Almost all product companies have a distinctive design process to create strong concepts, but no product you have would be worth its weight without development, the unsung hero that makes everything you have worth owning. If you ask three different people, you’ll probably get three different answers, but in short, development takes a great design and makes it a great product by translating a designer’s vision into tangible instructions for the manufacturing partner. This role exists in almost every product space, but we’re going to focus on softgoods in this post.
Softgoods designers start with some functional goals and a general idea for the look and feel of a future bag before setting to work, researching, drawing and making mockups. Usually by the end of the design process, they have created a set of technical drawings that show every detail about the bag (a spec or tech-pack). At this point, a designer could hand off the drawing to a factory and get a very disappointing sample. Instead, to create the strongest products, designers collaborate with developers. Developers vary in approach and skillset, but generally a developer is expert in all aspects of material, construction and performance of the bag. Before the the good is ever made, they can identify where factories will have trouble with construction or where the design might have functional shortcomings. For example, we had a zipper sticking on our roll top because of the stiff fabric used for the rain flap. After four tests with different zippers and fabrics, we found that edge binding the flap instead of folding the fabric created a thinner, more flexible flap and the low friction of the binding helped the zipper run more smoothly against the flap edge. While maybe not fascinating work, this one day of testing saved us weeks of back and forth with a factory.
Designs that are shared with talented developers are revised so textiles match product needs, sewing operations are clear, and the bag functions as the designer intended. After all these details are resolved, a full spec and construction samples are sent to a factory for sampling. It’s clear that all the groundwork for a good factory samples needs to be laid out ahead and that design is only as good as your development.
As we prepare to launch our Roll Top, we’re proud that almost all development happens in-house (we still definitely take feedback from factories). We internally pattern, sample and test our bags, working out plenty of kinks before the factory even sees it. We’ve found it’s far more efficient to fail early and often, than to wait till your bag is in the market to find shortcomings. Though this process takes time, we revel in understanding and resolving every detail so our users can just enjoy performance.