Why some clients hide their designer's contributions

Crediting Designers

Why aren’t product designers as valued as other creatives?

Above are three designers; Kristian Eke, Jan Puranen and Oskar Juhlin. And in our cover-pic we also feature another experienced designer, Ehlén Johansson. If they worked for some clients their identities and very existence would indeed be hidden. But fortunately for them they all work for IKEA, who in real life publically acknowledge their designers, and defintely show their faces unpixellated.

IKEA is one of a number of smart and confident companies who proudly credit their designers; throughout their business, in store, on the product packaging and even moulded into the products themselves. Their designers help make IKEA the huge success that it continues to be. So why do some companies airbrush their designers out of the picture?

If you hire an architect to design your home; or a professional photographer to do a formal family portrait, you would happily share this fact with your friends. Maybe even brag about it. And if you commissioned an architect to design your business’s head office, or used a leading graphic designer for your companies impressive new branding you wouldn’t be shy about sharing these associations. Afterall, it can only reflect well on an individual or business when you use a creative professional or firm that is at the top of their field.

However one creative area where this doesn’t always happen is in the field of product design. For every IKEA, there are still too many companies that fail to properly credit their product designers’ involvement.

Other exemplar companies (and industries) that proudly acknowledge the designers that assist in creating their products include:

  • Swiss telephone company, SwissVoice who name their designers throughout their marketing and even on the product packaging.
  • Ikea is a classic example of the former, and in general the furniture design sector is very good at this.
  • Closer to home, long term Cobalt clients such as Concave and Spears Pacific embrace this concept.

Whilst companies who do this are very diverse, they share some attributes of being confident in their customers to appreciate that their product’s design was a broad team effort.  There may also be a cultural element, in that in general the role and independence of ‘designer’ and ‘client’ seems to be more defined by Europeans.

We all used to be ad hoc about attributing credit to the author of something insightfully written, or the photographer responsible for a great picture. So, hopefully one day the norm and the business sense will be open about, and celebrate, our product designers too.

Cobalt Design Alumni

20 years of Cobalt Alumni

A Cavalcade of Cobalters 

I recently turned 50 and a photo book was put together to mark the occasion. Of course, given Cobalt has occupied over a third of my life, the album had to include Cobalt people and projects!  At first it was idle curiosity, but it soon evolved into a quest involving dusty CD-ROMs and old archive folders to find pictures of all the people that have worked for us since we started business in 1996.

At Cobalt we have always been aware that we have amazing team members. And that each of these, present and past, have done more than worked on projects during their time with us. They have all contributed to our current capabilities; the processes today’s team build upon and the traditions tomorrow’s teams will aspire toward.

As below, the act of rummaging through archives led us to realise how broad the group of people who have worked for us has become. There is easily over a hundred and fifty people once you include contractors, casuals, interns and work experience students. Many of those that have worked with us have gone onto truly impressive careers within the product development space. Some still have their careers ahead of them, but it is great seeing them all evolve and achieve great things whatever they do.

The exercise is also a great excuse to try and make contact with Cobalt Alumni that we have lost touch with, and see what they are up to.

Below is our progress on the collection so far, with several people still due to send me their pictures for inclusion. So if you, or anyone you know, have been missed in our evolving Alumni picture collection please let me know. Lastly, apologies in advance; the pictures are roughly, but definitely not precisely, arranged according to four chronological periods. We will give you an update once our quest progresses.


Steve Martinuzzo

Entrepreneur mum


Mum’s the Word

A month ago it was a term we had only heard once or twice. Since then it is everywhere. Like it or not, ‘Mumpreneur’ is the word.

The concept of mums who decide to develop a new business has been trending into all sorts of business and social discussions. But don’t worry if this is the first time you have heard the term; mumpreneur was only been listed in the Collins Dictionary since 2011.

According to Fiona Lewis founder of Ausmumpreneurs Online, a mumpreneur is: “A woman who starts a business to follow a vision, to make money, and to be the master of her own soul in a way that will allow her to fulfil her role as a parent in a way that she desires”. Business woman and ‘business coach for the brave’, Maureen Pound believes “there’s a lot of polarisation around whether the term mumpreneur is patronising or empowering, but also concedes “that people in Australia still don’t like the word entrepreneur”.

Fertile conditions

Without knowing the term, it turns out over the years we have worked with several women with ideas and determination (mumpreneurs) and helped them develop their idea through the critical design stage. But recently the numbers have begun to rise, and it’s interesting to note some of the likely reasons that have combined to suit these new entrants into the world of new product development:

Smart. Many mums are very clever, and had successful professional careers before children. Like anyone, mums don’t stop being smart when children come along!

Opportunity. Being smart is a given, but mum’s are faced with a new world of needs, challenges and products that babies and children blissfully generate. And mum’s generally have time to think about these and use their smarts to think about ‘what if’. The old proverb ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ should be updated with ‘…and mumpreneurs are the people that will do the inventing’

Work/Life Balance. Increasingly we are all becoming aware of building balance into our lives, and having children just reinforces this. Unlike re-entering the work force in a regular job, creating a business around your interests and circumstances offers lots of flexibility and the ability to scale-up or down to achieve the right work/life balance.

The Age of Open Manufacturing. The world has seen a transformation in the notion and availability of manufacturing. Manufacturing especially from emerging economies like China, and aided by CAD related technologies and digital communications means that never before has it been as accessible and affordable for local newcomers to get products made. This change creates a perfect place for mumpreneurs to flourish.

Success stories

Our experience with mumpreneurs has included many ideas around baby’s needs. Some of these are new, whilst others are born from the frustration that  existing products don’t do what they should.

But mumpreneurs should not and do not confine themselves to the immediate world of being a mum. One of our most successful entrepreneurs is the co-founder of KeepCup, Abigail Forsyth. It took becoming a mum and taking time out on maternity leave to force Abigail to rethink her career. “It was that compulsory pause that gave me the courage to do KeepCup” Abigail said in a recent interview with Map Magazine.

Our five secrets for successful mumpreneurship

  • Think global. Research the state of the art wherever it is in the world, so you can leapfrog this. Even if your idea is all about local markets, aiming to be the best in the world in your way is the place to start.
  • Work with excellent local experts to develop the brand, product design and engineering, as well as intellectual property and licencing strategies. Form trust-based relationships and then consider their advice.
  • Be open minded to manufacturing options including using local and overseas suppliers and supply chains.
  • Remember the product idea is only one link in a longer chain. To build a sound business around a product it takes most elements to be functional and aligned. This includes financial, marketing, sales, distribution and legal. Don’t let this overwhelm you, but don’t ignore it either.
  • Utilise any local grants that governments have from time to time to encourage new business. Even if these are not in themselves great amounts, the intangibles of applying can really give your idea and business a kickstart in seed funding, publicity, contacts, information or access to other services. (Cobalt is a registered provider to one such scheme in Victoria, Australia, see link)Whether you like the term or not (BTW we are not sold on it, it’s too hard to spell!) ‘mumpreneurs’ are here to stay and we can only see more amazing products and businesses from this space happening into the future.