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T LEE: THE “US” IN CUSTOM

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T LEE: THE "US" IN CUSTOM

Get your shop staff collaborating
for the best results.
BY T LEE | Published in the September 2014 issue.

As a custom specialist, I’m well aware how vital the relationship with the client is, but I’ve also come to appreciate the importance of the relationship between the designer and the technicians.

My shop produces about 45 custom orders every six weeks. I do it with a team of specialists. Some are employees and some are contractors, but all collaborate, each making a unique contribution to the outcome. I’ve discovered there are five keys to good collaboration:

1. Synchronicity. Working together at the same time in the same space facilitates clear communication of the ideas and details that developed in my design appointment with our client, while still allowing for the inspiration and exchange that happen as a team. Even when working on separate projects, meaningful coincidence and discovery seem to happen often. I am always so delighted by this synchronicity!

2. Clearly Defined Roles. Collaborating does not mean we all do the same jobs. Each of us is a specialist using specific tools to reach a form. The designer provides the direction and vision and is the direct connection to the client; the tech provides the mechanics and tools to get the job done in the best way. Defined roles allow each of us to think creatively from our own space.
3. Awareness. That each of us is an integral part of a team with a shared purpose.
4. Trust. We share our unique expertise with each other.
5. Willingness. Setting ego aside, each of us is willing to listen to any idea that arises.

Benefits: Working together promotes clear communication between the designer and the techs. The accuracy of the original design concept is preserved with less room for misinterpretation. This brings more efficiency through less revision. Collaboration lets us each spend our shop time in the area where our strongest skills and passions are. This makes us fast, happy and really good at what we do.

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Barriers: Collaborating is simple but not easy. It takes time to develop the flow of working collaboratively. Scheduling group work with part-time staff can be tricky and can slow down production. Communication with contractors who work off-site needs to be thorough and sequential, which can lead to micromanagement. Micromanagement can deteriorate collaboration.

Helpful skills:
The designer must be able to articulate to all the craftspeople involved not only design details, but also the client’s requests, preferences and feelings about the custom piece.
The CAD tech needs not only strong computer skills, but also an understanding of the milling and printing process.
The designer should know the strengths and limitations of the bench staff in order to put the best tech on each process. I often design pieces that start in CAD but also have a fabricated component. My CAD tech will add registers or other details to help the fabricator get things put together correctly after casting.
It’s an extra bonus if the designer has the ability to sketch a drawing with detailed notes on elevations and construction.
A designer should have a working knowledge of the CAD software and its capabilities. This shared CAD language connects the tech and the designer.
The designer and tech must understand the mechanics of the construction of the piece so the jewelry is not only functional, but so that it can physically be built.

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