A decade and a half after it first entered the DAME Design Awards, Scanstrut took top honours at the 2017 event. Founder and CEO of the design-led outdoor and marine equipment manufacturer, Tom Reed, talks to Kim Hollamby about the importance of the DAME Award to his company.
When did you first get involved with METSTRADE and the DAME?
We first exhibited around 1999 and started entering the DAME in the early 2000s. We've always seen the value in doing so. Even achieving a DAME category nomination is great – anything above that is even better. You get so much coverage and visibility of your product outside the immediate circle of your customers.
Does the DAME actually influence your product development cycle?
We are a product design and development company – that's what we do. This is the pinnacle for us in terms of getting recognised and it adds a positive layer of focus for our annual activity. You don't design a product specifically to win the DAME, but the benchmarks it sets keeps you on top of your processes. As we lead up to METSTRADE we'll look at our product development plan and might shuffle some timings around to ensure that the best product is entered.
Why in your opinion does the DAME carry so much importance across the marine industry?
You can't buy a win, no matter how much advertising you do and everyone knows that. The DAME also offers equal opportunities to companies of all sizes. No matter whatever it is, your product gets viewed next to others from businesses with 10 times the budget. If you've done a good job, met all of the criteria and created a really good piece of equipment, you have every chance to beat the largest marine companies.
After entering the DAME regularly and achieving consistent success at category level, Scanstrut won the DAME Award in 2017 with the Venture Connect Conversion Kit. This package makes the RS Venture sailing dinghy accessible for sailing users.
What was involved in its creation and how did the product benefit from the win?
There was a lot of consideration of the customers who were going to use the product. It needed a huge amount of engineering to embrace important aspects such as loading calculations, electric winches and safety features, but we also stayed focused on end-user experience to ensure this product was easy to understand for people who'd never seen it before. The kit will convert a standard able-bodied sailing dinghy into a paraplegic capable boat within half an hour. You don’t have to be an engineer to make the conversion.
The kit is a very niche product but customers are still buying it today and we’ve had enquiries since to do something similar for other dinghy sailing classes. The DAME Award win also put disabled sailing in the spotlight – we wanted to apply our skills and capabilities to create something with a great end purpose so that was a very nice reward.
What does design mean to you as a business?
There’s a great Steve Jobs saying – “Design is not just how it looks and feels. Design is how it works.” People misunderstand design as being the visual element to things. That is important, but design starts right from the very beginning with the product brief.
We spend a big percentage of our project time getting that brief right before we do anything. We ask what has this product got to do? Who is the customer? What are the problems they have? Whenever a project hasn't gone well, you can often trace it back to the brief not being right.
Everything we sell is designed by us, created from scratch. We look at design in all aspects, from how it works, what the end user feels when they're using it, how it's going to cope with the environment that it's in and so on. The materials we use and the type of tooling selected to make it all play a part.
Sustainability and end of life consideration is becoming much more important. We feel a responsibility for every product we create for its entire life. The most sustainable way of developing products is to make them last a really long time and a lot of our design effort is about making sure a product will survive for 10 or even 20 years in its environment.
As a business you have taken a transformative journey from relatively low scale products to mass market retail. How has that influenced your design approach?
We've seen the value in presentation. In retail you have to capture the customer within the last metre of approaching the product by making it look attractive. However the emphasis has shifted again – we used to be very focused on really high-end packaging. Now we're moving into more sustainable, recyclable, simple, clean packaging, which has been driven by the shift online and environmentally motivated buyers. We have to ensure that the product is protected in a warehouse or in transit while minimising plastic. A lot of our packaging now is pretty much fully paper or pulp. We're not completely there, but getting closer.