this:

Very poor light, and very wet paint do not a pretty picture make - this is a sheet of  76cm x 56cm Bockingford Watercolour Paper, painted in acrylic - this will eventually become the hearts on the Valentine's Card.  It needs to dry overnight, then I can paint the back of it. 

What comes next? - raw materials & tools....

1 comment:

  1. Goodness me, how very thorough... *hides the scraps of paper with scribbled dimensions which are nearest I get*


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