A Quick Guide to Design for Manufacturing

Great industrial designers do more than develop innovative ideas and create evocative sketches. They understand that to be successful, a product must be able to be successfully produced. The branch of design that deals with the many details that must come together for smart, successful industrial production is design for manufacturing. It’s a complex, ever-changing, and absolutely critical field of knowledge for designers. In this Insight article we will outline what design for manufacturing is and why it’s so important, and share some key considerations in the process.

What is Design for Manufacturing?

Designing for manufacturing is a strategic design approach that involves considering manufacturing constraints and requirements from the early stages of product design. It entails creating designs that are optimized for efficient and cost-effective production processes. Designers who practice designing for manufacturing ensure that the final product can be manufactured smoothly and at scale. This approach aims to eliminate or minimize potential manufacturing challenges, such as high production costs, assembly difficulties, and quality issues. By incorporating manufacturing considerations into the design process, designers can create products that are not only aesthetically appealing and functional but also feasible to manufacture in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

Why Design for Manufacturing?

Design for manufacturing is critical in industrial product development as it directly impacts the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and overall success of the manufacturing process. By considering manufacturing constraints and requirements early in the design phase, designers can optimize their designs to ensure smooth production, minimize errors, reduce production costs, and enhance product quality. Designing for manufacturing involves selecting appropriate materials, choosing the right production methods, and creating designs that are easy to assemble. Bonus points for designs that are also easy to disassemble. When design and manufacturing are closely aligned, it results in streamlined production processes, shorter lead times, improved product functionality, and increased customer satisfaction. Ultimately, a strong focus on design for manufacturing leads to successful products that can be manufactured efficiently, reliably, and at scale, giving companies a competitive edge in the market.

Key Considerations

Material Selection

Material selection is important in designing for manufacturing as it directly influences the functionality, performance, and cost of the final product. Choosing the right materials ensures that the design can be successfully manufactured and meets the desired specifications. Materials possess unique properties, such as strength, durability, flexibility, and thermal conductivity, which can significantly impact the manufacturing process and the overall performance of the product. Material selection also affects the cost of production, as different materials vary in terms of availability, sourcing, and manufacturing complexity. Innovative materials offer opportunities to stand out amidst competitors, providing unique properties that can change the landscape of a product category.

By carefully considering material properties, designers can optimize their designs for manufacturing, ensuring that the chosen materials align with production methods and constraints. This not only enhances the manufacturability of the product but also contributes to its quality, reliability, and market competitiveness.

A product that showcases the power of smart material selection in designing for manufacturing are Tesla’s car bodies. Tesla’s engineers and designers made meticulous choices when it came to selecting materials, resulting in a vehicle that combines performance, efficiency, and safety. The extensive use of lightweight yet strong materials such as aluminum for the body structure and carbon fiber for certain components helped reduce the car’s weight, enhancing its energy efficiency and range. 

Production Methods

The production method selected for a given product directly impacts the efficiency, cost, and quality of the manufacturing process. Different products or product components may require specific production methods such as casting, machining, molding, or additive manufacturing, each with its own advantages and limitations. Designers can ensure that their designs align with the capabilities and constraints of the chosen manufacturing processes when they plan ahead and choose their production method wisely. This enables streamlined production, reduces material waste, minimizes production errors, and enhances overall product quality. Making informed decisions about production method selection in designing for manufacturing is necessary for achieving successful and cost-effective production outcomes.

An example of a product that demonstrates the use of a smart production method is the Apple iPhone. Apple utilizes a combination of advanced manufacturing techniques, including precision CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining, to produce the intricate metal casings for their iPhones. CNC machining allows for highly accurate and repeatable manufacturing processes, resulting in precise and seamless components. This is how Apple achieves the sleek and seamless design of the iPhone. Apple’s adoption of automated assembly processes, such as robotic assembly and surface-mount technology (SMT) for circuit board assembly, ensures efficient and consistent production. By leveraging smart production methods, Apple can mass-produce iPhones with high quality, tight tolerances, and efficient manufacturing processes, meeting the demands of millions of customers worldwide.

