Going beyond understanding the concept of craftsmanship

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January 2022

A year and a half ago, the Craftsmanship Team embarked on a “listening tour” with business partners in R&D, Brand, and Quality to refine their approach to Newell’s Business Units. They emerged with a vision, as Mark West, Craftsmanship Manager explains, for “everyone in Brand, Industrial Design, and R&D to understand the impact of craftsmanship on products, as well as the tools at their disposal to deliver better craftsmanship.”

“In the past,” says Mark, “we’d worked with Business Units on a project-by-project basis. We’d ‘score’ products in the design phase and continually evaluate throughout development. In many cases, we discovered that it was too late to make needed changes.” It became clear through intensive conversations that the opportunity, instead, was to embed craftsmanship in design and engineering behaviors throughout the development process.

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The initial challenge addressed by the team was to gain a shared understanding of what “craftsmanship” means. “I think it’s the simplest definition is just three words: fit, feel, and finish,” Mark says. “It’s a satisfying emotional response to an object,” adds Chris Gurr, Craftsmanship Director.

Next, the team focused on dispelling the belief that improving craftsmanship equates to added cost. A product that the team sees as an example of proactive integration of craftsmanship in development is the Sharpie® S-Gel Pen. Intentional design and attention to crafted experiences resulted in a combination of a soft-touch barrel, smooth ink flow, and a robust “click” of the retractor button, developed by the team’s engineers, all delivering a more complete brand experience to the consumer.

Beyond understanding the concept of craftsmanship, a key to embedding craftsmanship behaviors into current workflow is to highlight how craftsmanship details can be leveraged in existing design and manufacturing processes. To this end, Mark and Sam Armstrong, Senior Craftsmanship Specialist, have developed a series of training modules to give design and engineering teams practical guidance on materials and processes, as well as best practices for delivering improved craftsmanship across all Newell products.

“I think the simplest definition is just three words: fit, feel, and finish”
- Mark West, Manager, Craftsmanship

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“We’re asking people to think about a broader range of processes and material types than they typically would,” Chris explains. To compensate, the team has located expertise that can be shared between Business Units and among development teams. Hydroforming, for example, has been a process in use in a few locations across Newell Brands, but there was not until now a natural avenue for sharing best practices.

“We’re looking to support team members as they grow their knowledge and build some best practices, too,” Chris says. “We’ve been able to foster more collaboration between Industrial Design and R&D. Together, we can shift our focus from fixing problems to preventing problems, with the end result of more products that provide the emotional satisfaction that craftsmanship delivers.”

To date, the Craftsmanship Team has trained over half of all personnel in Industrial Design and R&D functions across the organization. Each session focuses on a different process, so people can focus on areas most relevant to current or future work. “The sessions foster really good interaction,” Mark says, “including talking about real products that exhibit good or bad craftsmanship.”
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Sam explains, “Some of our early sessions highlighted the really in-depth process knowledge here at Newell. On metal-forming, for example, we have experts in Chicago who can share their knowledge about deep drawing with other Newell divisions. What we’re looking to do is to be the catalyst for people to connect and share the expertise they have. We want people to be able to push design boundaries, but to do that while aware of the issues and process constraints they’ll need to design for. Awareness of process capability will help our design and engineering teams build in that craftsmanship early in the design process for better outcomes during production.”

The team is also developing an inside-Newell portal called “ACCESS Craftsmanship,” where content from Craftsmanship training modules is available to all Newell employees through Sharepoint. “Our goal is that someone new to a process can search for ‘injection molding,’ for example, and learn about warp, shrinkage, and other things to be aware of,” Mark says.

“We’re looking to support team members as they grow.
- Chris Gurr, Director, Craftsmanship

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A final component of embedding craftsmanship in the culture is building a network of “advocates” throughout product development to lay the groundwork for craftsmanship discussions, helping teams anticipate issues as they design for both function and emotional appeal. Influencers in Industrial Design and R&D, the advocates are culture change agents on product teams, promote craftsmanship behaviors, and stay in conversation with each other and the Craftsmanship Team to share and reinforce best practices and identify knowledge gaps.

“For me,” says Dan Dziak, Principal Engineer and advocate for the Baby team, “the training has highlighted where we need to focus more attention to the blending of form and function. When you include a craftsmanship mindset from the beginning of a project you can answer the question ‘Where is craftsmanship most important?’ Craftsmanship is not improved by just one function or group, it’s the responsibility of everyone who is developing the product.”

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