October 11, 2021

The Iterative Design Process

1 comment
The Iterative Design Process

An essay by Tom on the design process.

I’m a big fan of an iterative design process: I know I’m never going to get it right the first time, nor even the second or fourth time.

I generally start off with at least a *somewhat* formed picture in my mind of what I’m trying to achieve; I may have a series of sketches in my sketchbook, or I may start by sitting at my sewing machine with some scrap fabric and just free-forming some thoughts into reality.

When I’m pretty sure I’ve got the basic shape of the flat parts determined, I’ll input them into my 2D pattern drafting software. This can be done with a digitizing tablet, but mine broke years ago and now I either recreate the pattern shapes by measuring them, or I utilize my big Apple monitor and hold the paper or fabric parts up onto the screen and draw around them – a somewhat crude process but fast and effective. I’ll then start the eventually tedious process plotting the parts, cutting the paper, tracing the parts onto fabric, cutting the fabric and then sewing prototypes. Sometimes I’ll only cut and sew one half of the bag (left or right side, it doesn’t matter), because mirroring the parts when they are finally going together right is something the software does really easily, and it saves time and materials to just work on one half of the bag.

Often I’ll make a very rough version of the complete bag, and then stuff it with a bunch of those little air packets that Amazon can’t seem to resisting sending me with every order. I’ll then pause (sometimes for hours, often days, occasionally for months) and just look at what I have wrought. What am I looking for then? I’m deciding whether I’ve achieved my vision: more often than not, the answer is “not quite”, and then I’m trying to figure out how to fix that. Sometimes I’ll show it to Darcy and Nik and get their feedback. Often what’s not quite right are the proportions: it’s not tall enough or it’s too wide or whatever – all those things are relatively easy to adjust in the software, and so I go back and make another sample (and often another and another) and see if I can finally nail it.

(What I’m going for in all this is my own aesthetic, my own style. You, as the customer or potential customer, can decide of course if that style is to your liking or not – I’m certain my aesthetic is not for everyone.)

When I’ve got the looks of the thing pretty much as I want them, it’s time to make a working sample. At that point I’m seeing if the utility of the thing is functioning as I imagine it should. Are the pockets where they are most handy? Are the zippers long enough, or maybe too long? Further adjustments and iterations usually follow.

When the bag is as imagined it should be (or even better!), I go through it carefully, thinking how my production staff will cut and sew it, trying to second guess their challenges and issues. Having sewn 100% of my own products for nearly a decade, I think I’m pretty good at this, but I never get it exactly right. The next step is to have Lisa and Fong sew a sample, and they always find at least some small goof I made. I then make the adjustments to the patterns that they suggest, and we make Pre-Production Batch (PPB; see the Synik PPB blog post) – to reaffirm that we (finally) have it right.


Tony P - October 15, 2021

I like that you let things sit for a while. I think part of any creative process is to let things sit and come back to it with a fresh perspective. Thanks for sharing this.
TOM BIHN replied:
In this go-go-go world, it can sometimes be difficult to let things sit, breathe, and come back to them later. As you so rightly pointed out, doing so can be valuable, as it creates space for new perspectives.

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