Design for Assembly

Designing for assembly is another important aspect of designing for manufacturing. It focuses on optimizing the ease and efficiency of the assembly process. By considering assembly requirements and constraints during the design phase, designers can create products that are simple and intuitive to assemble, reducing the time, effort, and cost associated with manufacturing. Designing for assembly involves techniques such as minimizing the number of components, standardizing parts, and incorporating features that facilitate alignment and connection during assembly. By streamlining the assembly process, designers can enhance productivity, reduce the likelihood of errors or defects, and improve the overall quality of the final product. Designing for assembly can also lead to efficient disassembly and maintenance, which influences the repairability, sustainability, and the lifecycle of the product. 

An example of a product range that showcases smart design for assembly principles is the IKEA furniture range. IKEA uses a combination of clever design choices and standardized assembly methods to simplify the construction process for their customers. IKEA’s furniture typically features components that can be easily connected through mechanisms like cam locks and dowels, eliminating the need for complex tools or specialized skills. The use of clear, visual assembly instructions further enhances the user experience. By designing their furniture with assembly in mind, IKEA minimizes assembly time, reduces the risk of errors, and allows customers to efficiently construct their own furniture. This smart design for assembly approach not only aligns with IKEA’s commitment to affordable and accessible furniture but also contributes to their reputation for user-friendly products.


Design for manufacturing is critical for the success of any product. By considering factors such as material selection, production method selection, and design for assembly, designers can optimize their designs for efficient and cost-effective manufacturing processes. Careful material selection ensures that the chosen materials align with the product’s requirements, resulting in enhanced performance, durability, and cost-efficiency. Selecting appropriate production methods enables streamlined production, reduces waste, and improves overall product quality. Designing for assembly simplifies the construction process, reducing assembly time and errors while enhancing user experience. When designers prioritize design for manufacturing, they not only create products that are easier and more cost-effective to manufacture but also deliver better user experiences and improved product quality. Ultimately, design for manufacturing fosters innovation, reduces costs, and helps businesses stay competitive in a rapidly evolving market.

Looking for more design InsightsSign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

Building Effective Design Teams

What makes an effective design team?

Building effective design teams is essential to creating successful and innovative products, services, and solutions. To achieve this, it is important to have a team that has the right combination of people who possess a diverse set of skills, varied experiences, and the ability to collaborate.

When we talk about diversity in a design team, we are not just referring to cultural or ethnic diversity. While cultural diversity is important, it is only one aspect of a much broader concept of diversity. A design team with diverse skills and perspectives is better equipped to solve complex problems and create innovative solutions. A team with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives brings unique insights and approaches to the design process.

Here are some types of diversity that can be present in a design team:

Cultural diversity: This refers to differences in race, ethnicity, and nationality. A team with members from different cultural backgrounds can bring diverse perspectives, ideas, and approaches to design challenges.

Gender diversity: Having a mix of male and female team members can bring different viewpoints and experiences to the table. It can also help ensure that a product or solution is designed to meet the needs of both genders.

Generational diversity: Teams that have members from different age groups can bring varied experiences and perspectives to the design process. This can lead to a product that is designed to meet the needs of different age groups and appeal to a wider audience.

Language diversity: A team with members who speak different languages can help ensure that a product or solution is designed to be culturally sensitive and accessible to a broader audience.
Neurodiversity: This refers to differences in cognitive functioning and can include conditions such as autism and dyslexia. Having team members with different cognitive styles can bring new and unique approaches to problem-solving.

Photo: Interwoven Design

Why Diversity Works

Diversity in a design team leads to a wider range of ideas and approaches to design challenges, which can result in more innovative and creative solutions. When team members with different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives collaborate, they bring fresh and unique ideas to the table. This leads to a more well-rounded and comprehensive design process that can better address the needs of a diverse audience.

Moreover, a diverse team can also help avoid the pitfalls of groupthink, where individuals in a homogeneous group tend to think alike and fail to consider alternative viewpoints. This can lead to a lack of creativity and innovation in the design process.

In conclusion, a highly effective design team requires a diverse set of skills, varied experiences, and the ability to collaborate. The benefits of having a diverse team are clear: it leads to a wider range of ideas and approaches, helps ensure that a product or solution meets the needs of a diverse audience, and can prevent groupthink. Embracing diversity is key to creating successful and innovative products, services, and solutions.

How to create a supportive work environment?

