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Libby Munford caught up with Raymond Crosbie, business development director at Design Partners, product design and innovation agency, to see how they are coping in these unprecedented times.

How has corona impacted your business?

Working remotely from their clients is second nature to Design Partners, with most of their clients based in the U.S. and Central Europe. However, with new levels of isolation the team had to be inventive in retaining an exceptional service. Apart from a skeleton crew working in their R&D facility (with new standards of hygiene and safety), the team have brought home many of the complex prototyping equipment – 3D Printers, Laser cutters, bonding machines.

Design Partners’ more strategically minded clients are making the most of commercial interruption to dedicate resources to ensuring a higher quality of product development and make use of the time their staff now have.

Has production been affected, or do you expect it to be?

In general, active projects and production have not been affected. Design Partners have had robust remote engagement tools and collaboration technology platforms for many years. A challenge has been getting our clients up to speed with this technology, which they have willingly done. We have distributed some of the more portable prototyping equipment to the homes of key staff, with travel to our facility limited to key staff for specific tasks.

Has your supply chain been impacted, or do you envisage such challenges?

We are generally not seeing a supply chain impact, other than longer component part lead times for certain suppliers as they process orders at a slower rate

Have any of your employees been infected and how are they now?

We have been lucky in that we have no reported cases in our employees; however, we have cases in families and friends of our employees.

What measures are you taking to ensure you meet these challenges?

Since the 12th March Design Partners are adhering to the guidelines from the Department of Health here in Ireland. Personal hygiene measures were immediately introduced with social distancing following soon after. Home working was introduced in advance and in anticipation of travel restrictions. New safety protocols were introduced when shipping design concepts to our clients or for user testing.

How do you see coronavirus impacting more generally on packaging / FMCG, and do you have any suggestions as to how the industry can mitigate these impacts?

From Design Partners perspective and our engagement with our Pharmaceutical clients, there is an attitude to keep momentum in new product development and packaging programs, as these are long term programs with significant milestones. As such, our clients are being creative in how they are engaging to keep collaborations with key vendors active. This has involved both increased and decreased vendor responsibility.

For new product development, deeply understanding the voice of the customer (VOC) is paramount. New practices in conducting remote VOC and human factors usability testing are now being trialed and introduced to maintain project momentum. These techniques allow companies to ensure their projects can continue with a clear sense of purpose and design rationale.

Are there any broader lessons about packaging that industry – or society – should draw from the pandemic?

This is a chance for industry to become more efficient and effective in communication and remote collaboration. It gives the industry a reason to experiment with new techniques and digital tools to streamline their process.

On a human level, there is a heightened awareness of employee wellbeing, conscious of the mental health impact the crisis and remote isolation have on people. There is a genuine opportunity for companies to emerge from this crisis with a healthier workforce and better performing teams.