31 oct 12 - Reno NV -

In a recent meeting with Gary Richter and Tom Simpkins at Panavise in Reno, we talked about their views on design for their products. Panavise has been a manufacturer of unique work holding products for 57 years. Richter moved the company to Reno in 1990. They have lead the market for that time by following one core principle: "Listen to your customers, listen to your customers!" - GR

This process starts before a product idea is completely baked. From research and experience with previous products, you can generate a list of key features. then you are ready to "Design features in so you give [customers] more then they expected." This give a product a leadership position in its market space. 

"Provide a lifetime warranty so you get back everything that malfunctions" Panavise stands by their lifetime warranty. This makes them uniquely able to figure out why the product failed. Did the customer mis-use the product? Was there a defect? This is Constant improvement. The idea of continuous improvement was made popular by Toyota in the 1980s called Kaizen" it reefers to a daily process of taking the time to reflect on how

On design in general Richter is optimistic. The growth of the maker movement is key. It is a grass roots ground swell of people of all ages learning to build for themselves. For a while the skills to build products and gadgets for yourself were being lost. Due to issues in schools the shop classes disappeared. Wood shop and metal shop have been less and less available. When I went to Truckee High in 1980 only auto shop and wood shop remained but in the '60s there were, metal shop and electronics shop as well. The Maker Movement is turning that around. By making materials available over the 'net and by making video tutorials easy to access, people are teaching each other what the schools no longer do. This is where a generation of innovation will come from. Whether as the start of a design career or later in life as an entrepreneur this awareness of how we make things is essential to design.

"When you are green you grow and when you are ripe you rot. Keep listening to your customers and remain green and grow." Design is a constant process. Products have a life cycle and as the 21st century begins that life time is getting shorter. It is important to plan for improvements and innovations in a product line to keep ahead of the change curve. Panavise benefits from a product that essentially is what it does. For other products it is more difficult for the form to communicate the function. With electronic products where the physical form is mostly a container for the electronics we user subtle form ques to help a user know they can trust the product.

"Never claim you know it all or have all the answers. Cause you don't for more then an instant in time." Even at a very mature and experienced company like Panavise, they find new answers, and more important, new questions everyday. Designers are open to these out of the box issues and problems and see them as new opportunities for incremental improvements or whole new products. Panavise went from a tried and true vise maker to the go-to source for action video cameras by staying open to the customers needs. Many thanks to everyone at Panavise for sharing their insights with me.