Better by design – Designing Demand transforms JS Humidifiers

Posted on 13 Nov 2009 by The Manufacturer

Redesigning products and corporate branding can have a profound effect on a business. In the case of JS Humidifiers, it led to over 40% increase in UK and overseas sales last year, a reduction in manufacturing costs and a more collaborative buzz between staff. Will Stirling gets the story from JS Humidifiers’ Tony Fleming.

In 2006 JS Humidifiers had a problem. The Littlehampton-based maker of humidifying equipment had a majority share in the UK market, a 25-year track record and a well respected name. Humidifiers, which maintain ambient air humidity essential in many commercial and public environments such as textile mills and warm air curtains in modern office buildings, have many applications and a global market. But competition was intense and the foreign competitors were bigger companies with marketing budgets to match their size. How could JSH crack it overseas? In addition, as part of a broad look at the global market and market risk, including cheap competition from Eastern manufacturers, the company realised it needed to raise its game on several levels. It set out five main targets: to safeguard its home market; develop new overseas market including product innovation; new five year targets for turnover and to increase net profit to 10%; improve the environmental impact of the product range, and to target sustainable applications for product. Part of this business plan was to reassess the company’s design and brand strategy.

The humidifying equipment is effective but not much to look at. Having an aesthetically dull product should not exclude design change and improvement, however. JSH realised that its products, packaging and whole company branding had not been modified since the 1970s. The board took the plunge with a bold, bottom-to-top design and branding makeover and manufacturing process overhaul. ”Good design sells, without a doubt. If you can put well-designed product in front of a customer that’s half the battle,” says JS Humidifiers’ technical director Tony Fleming. “As a manufacturer you’ve constantly got to look at the design of your products as well as manufacturing processes and material costs.”

Designing Demand

The company contacted SEEDA, the South East England Development Agency, who advised it to join the government-funded Designing Demand’s Generate service. Designing Demand is a programme aimed at helping companies to make strategic design decisions and to set up and run design projects. Design associate James Duguid arrived, like a business angel parachuted in to liberate the company from its design torpor. The effect was immediate, says Fleming. “James helped us to clarify our design brief keeping the specification tight and became a design mentor to our own graduate designers, nurturing our designers’ talent.” Beginning in early 2007, he identified the company’s design needs into defined objectives – covering product, packaging, company identity, function, sustainability – and disseminated the needs into timescales. The main objectives were to:

1 Completely redesign the range of industrial humidifiers and improve the product designs in both form and function, and create a strong corporate identity – style, shape, lines, and colour.

2 Use design to optimise manufacturing and quality, which would reduce costs and stock levels through commonality of components, use of sub-assemblies and maximising their 3D CAD capability.

3 Future-proof the products by meeting updated product legislation and becoming more sustainable — by reducing energy consumption, increased recycling and cutting down waste packaging.

The company had already brought in a young designer with a product design degree from Brighton University, Stanislav Brahir, on a 2-year government-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership. Working with him, James mapped out a branding strategy and helped to focus the design specification for the re-designed product range, considering materials, functionality, recyclability and carbon footprint. The company looked at other, external designers but stuck with Stanislav because he knew the company culture and there were cost advantages. “I worked with Stanislav and Matt (his boss) to guide them through projects, which is typical of Designing Demand” James says. “The objective is to assist in-house staff to achieve as much as they can, though we did use an external agency for the corporate ID resign.” Fleming says the entire redesign journey was a whole-team effort.

What difference can design make?
The impact of the re-design was immediate. The launch of the new JetSpray range in 2007 resulted in 300 new leads.

In the last year (2008-2009 tax year), the company’s UK sales increased by 44%, and its export sales by 54%. And new markets have been accessed, such as low energy cooling applications.

Manufacturing cost has been reduced by over 20%.

“Our inventory stock levels have fallen considerably through smarter operations which have helped us to strengthen our bank balance during the credit crunch,” says Tony Fleming.

Design capability
The firm is better equipped to produce a bespoke or prototype system by increased use of 3D CAD. “This has allowed us to rapid prototype ‘on screen’ and sends drawings straight to the metal work machines, reducing lead times and cost of development.” The company’s corporate identity has been comprehensively overhauled and updated. Its brand has been strengthened, which included redesigning the company logo from a 1980s designed pixel dot logo to a new version with stronger lines.

“Applying a consistent branding strategy of lines, colour and logo presentation has given us a family of products and rationalising components, improving complexity of assembly has reduced our costs and improved our lead times,” says Fleming, “and we have also set design guidelines and a blue print for future product design.”

Bottom line
Turnover has increased this year by almost a £1 million, from £6.5m to £7.5m. Bottom line profit has also increased to the target 10 %, from 4% to 10% net profit.

Ancillary benefits have spun off the exercise, says Fleming. “From my point of view the difference in product and brand is dramatic and has shown us the value of properly resourced product design.

Design harnesses the power of innovation, stimulates collaboration and creates a real buzz in the business.” Rik Prowen, operations director at JSH, endorses that view. “The impact of good design has been substantial, reinforcing visually the quality that our products have always had, resulting in greater confidence amongst our salespeople, higher sales in the UK and abroad, and – perhaps most significantly – higher margins. Good design has proven to have a direct impact on our bottom line.”