For those of us in the design community, there are a number of phrases that are common to our profession. I’m not talking about anything proprietary or technical, but quite often we find ourselves uttering euphemisms that figuratively (or literally) describe our process. One of the more popular ones is that the design in question is “like a Swiss watch.” Simply put, it highlights a designer’s efforts to make use of every portion of a particular canvas. Further, the vision and intent for every aspect/component to meld with expert precision, and so much so that the result of all our efforts will be a thing of beauty.
It’s all relative to both resources and limitations, but design is a challenge with more than one way to answer any one question. Now, in the case of Associate Designer Josh Snodgrass (who actually designs watches), he and members of his team face many of the same challenges that we do trying to reinvent something that has been done countless times over.
We essentially work within boxes and have some wiggle room trying new things that push the envelope to wow both our clients and the end user. But now how do you innovate a circle…roughly a few inches in size…with carefully engineered parts…and nary zero room for error? Well, in this installment of Creatives on Creatives, Josh offers his thoughts and experiences doing just that.
Q. What part of the merchandise do you design and interact with?
In my position, I have a hand in the design and development of the watches created at Fossil. Although I work at Fossil, I don’t actually design any Fossil branded products. The company is broken into two groups. The first is the Design Portfolio, which encompasses our licensed brands, and our group of Craft/Incubator brands (also known as ‘The Fifth Floor’). Then there is Fossil and its owned brands.
I work under the Design Portfolio where I specifically oversee design of a licensed brand and One Eleven, one of the “Craft Brands”. Both are vastly different from each other, so it’s nice to work on a range of products. It keeps me fresh because I’m not working one just a single style or product.
Q. Where in the creative process do you sit?
My official position is Associate Designer (or Mid-Level Designer), but I have the unique opportunity of being the Lead Designer on both the Portfolio brand and One Eleven. Being in this position, I get to have a hand in a majority of the design/development processes. As designers of the product, I would say we ARE the full creative process, from beginning to end. There’s not much left to do to develop or put into the project by the time we are finished with it.
Q. Design aside, makes each brand unique, and how does that help inform how you approach and execute the design?
We have two slightly different ways we work each brand. On the portfolio brand, we work with a licensor, develop in a 9 to 12 month turn around per product, and have four seasons of development each with multiple touch-bases which allow for client input. That causes the process to be a little more complex and drawn out. On One Eleven, there isn’t a licensor to report to, we still run on the same development turn around, but aren’t set to any specific drop/release dates.
Q. Based on your background, what do you bring to Fossil, and what do you feel are your strengths?
When it comes to design, I like to think that I am a fairly well-rounded, but I’m always striving to learn more. I’m always working to hone my skills and talents. I like to think I bring a unique viewpoint and mindset to the table, and definitely see myself as more of the open-minded thinker.
I really like to go for some crazy ideas, and then pull back from there. Other people may like the opposite, but I like going big and then whittling down. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this, but sometimes you find that your crazy ideas weren’t really crazy at all. I think that’s where we get some of the best out of ourselves because we don’t resign ourselves to the limitations of production.
Q. I’ve been a big fan of watches a long time, and I’ve often been fascinated by what can be achieved on how the pieces come together on such a small scale. But how do you get “crazy” with something that’s only a few inches in size?
It is honestly very hard to innovate a circle…but that’s where the fun challenge lies! Watches have been around for a rather long time, so it is hard to be super original and be different. That being said, it’s not just about how it looks. It’s the story behind the watch that creates the experience.
We have many different brands here, with many different styles and ways of telling a story. There range from simple to the exact opposite. Skagen is minimal and very thin while Diesel, which has a very large format, blends a lot of crazy colors and material to create something maximized and bold. But the direction we take really depends on the brand, or the license. That dictates what ‘trends’ and ‘stories’ need to be followed in upcoming development.
With One Eleven, we are trying to tell a sustainability story. When we are thinking of out of the box elements, the goal is to have something that has not yet been done, but will also stand up to being outside, and what will get good use. In this case – as this brand is influenced by nature – we decided to eliminate changing of batteries and use solar movements. Further, we use recyclable and sustainable materials. It’s not always JUST about the look, be it the complexity of the case or the movements.
Q. Working with manufacturing plants can probably help or hinder the design. It helps to be knowledgeable about how certain materials pair together so you can keep the design intent. So how much of your background is based on those extracurricular fact-finding efforts?
When I am designing a watch, I really try to keep in mind the limitations of the material. For instance, stainless steel can be made to into very sharp and clean designs. With an alloy, you’d have to have fillets on a crisp curve because it’s a softer material which can’t be made as precise. Now if we don’t know or are unsure how a concept might play out, that’s when our factories are able to bring their knowledge and experience in to tell us what is feasible and what isn’t. If, for some reason, the concept won’t work, they’ll tell us that they can’t do something…but they’ll explain why. They’ll offer another option, or something close.
Coming into my position at Fossil, I had a fair amount of manufacturing and material experience both at school and previous positions. Every day, that proves to be more valuable. In my previous job, I designed robotic kids toys for a company called Hexbug.