Creating a supportive work environment is essential to the success of any team. A work environment that fosters collaboration, communication, and continuous learning can lead to greater creativity, innovation, and job satisfaction. Here are some key factors that can help create a supportive work environment:

Clear Goals and Roles: To be successful, team members need to have a clear understanding of their goals and individual roles. The overall goal needs to be clearly defined so that everyone is working together to achieve the same outcome. Each person’s role needs to be understood by everyone on the team. A clear definition of responsibilities keeps the team running smoothly.

Collaboration and Teamwork: Design is rarely a solo endeavor, and effective design teams work together to create solutions that meet the needs of their users. Collaboration and teamwork are essential, with team members working together to brainstorm ideas, solve problems, and create solutions. Teams are greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Communication: Communication is essential for any team to function well, and design teams are no exception. Effective design teams communicate regularly and openly. Sharing ideas and feedback ensures that everyone is aligned and moving in the same direction. This is demonstrated from the top down.

Continuously Learning Mindset: Design is constantly evolving, and the best design teams are always learning and improving. Encourage the team to stay up to date with the latest trends, technologies, and techniques. Promote curiosity by encouraging people to experiment and try new things. It is also important not to limit learning – any new tasks, skills, or interests should be encouraged and nurtured.

Inclusivity in the Workplace: Inclusivity is a core value that needs to be in every part of a business. This includes promoting a safe space for employees to have and share their voice. Making them feel like they belong to the company environment also heightens their connection to the workplace. When an employee feels that their voice and unique self are appreciated, there’s a greater sense of value and satisfaction.

Creating a supportive work environment is essential to the success of any team. Clear goals and roles, collaboration and teamwork, communication, a continuous learning mindset, and inclusivity in the workplace are all key factors that can help create a supportive work environment. When teams work together in a supportive and inclusive environment, they can achieve great things and create innovative solutions that meet the needs of their users.

Photo: Interwoven Design & Even Adaptive

How to build an A-team?

Attracting and retaining top talent is critical for the success of any business, and the design industry is no exception. But in order to attract and retain the best talent, companies need to be proactive in their approach. Here are some ways to attract talented individuals to your team:

Identifying where diverse candidates can be found – Diverse candidates can be found in a variety of places. Identify those places and actively seek out those candidates. Attend job fairs, post on niche job boards, and engage with professional organizations that focus on diversity.

Creating job descriptions that use inclusive language that highlight the importance of diversity. The language used in job descriptions can have a significant impact on who applies for the role. Use inclusive language that highlights the importance of diversity in the workplace. This can help to attract candidates who are looking for an inclusive work environment.

Building relationships with diverse communities and organizations to expand your network of potential candidates. Attend events and engage with local organizations that focus on diversity in the workplace. This can help to build relationships with potential candidates and create a pipeline of diverse talent.

Creating a work environment that is supportive and inclusive is critical for attracting and retaining diverse talent. Foster an inclusive culture that values diversity and provides opportunities for growth and development.

Unconscious Bias – It’s important to consider potential biases in the hiring process and implement strategies to minimize their impact. Use blind resume reviews to remove identifying information and create diverse interview panels. Be conscious of your own biases and work to overcome them.

In addition to the above strategies, there are other ways to build a strong and diverse team. Continuously grow your team and network by bringing in people with new and different skills. Solve problems together by asking questions and requesting input on workflows. Get involved in your local design community and volunteer to review portfolios or be a guest critic at a local school.

Attracting and retaining top talent is critical for the success of any business, and creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is essential to achieving that goal. By identifying where diverse candidates can be found, creating job descriptions that use inclusive language, building relationships with diverse communities, minimizing unconscious bias, and continuously building your team and network, you can attract and retain the best talent and create a successful and diverse design team.

A highly effective design team requires a diverse set of skills, varied experiences, and the ability to collaborate. Diversity in a design team leads to a wider range of ideas and approaches to design challenges, which can result in more innovative and creative solutions. To create a supportive work environment, companies should promote clear goals and roles, collaboration and teamwork, communication, a continuous learning mindset, and inclusivity in the workplace. Finally, to attract and retain the best talent, companies should identify where diverse candidates can be found, create job descriptions that use inclusive language, offer flexibility, provide opportunities for growth, and foster a positive company culture. By embracing these practices, companies can build an A-team and create successful and innovative products, services, and solutions.

