Designing to win
By Linda Ohm, Senior Editor
October 15, 2009 | 7:00 pm CDT

Many manufacturers will say that it's just a box and there are only so many ways you can build a box. As a result, designers concentrate on the outside of the cabinets to give fashion and distinction to the kitchen.


Andy Wells, senior director of product and merchandising design for Diamond Cabinets, says, "We weren't focused on the right part of our business."


Wells says that there has long been a need for consumers to get organized and for a long time it just wasn't being addressed. In early 2000, Diamond began a process of consumer shop-alongs that identified what consumers were looking for in their kitchens, how they cooked and moved in the kitchen and how they stored things.


Diamond is part of Masterbrand, and Logix is a trademarked name of Diamond's storage program.


"It's beautiful cabinetry, but we forgot about the real reason we're doing it. Yes, aesthetically pleasing is a wonderful thing, but the organization is so important and so high on consumers' agenda," says Wells. "And it wasn't being addressed."


Set apart

Diamond's original intention was to make its cabinetry stand out above the other brands. "You should expect beautiful cabinets," says Emily Small, Diamond group brand manager. "But after that fact, you still want to find your pots and pans and your Tupperware. You want to organize that junk drawer, your utensils, whatever it might be."


As Diamond did its research, it soon became apparent that this was an area where it could really make itself different in a positive way. "Since its introduction, the Logix product has created high consumer demand, leading to double-digit sales growth each year," says Small.


Diamond still employs a forum process where the team goes around the country talking to designers and looking for new ideas for organizing. "I honestly believe that this is just as important as me working on new finish and stain colors on the outside of the box, because this is going to evolve. People's uses evolve," says Wells.


"There are tons of gadgets out there and Logix is not about gadgets," says Wells. "Logix has a process to its development."


Thinking inside the box

The innovation sales team is cross-functional, says Small, and includes people from marketing, distribution, product design and the brand side, as well as designers and engineers. "We also have people from purchasing in the group, because they're the ones who eventually have to go out and find the things we're looking for," she says. "We rotate the people of the team in and out, bringing new people in to bring in fresh ideas. That way we don't get a stagnant team and we also get continuity because of the people who stay on it for years."


It's key to have the right people take the company through the process, says Small. In the first round of a design, the concept stage, the team shows illustrations of the new products to consumer and designer focus groups to get feedback. The top hitters are then selected to go to the next stage testing the idea.


"We actually build all the prototypes here, in house, so we have our engineers, who are out on the shop floors day in and day out, help us to take our concepts and bring our drawings to life, because the reality of it is that it has to fit inside this box," says Small. "We design face-frame cabinets so there are different challenges that we have versus a frameless line that might try to do the same thing."


Getting it right

The company tweaks the product and then works to figure out how to make it work and how to integrate it into the manufacturing facility. "It'll either be worth it to change or we need to look at another way to get that solution," says Small. It's important to get everyone to buy in to the product from the beginning versus just building something and telling the engineers to figure it out, says Small. "Then they definitely feel ownership with it, which I think is very, very important."


"The two most important people in my life are the designer using the products and the consumers. I need to enable the designer and I need to engage the consumer," says Wells. "I need to be able to put the consumer in an environment where they have a level of comfort where they want to close with our designers and our brands."


Diamond has the designer forum process while the company really goes out and talks to the people using the products. "We ask them for the gaps and what would benefit the line, whether it's aesthetically with color or whether it's an organization feature," says Wells. And then the company tracks the performance of the things people have requested.


"Our designers are key to selling our products," says Small. "If they're not going to sell us, we're not going to sell cabinets." So it pays to listen to the designers, say Small and Wells.


Getting designers involved is exactly what the inaugural Diamond Design Contest (see sidebar) was all about. "We are excited to recognize our brightest designer talent from showrooms across the country," says Small. "It's these designers' work that illustrates the innovations inside Diamond Cabinets.


"Most people don't want others opening their cabinets. But if we did our job right, we'll have people all across the nation opening their cabinets, showing off their cabinets because they're better organized and they're proud of them."


"The whole subject of organization affects every room of your home. There is a long horizon for this thing. We're not stopping in the kitchen," says Wells.

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