Developing new products - Spotlight on our new soap dishes
Today I thought I would share with you the process of designing and developing a new product – specifically my brand new soap dishes which have just been added to the website. It is not an exaggeration to say that these dishes have been 2 years in the making. Most new products do not take me quite as long as this, but these have had more than the normal amount of factors to be considered. Of course part of the reason why they have taken this long to develop is that I have to do this alongside my general day to day work of commissions, orders, teaching, events, exhibitions and so on, but developing and making a completely new product probably involves a lot more than you would expect at first glance.
Firstly I had to work out the exact size and shape that I wanted the dishes to be. I always had a rectangular dish in mind as many bars of soap tend to be rectangular or ovular in nature, but there were a few variations of form and the exact size which needed to be tested and decided upon. As I currently use boxes for my Fusion wall panels which are approximately 11cm x 15.5cm in size, I knew that I wanted to use these boxes for my soap dishes too, but that still gave me quite a size range to work to.
The first piece which I made to test out different sizes and forms was a rectangular dish which measured approximately 13cm x 8cm, with gently sloping sides around the whole of the dish. Whilst I do like the shape (and will be introducing this as a jewellery dish later in the year), I felt that it was a little too small for most bars of soap and really was still leaning towards having a slightly simpler curved shape, perhaps without any sides at all, to allow the design to shine through a little more.
Next I decided to try a rectangular piece which was simply curved along the length of the dish and measured approximately 13mm x 8.5mm. I was now a little torn between the two dishes! I decided that I would like to have a flatter base on the dish than shown here, as with it being completely curved, even gently; it left the dish open to rocking and gave it a less stable base than I wanted for the soap. I did like the overall curved shape though, so felt like I was a little closer to the final form. Again I still wanted it to be a little bigger too.
My third development for the dish ended up being the shape which I am now using – a gently curved shape, but with a decent sized flat base for the soap to sit in and to allow the dish to sit comfortably on the sink/bathtub etc. Quite often it is hard to tell before you bend or ‘slump’ the glass into a mould if it will turn out exactly as you envisaged, but I was absolutely thrilled with the shape of the dish as it is exactly what I was hoping for and was imagining after my first couple of tests. The size I went for for this dish was 9cm x 13.5cm and I decided that this was just a touch too small lengthways, so I produced the final pieces a little bigger at 9cm x 14.5cm, which I felt was perfect as it gave the right scale for the rectangular shape which I was looking for and plenty of room for the soap to sit.
Now I had to move on to making the dish usable in terms of drainage. This threw up another few questions of whether to shape the dish itself to allow water to run off, whether to include raised areas in the dish, either in the design or added on top, so that the soap sat higher than the water, or whether to include holes in the dish to allow the water to drain out.
I decided against the second option fairly quickly as I felt that if the water was not able to drain out of the dish in some way, then the soap would inevitably come into contact with it, making it disintegrate much quicker and essentially making it not really fit for its purpose. This would also potentially mean that I would have to compromise on the design of the pieces and I did not want to do this as the design of my glassware is very important to me.
This also led me to rule out shaping the dish to allow the water to run off (potentially by making it ridged etc), as again I felt that this would ruin the form and design of the piece, which I had spent time refining (can you tell how happy I am with it!?). So I was onto the third option of including holes in the piece to allow the water to drain out. I certainly felt that this option was the least intrusive to the design of the dish and really did want the water to be able to drain out somehow, so this did seem like the obvious choice after some thought (even if I do find drilling holes in glass quite a time consuming and laborious process!). I decided to include two holes centrally in the dish and evenly spaced, as I felt that one would not provide enough drainage and that three or four might be more than necessary.
I was getting there now with the design, but after speaking to a couple of soap makers, they wondered if the dishes would slip on the surface of an enamel sink or bath and I was also aware that if the dish sat flat on the surface then there would be nowhere for the water to drain to. The solution to both of these issues seemed obvious to me, as I already use rubber ‘stops’ on the bottom of my coasters to give them extra grip on slippery surfaces. I decided to include rubber ‘feet’ on the bottom of my soap dished to give them extra grip in a wet and potentially slippery environment and also to give space underneath the dish to allow water to drain out comfortably. I used ones a little thicker than on my coasters, just to make sure that the water could drain out easily and after testing this on a couple of my soap dishes I can confirm that the water does indeed drain out!
Next I was finally able to start making the soap dishes to add to my current ranges. With the Noir and Deco styles which I have added to the website so far, the shape of the soap dish really lent itself to these designs, (even if I still did do a couple of quick sketches to decide on the exact size of the central pattern on the Noir dish, for example). I will also be adding the soap dishes to my Linea, Riva, Fluid and Iridised ranges shortly, without too much testing or development needed. If I end up adding the dishes to my Icon and Fusion ranges then this will require much more work to refine the designs to fit the shape and size of the dish, as not all of my designs work for every product or piece. With these ranges being very much square in nature, adapting them to work on a rectangular dish may not necessarily be possible.
Finally after a long process of refining and testing, my soap dishes were complete and I was then able to move onto sourcing soap to sell with my dishes! I will not go into too much detail on that too, but suffice to say I wanted to make sure that I could find a UK based soap maker, with ethically produced products – i.e vegan, cruelty free, no artificial additions etc. and I am pleased to be working with one at the moment. I am also in discussion with a Cumbrian based soap maker, to give another alternative for my customers.
I hope that this has given you a little insight into how much thought, testing, developing and refining goes into every new product which I make – it is never just a case of having an idea and then making it, if it is a brand new product which I want to include into my standard ranges. Even in relatively simple designs, the amount of time I spend deciding on which exact shade of blue to use for example, or the order to place colours is probably a little ridiculous :). The temperature which to fire the glass to both in fusing and slumping is also another factor which has to be considered for any new pieces and this often also requires a few test pieces until the exact finish I am looking for on the glass and the correct shape has been reached.
This does mean that you can buy RD Glass pieces safe in the knowledge that they are fit for their purpose and will have undergone many refinements in their firing and design to ensure that they have a beautiful finish and will last you a lifetime.