Looking for more design InsightsSign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

How to Choose a Design Consultancy

How to Choose a Design Consultancy

Let’s say you have an idea and you’re interested in developing it into a viable product. You’ve done some research and realize that working with a design consultancy would improve the value and quality of your concept. Many small companies can’t afford to have a full product development team in-house and a consultancy is great a way for such companies to outsource their product development while keeping their start-up and overhead costs low. But…there are so many design consultancies out there. How do you know which one is right for you? How are they different from one another, and how do you evaluate whether or not they are a good fit for your design idea? A good fit for you? What does a good company look like, anyway?

Step 1: General Research

While your idea may be unrefined, you likely have a sense of the product category (or categories) it falls into. Perhaps your idea is under the umbrella of soft goods design or wearable technology. Or maybe it’s an educational toy, outdoor gear, or performance clothing. If you were categorizing your product on Amazon, which department would you choose? Identify the category that seems like the best classification for the project and search for design consultancies within that category. You can also search for similar products and investigate who did the design work for that company.

When you see a company that seems like it’s in the ballpark, browse their portfolio and take a look at their social media. Is there anything reminiscent of your idea in their portfolio? Do they focus on projects in the same product category, or specialize in the materials and technologies you hope to use? What do you think of those products? How about their other clients, what industries are they in?

Interwoven Design’s online project portfolio. Review online portfolios like this to see if the consultancy works on projects in your product category.

Step 2: Deep Dive

As you conduct your initial research, certain companies will catch your attention. Once you have a shortlist of promising candidates, you can send out a request for qualifications (RFQ) or credentials. The credentials usually outline how the consultancy approaches projects, including the number of project phases, designs, and revisions they provide, as well as their experience, references, relevant licenses held, and any accolades. Digging into this information is one of the best ways to get to know the company. Take special care to review the other projects in their portfolio, especially those they have chosen to feature, which tend to represent their wheelhouse(s). If they show process in their portfolio, take note. Many projects a company is working on won’t be represented in their portfolio as non-disclosure agreements are standard in consultancy contracts. Remember that you are only seeing the elements of the company’s work that have been commercialized and approved. This is especially relevant where innovation and patents are involved.

In addition to reviewing their portfolio more carefully, take a closer and more detailed look at social media platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn. These may show a different side of a company’s brand or process, and give you another way to get to know their style and personality. On our Instagram account we post a lot of process and studio images to give a sense of what happens behind-the-scenes. Reach out to their references to understand the dynamic of their client relationships.

a designer draws on a tablet with a pencil-like stroke
Observe where companies show process in their portfolio. Look for abundant idea generation and innovation.

Step 3: RFP

After your deep dive you should aim to have at least three potential consultancies that are a good fit for your product category and industry and maybe a good fit for you and your project. You will need more information to know for sure, and that’s where the request for proposal (RFP) comes in. In the RFP the design firm outlines the scope of work for the project, pricing, the confidentiality agreement, ideas for the project, a timeline, and more. They won’t know the final outcome yet (that’s what the design process is for), but they will have a plan for how to approach it. This document will be very clear about what is and is not included in the design service.

Step 4: Evaluation

Ideally you will have strong options to consider once you receive your design proposals. The following are key criteria to consider when evaluating your candidates. 

General Characteristics

Independent of the type of project you have in mind, there are a few characteristics you should look for in any reputable consultancy. 

Innovative problem-solving

Assess each candidate for innovation at every stage of your research. Is innovation key to their ethos as a company? Does it show up again and again in every project? Does their work seem cool to you? That’s a good sign that you’ll think their work on your idea will be cool, too.

Excellent communication skills

Use any information provided by the company as a way to assess clarity and quality of communication. A good client relationship involves clear, concise communication that respects everyone’s time. Good communication will shine through any media format, whether it is an e-mail, a blog or social media post, a project description, an interview, or a phone call. 


Good companies have high integrity. They interact with honesty and consideration for their clients. Their processes and goals are transparent, as are the expectations throughout the course of a project. Any issues that arise can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. 

Strong leadership

A project with strong, experienced leadership will run more efficiently and be much more likely to be on budget and on time than one without. Is there such a figure on the design team that would be working on your project? Good companies don’t exist without good leadership.

sketches and soft goods prototyping materials are scattered on a desk
Innovation is critical to a successful design project. Review a company’s portfolio and score projects for innovative concepts. You don’t have to be an expert to know when an approach feels fresh and new.

