Building a Reputation
Ottawa’s Gibson Product Design has spent more than 30 years growing a reputation as the “Go-To Guys” in the industrial design market.
The nation’s capital is a hotbed for high technology product innovation with the likes of the ‘90s tech giant Nortel and the current rise of Blackberry subsidiary QNX.
More than 30 years ago, Scott Gibson saw an apparent need for an independent industrial design resource in the region and thought, “Why not me?” Today, his four-person design firm is developing consumer and business products for clients based both within and well beyond the local tech community where he began.
“We started out taking anything and everything that we could,” says Scott Gibson, president of Gibson Product Design (GPD). “That’s what most businesses do that intend to survive.”
From exhibition design to graphic design to hard goods like furniture, Gibson’s firm developed a reputation for beautiful products and reliable development. And with Ottawa being the tech centre that it was and is, the company built a strong centre of expertise in technology-based products.
Working early on with larger companies like Nortel, Ciena and Definitive Technology, small projects evolved into large and involved projects that required the GPD team to work side-by-side with the companies’ engineering groups. In the case of Definitive, Gibson helped design virtually their entire suite of products, in a collaboration that extended over a period of 10 years. Gibson adds that the momentum from this relationship continues today.
Over the years, GPD has become known for its work in consumer audio, with loudspeaker and high-end component products for PS Audio, Paradigm, Anthem and Muraudio. In the world of business technical products, the firm has designed equipment for Nikon Metrology, JDSU, Viavi, Northern Digital, Corsa and Mircom. Along the way, the firm’s clients have been frequent winners of Innovation Awards at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
“Consumer products naturally bring great variety,” Gibson explains. “We’ve done music products for D’Addario, lighting for TripletLight, the Safety Turtle child safety products, home security for Alarm.com, some work on VR products and accessories, even a series of EV charging station proposals for Hitachi.”
The company tends to work on up to 15 projects per year, some more in-depth than others, but usually no more than four at a time. Gibson says being in Ottawa has been ideal since the region has a rich technology community, with resources GPD is able to tap into to provide full service to its clients.
“Our team has always been the pick of the crop from Ottawa’s Carleton University School of Industrial Design,” he adds. “To our American clients especially, we are the ideal mix of high capability, experience and congeniality, and at a very competitive cost.”
The team has worked recently with New York-based instrument string and accessory manufacturer, D’Addario and Co. Among their new products is the Eclipse Headstock Tuner, a compact design that can be mounted in front of or behind the stringed instrument’s headstock.
“Some of the assignments from D’Addario have been mechanically complex,” Gibson explains. “I think what they appreciate most is our ability to go very deep into a project, from concept right through mechanical design to manufacturing handoff. We seem to complement their in-house capabilities very well.”
Typically, the industrial designers at GPD respect the needs and wants of the products’ end users while balancing engineering and manufacturing requirements surrounding construction, assembly and economy of production.
“We do development work and not merely appearance design,” Gibson says, “People look at what we create and say, ‘Gosh, I thought engineers did all of that.’ They’d be quite surprised that our industrial designers overlap quite a bit into what would be traditional mechanical engineering territory.”
Gibson explains that industrial designers’ unique approach has them working from the outside in, whereas the engineering process generally works from the inside out. Industrial designers begin a project by understanding what a finished product should do, how it should relate to the end user, how it should be marketed and what kind of environment it is going to live in. With this information as a guide, concepts for a finished product emerge, and serve as a guide for development, as well as communicating to product management what can be expected.
For Gibson Product Design, development progresses through a series of stages. Beginning with a good deal of background research that lays the groundwork for consecutive steps, the team works to understand what the technology content of the product includes and what the use scenario will be. Ideas are sketched and discussed, then captured in CAD and formally presented as photorealistic concept renderings. From there, a chosen concept will be developed in detail, most often in collaboration with electronics and mechanical design team members, as technology requirements are integrated.
When clients choose GPD, they recognize the need to visualize a finished product very early on in the development process. Gibson explains that this has always been a strength for industrial designers – the ability to communicate visually and to connect creativity with good research and solid understanding of manufacturing processes.
“Concepts are never perfect at the outset, and they need to be nurtured. So industrial designers must work hands-on through that development process to help make the product vision come true,” he adds. “Effective industrial design requires an ability to imagine exciting product possibilities within the combined worlds of human wants and needs, manufacturing, marketing, engineering and applied art. Needless to say, it’s an inspiring field to work in.”