There, I learned basic ins-and-outs of dealing directly with factories and the process of manufacturing small electronics. A lot of the same things apply when working with watches, but at the same time was different because I was actually working with the limitations of things like choking hazards, worrying about sharp points, and, when working with plastic and metal, knowing what is toxic and what’s not. All of this is extremely important to remember in the process of concepting new designs.
Q. How do you see the public reaction to smart watches, and how are you keeping up with those trends?
Ever since the release of the original Apple Watch, the enticement of having a “phone” or “computer” on your wrist has quickly grown. It’s crazy to look back and see just how quickly wearables have exploded in the past couple years. It’s now almost as big of a money maker as traditional timepieces in some instances across the industry.
As for us, we are very proactive in staying ahead of the competition. Fossil and the Portfolio have received a great deal of attention, via many channels, on how our wearables stand apart from all the others on the market. Our unique selling point is that it’s a truly fashion product with a tastefully curated/branded experience for your day to day. Fashion and Tech are two VERY differing worlds working hand in hand to enhance your life. It really is cool how, although the internals may be the same, each brand’s smart watch(es) have completely different aesthetics and experiences.
Being a designer on the Portfolio, I have personally had the chance to work on a couple brands’ smart watches and products. The first, being the Connected product for licensed brand I design for. The full touch smart watch was not a good fit for the brand, so we decided to move forward with the “Hybrid” smart watch. A Hybrid watch melds the benefits and features of the full touch watch (smart notifications, step counting, goal tracking, etc.) with the classic look of a traditional watch but without the screen.
This allows the watch to appear and act exactly like your everyday 3-hand, but with the functionality one would want from a full touch product. Personally, I prefer the Hybrid to the Full Touch, as it eliminates the, sometimes, very distracting screen and keeps the notifications and information from interrupting or breaking focus. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on/design an upcoming full touch watch for another brand in the Portfolio which, surprisingly, requires less design work since the module/brain is already designed and set. Both are super cool projects to have worked on.
Q. We deal with hotel brands, and certain hotels have certain standards. When you deal with the licensed brands, what kind of input do you get from the rights holders, and what kind of approval process do you run into?
When we work on a project for any of our licensors, we usually run on the same four deliverable season timelines as the rest of the fashion industry and have three touch bases with them during the process of each season. I have been working on the licensed brand since it (and I) started at Fossil. So I have been able to see that relationship grow and, because of that, our process has changed over the years. At first, we had to earn their trust and showcase our abilities to let them know we could deliver what they want. But each time we meet with them, we build that trust and confidence.
In the beginning, they used to send a lot of mood boards, color boards and materials they were going to be using for the season. We’d be inundated at first, but now that we have their confidence, and they trust us, we have a great relationship. They will come to us with a lot less and say “we have a couple ideas but if you can give us something better or talk us off the ledge on certain ideas, then we’ll go with what you suggest.” Their confidence in us is quite high so that helps.
Q. When we start a job, it’s because we’ve been commissioned to produce something for a client. Since it’s not our hotel, you have to check your ego and work in service of what the client wants. How do you react to designs that are rejected?
Rejection in the life of a designer isn’t/shouldn’t be something new. Yes, it’s definitely a bit humbling the first time you think you have a killer design and it doesn’t receive the love you think it deserves. It can be a little disheartening and staying positive is the key, for sure. BUT you can’t take that stuff personally in this business.
When we scrap a color story or case body, it can set you back a while, and it can frustrate you, but you have to get past that. Now as my knowledge and understanding of watches grows, hopefully that happens less. The key to doing so it to view it as a challenge as opposed to a setback. Try to see things as a creative criticism instead of just criticism. They are telling you what they want, and what they think can be better, so it’s never personal. You just take that and do better on the next job.
You have to view all part of the job as a career and you have to stay hungry. You should never be satisfied with your skill level, and you should always be looking to learn and keep pushing forward to improve. So take each rejected design as another learned experience.
Q. When you have to really get to work creating something, what’s your super food, or creative fuel?
In this ever-changing world, I am constantly keeping an eye out for new inspiration and ways to jumpstart creativity.
That’s a hard one to nail down, so I’ll give you a few. First, taking the question very literally; my “super food” would have to be an apple, of really any kind. That’s probably been one of my go-tos for a creative boost, since I was a kid. Not really sure what about it, maybe just the fact that an apple always puts me in a brighter mood.
Second, being much less literal and pretty simple: getting outside and doing something. It doesn’t even have to be active. Just the state of being out of the stuffy indoor air helps clear out some the “fog” that might be clouding my creativity. My common outdoor activities tend to include some sort of hiking, playing with the dogs, or just sitting to enjoy the scenery. It’s never a bad time for a quick restart.
The last thing I would consider to be creative fuel for me, is having side projects. At any one time, I typically have four to five different projects going on. These could range from a freelance graphic design or illustration project, sketching/designing a mock product line to brainstorming a clothing line. Most recently, my rather cumbersome project has been co-founding a design collective, called Visual Minds Co. Anything to push my limits and skills, allowing for a disconnect and quick reset, in the everyday craziness.