Dan Cox is a highly experienced product designer from Devon who launched Newmakers in 2010. Newmakers specialise in children’s sit on toys and furniture. He has kindly taken the time to answer our questions and share information about his company, their philosophy and of course the products that they make.
If you have children or grandchildren and appreciate getting them toys that will last long enough for them to use for their own children then please read on:
What do you make and why?
We design and make kid’s contemporary toys and furniture. In a previous life, I worked making furniture and other things. I was based in Chiang mai, Northern Thailand and everything was done together with local artisans, using unusual local materials like Coconut wood and Acacia.
When I decided to move back home to be closer to my family, I was looking for products that could be produced in a similar local way. I showed the first Zebra Rocker at the London Design Festival, and it was selected as a ‘highlight product’ of the entire event. So that is were it really started.
We could make these products locally and efficiently. Sourcing the base materials is all done from EU countries. It was perfect for us. So it wasn’t long before the Panda and Tiger came along… Followed by other fun, cool looking items!
We know your products are great, you know your products are great but how can they know?
We feel that there are a number of factors that set our products apart:
Firstly we use high grade beech plywood and timber as opposed to the more common painted MDF as seen in many other toys. Together with the solid metal fittings, this makes our products very robust, and means they can be passed down through generations.
The design is also unusual – punchy, bold graphics on raw timber. We want to make products that are as much fun for the little people as they are cool to look at in the big people’s home.
Our products are also all flat-pack, which means that we can keep shipping costs to a minimum for our international customers. This is very important in the era of internet shopping where people from all over the world are looking to find unusual products that have a truly local manufacturing heritage.
Whereabouts does your manufacturing take place?
Everything we do is in the UK. Right now we can be even more specific in saying that it’s all done within Devon!
My studio is in the garden of my home. It has a lovely view, and a wood-burning stove – so I am happy to be in there!
The products are cut by a small local company, and we have people come in to help us with packaging and suchlike when necessary.
Everyone knows each other personally, which makes for a nice atmosphere.
What is the toughest part of the product development process for you?
We stick to quite a strict manufacturing methodology: Flat-sheet cutting, printing, high-quality materials, and minimal post-finishing.
This means that sourcing and manufacturing are not something we worry about too much. With everything local we don’t suffer so much from the quality control issues of distance ordering.
Probably the most difficult aspect is the packaging.
We can do product runs as little as fifty pieces for any new design, which is great for testing ideas, and makes us very flexible.
However, economically, we have to order hundreds of one carton design at a time. Which means, unfortunately, we tend to have to shelve some promising ideas just because we can’t take the risk on so much packaging cost.
What is the most enjoyable part of the process of product development for you?
I very much enjoy working on the details of a design.
For example, our Rocker range is designed to be modular. So our Zebra rocker (shown below)/Panda rocker (shown above)/Tiger rocker (shown below) characters share about 80% the same parts. This means that we are more efficient in production, and can also introduce new characters if we wish.
To do this is actually quite difficult: I need to think about standard settings for the machines we use (bore holes 32mm apart etc), make sure one packaging can be used for all.
I get a real kick when I have finally solved as many of the efficiency savings as I possibly can.
Do you have any new products/ranges planned for the next year or so?
I have about twenty new products already designed… Although a large portion of these will not see the light of day, I’m sure!
The ones that will soon be coming out for sure are:
We have been looking at products to serve people with limited space. This product is intended to serve a number of purposes, and not just those of children. We have already prototyped the final design, and with a couple of tweaks, will be releasing it in a few months.
New Rocker characters
We have been working on collaborations with other brands. So the new designs will be a sort of ‘Newmakers design for ……’. Can’t say too much more at this stage, except that I’m very happy that our modular construction system has led us to be able to offer exclusive designs for some great brands.
What products or people have helped to inspire you to create the products that you do?
For me personally, it would be my old boss when I worked as a consultant designer at OCO design in Germany. His name was Octavio Clemens Nusse, and he taught me a lot about the realities of bringing a product to market.
In terms of ‘working design’, I am always inspired by the people on the shop-floor who actually make the stuff. I am very hands on, and will always take an initial idea to them for their input. The final result is invariably a combination of what I want, and what they tell me we can do!
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know
I used to work as a university lecturer in Thailand!
For me it was a real fortunate break: I had just left Germany after ten years as a consultant designer, and was looking for something completely different. I went travelling.
Whilst in Thailand, a German NGO worker friend of mine mentioned that a university was looking for someone to help them set up the professional practice side of a new product design degree course.
I spoke with them, started work the next day, and then spent four wonderful years being given access to all the craft and industrial manufacturing processes Thailand had to offer. It was a fantastic time, and I am sure I learned at least as much as any of my students did!
What do you wish we had asked you?
The question was asked about ‘who, or what, inspires you?’. I think another important question is ‘who saved you?’
Setting up a business right now, is extremely difficult. I don’t think this can be stated too strongly.
Inspiration is fine, however the hard nitty-gritty is that you need the support of family, friends, and business acquaintances.
I have had support and advice from my parents, close friends, and a number of people who are either friends or trusted confidantes in my past work. These people literally ‘saved’ me.
So many times, when I have struggled with a decision, or financial reality, these people have been there to guide me through some very tough times, and I must always remember that I wouldn’t still be doing this work if it was not for them.
Which product in your range do you personally use the most and why?
I am 194 cm tall, so the ride-on toys I can’t use so much!
Our Crate Cabinet is the one I do use.
It has a flexible inner construction, so I set it up with equally distant shelves. We did this to extend it’s use as a child grows, and this way it holds nine large A4 folders.
I have three in my studio which I use to hold all the office stuff. The chalkboard plate on the front lets me customise to indicate contents…..
Thanks to Dan for taking the time to answer our questions. If you have enjoyed reading about Newmakers products and want to find out more about their children’s toys and furniture then please take a looksy here.