Technical designers are a connecting thread in the product development process. They spend their days communicating designs to factories and making sure the designers vision is carried out. So what happens to their role as technology allows faster and easier visual communication?
I've heard some thought provoking questions lately around what skills are needed for those looking to start careers in pattern-making or technical design today.
⦁ Are companies looking for individuals with digital pattern-making and 3D design experience?
⦁ How do you identify if someone has the skills to work in Technical Design? What skills are needed for 3D pattern-making or prototyping?
Let's take a step back. Technical design as a career path took hold in the nineties. As companies off-shored garment production, they realized pattern-making could also move overseas. To effectively communicate with overseas pattern-makers a new role emerged. Someone who was responsible for technical communication between US designers and the overseas technical staff. Some pattern-makers moved into these roles, but also individuals with design backgrounds who were comfortable with fit and garment construction.
At the same time, the industry was beginning to take advantage of digital communication. Product specifications could be sent via e-mail in seconds instead of faxed page by page. Those with years of experience hand sketching learned to sketch with Adobe Illustrator. Digital cameras allowed images of fittings and products to be captured and transmitted quickly.
Technical designers today range in responsibilities and skills. Some companies require adept pattern-makers capable of correcting patterns and evaluating grading. Other companies expect technical designers to communicate issues to the factories and allow the factories to determine how to correct the fit problems. Some technical designers work on only fit while others may need a strong knowledge of garment construction, manufacturing methods, quality testing, labeling regulations, color, fabric, and trims.
The technology at each company ranges from creating specifications in Excel to highly customized Product Lifecyle Management (PLM) systems and 3D pattern-making. PLM software has been in wide use for many years. However, many companies have only recently began to leverage the ability to manage tasks or utilize the systems to directly communicate with suppliers. Task notifications can be sent to factories and factories can enter information directly into PLM systems.
A few leading retailers have already learned the advantages of 3D design or pattern-making systems, while others are beginning to pilot systems. WhichPLM has done a great job of recapping excitement around 3D at the recent PI Apparel conference. A few roles as virtual technical designer have emerged, both within corporations and individual firms like Fireflyline. Generally, technical designers and pattern-makers are asked to learn 3D while maintaining their other duties.
Technical design five to ten years from now will look very different from today. The development specification including measurements, construction information, and images will be gone. All this information can be condensed into a 3D file. The desired stitching can be communicated via the 3D image. The measurements, fabric, and color information can be included in the file or integrated with a PLM system. 3D software providers are beginning to form strategic partnerships with PLM providers to accomplish this integration.
Currently, 3D is primarily used as a prototyping tool, but the advantages of designing directly in the system will quickly be learned. Software will evolve to make it easier for designers and pattern-makers to collaborate. Browzwear has two separate systems; V-stitcher to create the 3D prototype from the 2D pattern and Lotta for designers to review stitch details, prints, and embellishments. The role of designer and technical designer may merge. Designers will desire to use 3D modeling tools so they can adjust proportion and scale of style lines, pockets, and prints or graphics directly. Why wait to see a sample and then need to communicate to shift a yoke seam or change a pocket size?
Will a production measurement specification be needed? Perhaps not. Someone may develop an app allowing depth sensing cameras or scanners to measure production garments compared to development garments or specifications.
The best technical designers will be those who find new ways to use the technology available to them. Companies utilizing 3D are investing time in training staff. They are also beginning to partner with colleges to ask that 2D and 3D pattern-making be implemented into the curriculum. Individuals are realizing the breadth of tools available are not only those created for the industry but also the everyday tools they use to communicate. Smart phones, tablets, Skype, and other communication applications allow us to visually communicate with the other side of the world easier than ever.
The next post will focus on training and development of apparel professionals and students to prepare them for this exciting future.