Project-specific Characteristics

Innovation (again)

While it’s useful to note that innovation is a consistent feature in a company portfolio, it’s even more important that they can be innovative regarding your idea specifically. This is where the RFP is critical for determining an ideal fit.


A design consultancy that is an expert in the type of project you have in mind will have years if not decades of knowledge to bring to the table. Are body mechanics or behavioral psychology involved? Do you need to understand current market trends? Do you need access to specialized skills, tools, or machinery for your project? It’s important that the design firm you choose can offer true expertise in the areas your project requires.


Small design companies can be more agile in their development process than corporate behemoths, and are often more economical, too. It may be easier to get face to face time with your design team, and you are more likely to have a senior designer in the mix. We recommend going with a small consultancy if that is available for your product category.

Industry Experience

Any candidate under serious consideration should have a proven track record in the industry that demonstrates their suitability to take on your project. Companies with experience have worked on many different products with many different clients and it shows. You will also need relationships with a wide range of material sources and manufacturers to bring your idea to life, and a well-connected design company can provide that.


As with any relationship, it’s hard to know if it will work based on the compatibility on paper. You are going to need to speak to a representative from the consultancy before you can be confident that you will work well together. Ideally, you would meet with the whole prospective team. Do you have shared values? Are your aesthetic sensibilities aligned? Is the company empathetic to your needs as a client? It’s really important that they are, or the project could suffer. 

A designer creates an exo-suit prototype on a work table
Small design consultancies can be more agile and more accessible than large corporate firms.

So, basically

If you’re on the hunt for a design consultancy to help bring your concept to life, do your research. Look for companies with experience in the right product category and review their websites and portfolios closely. Does innovation shine through everything they do? Are they communicating clearly and concisely across the board? Do they seem honest and straightforward in their client relationships? Do they have the expertise and industry experience your project will need to become successful? Will they be able to give your project the time and attention it needs? Is it easy and pleasant to interact with them?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, they could very well be the design consultancy for you. Looking for more design Insights? Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!

Industrial Design: A Deep Dive

Industrial Design: A Deep Dive

Industrial design is a field that is not yet well understood in mainstream culture, and that is partly because it is a broad field that covers a lot of product and service categories, and bleeds into hundreds of others. As industrial designers we field this question all the time, and it’s not that easy to answer. To understand what an industrial designer is, let’s first look at what industrial design is. Here is the definition from the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA), which conveniently brings up both design and designers: 

“Industrial Design (ID) is the professional practice of designing products, devices, objects, and services used by millions of people around the world every day. Industrial designers typically focus on the physical appearance, functionality, and manufacturability of a product, though they are often involved in far more during a development cycle. All of this ultimately extends to the overall lasting value and experience a product or service provides for end-users.”

Virtually every object around you, with the exception of raw elements of nature, involved the process of design. Someone had to decide what it would look like, its dimensions and form and color and materials, how it would be manufactured. This goes for virtually everything in the built environment, from kitchens, jackets and water bottles to skyscrapers and sidewalks. It also includes things like road signs, how the checkout process in a store works, how you book a plane ticket, and much more. 

a designer's hands work on a soft goods prototype
Industrial designers prototype, and test to develop and refine their ideas.

Like Rebeccah explained in her Ask Me Anything video, one way to think of industrial design is as everything left over once you take away the other major design fields, each of which is a massive and complex field in its own right. Urban design (the sidewalks and road signs), fashion design (the jackets), architecture (the skyscrapers), and interior design (the kitchens) are much better defined in our culture, and though they have their own complexities, it’s easier to wrap your head around the basic concept. We more or less get it. Interior design is the contents, style, and layout of interior spaces, architecture is the design of structures and buildings of all kinds, fashion design is the creation of apparel and accessories we wear on the body, and urban design is the design of towns and cities, regional areas, and the public environments of those spaces.

Let’s break it down

So…what else is there? Well, interior design, urban design, and architecture are often about creating spaces. Most of the objects that populate those spaces are created through industrial design. The park bench and the trash can on the sidewalk, the office desks and lamps in the skyscraper, the dishwasher and the toaster in the kitchen, the cars and buses following the road signs…those are all industrial design objects. Products are a large fraction of industrial design, and many objects that you can purchase (or that a company or city can purchase) are the result of industrial design. This also includes digital products, like apps and websites. Another large fraction of industrial design is service design, which involves optimizing the interaction between a service provider and its users. 

