Design guru Philippe Starck recently took on an unusual project for Target Corp.: to create a line of products and push the retail chain's in-house design team into a development role to fulfill his exacting concepts.
Starck retained design control and approved each item before production began. Among more than 50 products, many of which incorporate plastics, are a rotational molded illuminated table, a blow molded lamp and an injection molded stool.
Target management drove the alliance as part of its branding and growth strategies.
Jim Wilson, a senior designer with Target in Minneapolis, and others in Target's six-person design group persevered through development phases for most of a year, keeping as close as possible to Starck's wishes. The products were unveiled in April at a Milan, Italy, furniture fair and officially launched May 26 in Target stores.
In a July 21 presentation at the Industrial Designers Society of America 2002 National Conference in Monterey, Wilson described the challenges the company faced bringing those products to market:
* Upscale illuminated tables sometimes cost thousands of dollars. The Starck table at Target costs $49.99.
Target's initial rotomolder in Asia quit after a couple of crisis-ridden months, and the Target team scrambled, finding a nearby domestic replacement that specializes in bass fishing boats. An aluminum prototype tool materialized in a week. While Starck wanted no parting line, he finally agreed to a small, discreet line on the polyethylene table.
Care was essential. White-gloved operators gently removed the table from the tool. While cooling, the table rested on a large fixture with a reverse-air-pressure draft providing support.
* The one-piece lamp proved difficult to blow mold. Early prototypes had wall sections thin enough to poke a finger through, Wilson said. Issues about cool vs. warm light produced stress. ``Try talking about the color of light overseas,'' he said.
Cooling was a challenge. ``We devised a plywood shelf with slots, and as each lamp came out of the tool, it was placed in a slot'' during the cooling cycle, Wilson said.
While not in the initial plan, packaging was devised at the last minute. ``We decided it needed a package [or] the ballast would fall off [and] the shades would break.'' A packaging illustration helped explain how the lamp works.
* The colorful Ethno plastic stool was devised from a single sample Starck had found in Africa. ``It was a low-cost plastic with sink marks all over it,'' Wilson said. ``We had no idea how to make it.''
Vender samples progressed through more than 10 rounds over three weeks, but color penetration and control proved difficult. ``Combinations we thought would be hot - came back not hot,'' he said.
The team climbed a process learning curve, experimented widely with colors and blends, and achieved lid-to-base alignment and a suitable fit and finish. Random-colored resin flowed from a center gate to achieve the desired result.
* Wilson also worked on six coordinated bath accessories in four colorful schemes with a hammered, hexagonal-tile texture and an elegant satin-mirror finish. Priced at $4.99-$14.99, the items include a two-part waste container, a tumbler, a tumbler-toothbrush holder and a toothbrush with stand.
Initially, Starck supplied a translucent acrylic chip backed with a piece of mirror. ``That was the look he wanted,'' Wilson said, and the degree of difficulty to achieve the look ``did not cloud his thinking in the slightest.''
The team used ``a silver liner with metal flake, some kind of pearl mesh and then overmolding with a translucent acrylic,'' he said. ``For a plastic product, it was very expensive-looking and very rich.''
Flow marks became a problem. ``Using a translucent overshot, you can see those marks,'' Wilson said. ``We had to devise a paint color.''
Even later in the preparations, Starck objected to a dark area at the tumbler's bottom. Translucency of the second shot material was the cause. The solution: ``Extend down the profile of the first shot [silver], and modify the base cap flange,'' Wilson said.
The Starck line has a limited life at Target. The company rationalized the effort as an investment in the future and, in this case, said it was not looking at the bottom line.