In the simplest form, industrial designers design products and services and, like IDSA explained, they are primarily concerned with the form, function, and manufacturability of those products and services.

What does the industrial part mean?

Herman Miller Eames chair ad shows many views
A Herman Miller Ad shows the various forms of the iconic Eames chair, designed in 1962. Photo courtesy of MidCentArc

There are two important pieces to understanding what an industrial designer is: the industrial piece, and the design piece. Industrial here has the same meaning that it does in the phrase industrial revolution, it refers to large-scale manufacturing. This means using industrial machines to make the same identical or essentially identical object over and over again. This is why most art does not qualify as industrial design: its creation does not require industrial methods of production. That said, industrial production doesn’t necessarily mean thousands of copies have to be made, it is more important that thousands of copies could be made with the intended manufacturing method. 

This is the “manufacturability” part of the IDSA’s definition. The designer needs to determine how a product would be mass produced, what materials and machinery and technology need to come together to produce it. The manufacturing process doesn’t have to be 100% industrial, either. A manufactured chair (and industrial designers seem to love designing chairs) might have a hand-finished detail, for example. A manufactured teddy bear might have eyes that are sewn on manually. 

What does the design part mean?

lighting design sketches in ink in a notebook
Sketches are an important tool for an industrial designer to develop and share ideas.

Design is a highly versatile and slippery word, in both noun and verb form. The meanings most relevant to us here are about making a plan, creating according to a plan, and making a drawing or a drawing of a plan. Here are some formal definitions of the verb form: ‘to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan’, ‘to conceive and plan out in the mind’, ‘to devise for a specific function or end’, ‘to make a drawing, pattern, or sketch of’.

Well, yeah. Those are all correct. Industrial designers conceive a plan for the appearance of a product or service (which we are more likely to call the form) and determine the functionality of the product or service. We make drawings or models of it to find the form, work out the details, and share the idea with others. 

To sum up

Industrial designers determine the form and function of products and services, and how to manufacture them at an industrial scale. This could mean commercial manufacturing for resale, as with toys or sofas or any of a million products on the market, but it doesn’t have to. It could be a system to help an underserved community access medical care, or the creation of a museum exhibition. Industrial design is fundamentally about solving problems.  

The industrial design field touches many facets of our lives and is needed in every industry. Though the products and services might look very different from one industry to another, the process followed by the designer looks remarkably similar. The toy designer and the furniture designer have a lot in common in how they approach developing a new idea, even if their materials and manufacturing options might be completely different. Industrial designers have a special combination of analytical and creative skills that allow them to research, sketch, prototype and test their ideas to work toward successful solutions. 

Do you have any questions about design? Let us know on social media! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development.

Design Object Series N. 002

Monopoly, the Fire Escape + the Medical Syringe

In our Design Object Series we highlight iconic objects designed by women. Thousands of objects that you use and appreciate everyday…surprise! Women designed them! Many of the contributions of women to design have been obscured if not erased throughout history. We want to do our part to counteract this effect by celebrating the women behind a range of objects that you’re sure to recognize. In this issue we salute three design objects from the turn of the century and the pioneering women behind them: Monopoly, the outrageously popular board game designed by Elizabeth Magie in 1904, the fire escape, designed by Anna Connelly in 1887, and the one-handed medical syringe, designed by Letitia Geer in 1899.


Design Objects: Monopoly
Monopoly was designed in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie. Photo courtesy of Mike_Fleming.

You know the game: two to eight players battle it out for domination by buying and developing properties, and forcing their opponents into bankruptcy. These days you can play the classic game or one of hundreds of themed spin-offs; Star Wars, Pokemon, Game of Thrones, The Simpsons…it is an ever-expanding catalogue.

The game was developed and patented in Washington DC by stenographer and leftwing feminist Elizabeth Magie in 1903. It was originally called The Landlord’s Game and was in Magie’s words, “a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences. It might well have been called the ‘Game of Life’, as it contains all the elements of success and failure in the real world, and the object is the same as the human race in general seem[s] to have, ie, the accumulation of wealth.”

The colorful boardgame that became Monopoly
The Landlord’s Game per Elizabeth Magie’s 1924 patent. Photo courtesy of Lucius Kwok.

Magie was a follower of American economist Henry George, and wanted to create a tool to teach others about the danger of wealth disparity and the exploitation of tenants by landlords. She had the bright idea of using a new, growing medium to engage the economic student: the board game. The game was immediately popular with children and adults alike, spreading by word of mouth and capitalizing on the pull of competitive play. Magie’s role as innovator was unfortunately overshadowed by the opportunistic entrepreneur who coopted her concept. The game was appropriated by Charles Darrow, who claimed it as his own invention and sold it to Parker Brothers in 1932, erasing Magie from the origin story as he made millions. The myth that Darrow is the creator persists to this day, but we know better.

The Fire Escape

Design Objects: Fire Escape
The fire escape was designed by Anna Connelly in 1887. Photo courtesy of Chris Bertram.

While Magie wanted to educate people about economics, the next pioneer wanted to save their lives. The fire escape is an emergency exit, usually exterior to a building (though not necessarily), that provides an alternative to a stairwell, which might be inaccessible or compromised in an emergency. For those in urban environments, they are an omnipresent feature of the landscape, peppering every multi-story building, particularly residential buildings. The Interwoven Design office is in Brooklyn, New York, so we see hundreds of fire escapes on residential brownstones every day. They can range from chunky and utilitarian to colorful and statement-making.

a blue fire escape with a mural on the building behind it
Fire escapes in cities today are often seen as a decorative opportunity, as with this blue fire escape in SoHo featuring a mural. Photo courtesy of David Paul Ohmer.

Their invention was a response to 19th century building codes, which were in turn responding to the overcrowding in cities in England and the deaths that resulted from inadequate exits, especially by fire. Builders liked that they could be easily retrofit to existing buildings as well as inexpensively incorporated into new designs. While a range of strategies were developed independently in large cities during the industrial revolution, Connelly’s design is the ancestor of the modern fire escape, the classic zig zag structure running up an exterior. For a taste of historic detail, check out Connelly’s original patent.

While the fire escape was meeting a critical need in growing cities, there were problems with the concept. They weren’t uniformly effective, and the convenient platforms and railings were too tempting as makeshift patios, outdoor sleeping quarters, drying racks, and more, especially in poor neighborhoods. Even today, though technically illegal, repurposed fire escapes are a common sight.

One-handed Medical Syringe

Both the fire escape and the medical syringe have saved countless lives in the decades since their invention, and both objects have negative arguments against them in our current culture. The fire escapes are used in ways that were never intended, and the one-handed syringe has facilitated drug abuse for millions.

The concept of the syringe has been around since the ancient Roman era, but originally the devices were used topically to apply creams and ointments. Syringes weren’t used to inject substances subcutaneously until the development of the hollow needle in 1844, and weren’t tolerable until years later when the technology to make the needle much finer was available. In all that time, using a syringe was a two-handed affair for medical professionals. That all changed in 1899, when Letitia Mumford Geer, a nurse from New York, was granted a patent for an “in a hand-syringe”, or a one-handed syringe. This allowed a medical professional or even a patient to perform an injection with ease. While the materials of the syringe have been gradually improved over time, adopting material advancements as they became available, the fundamental technology has not changed. 

Very little is known about Geer beyond the US census records and the information on the patent itself. She was born in New York 1853 and died there in 1935 at the age of 83. She had three brothers, and she was a nurse. Unfortunately this is all we know about her, despite her incredible contribution to medical design.

The device was described as consisting of “a cylinder, a piston and an operating-rod which is bent upon itself to form a smooth and rigid arm terminating in a hand, which, in its extreme positions, is located within reach of the fingers of the hand which holds the cylinder, thus permitting one hand to hold and operate the syringe.” 

A diagram of Geer’s syringe design per her 1899 patent. Image via the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent outlines the operation of the syringe as follows: 

“The handle can be drawn into a position near to the cylinder while injecting the medicine by the use of one hand, thereby enabling the operator to use the syringe himself without the aid of an assistant. The advantages of the medical syringe are several. The syringe is very simple and cheap. It can be operated with one hand.”

The syringe opened up the possibility of self-administering medicine, and could be produced inexpensively. The glass components could be sterilized, a development that evolved into more and more of the parts of the syringe being glass or metal to allow a greater level of hygiene in injections. These improvements, better sterilization and one-handed action, have saved countless lives over the decades since Geer’s invention.

Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!