An industrial designer in San Francisco tried the corporate route twice, but he enjoys a smaller environment that allows him to work hands-on with products such as the Disney Snap watch.
Gray Holland graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and worked for General Motors Corp. on the EV1 electric car and other projects.
In 1993, he returned home to San Francisco and set up a small design firm that global player Frog Design Inc. acquired in 2000. He became vice president of industrial design at Frog and, for a couple of years, helped Frog incorporate tools for computer-aided design.
But he missed working with customers and left Frog in 2003. He hung a new shingle for Alchemy Labs Inc. in San Francisco and, with a small staff, has done diversified design work for Walt Disney Co., Seiko Corp., Nike Inc. and others. Several long-term projects are in development.
``We have a great amount of general manufacturing knowledge, and the result is involvement in the tooling side of the design process,'' he said.
Holland's experience allows him to consult on product-innovation, across-corporate-culture and time-to-market issues. In working on a project with Disney and two Seiko entities, Alchemy Labs was challenged to help balance three goals and three agendas in three time zones.
The children's Disney Snap strap watch, made by Seiko, is an example of Holland's design communication skills. He worked to build consensus and secure decisions from a Disney brand unit in Burbank, Calif., Seiko Instruments USA Inc.'s marketing office in Austin, Texas, and Seiko production coordination in Hong Kong. Manufacturing is done in China.
The overall Snap line includes wristwatches for all ages, hunting pocket watches and quartz watches, although the adult lines do not carry the Disney brand.
Holland began concept work on the children's line in December 2002. Test-market quantities from a February 2004 version of production tooling, however, did not make the grade. Given the multiple players, nothing happened for six months, and then the design was tweaked and moved to tooling in the fall of 2004.
A production version was introduced in early April during the Baselworld 2005 watch and jewelry show in Basel, Switzerland.
The Disney Snap for children retailed initially for about $35 but is advertised for less.
``They wanted to sell it for $30, but I don't see how they do it for less than $50,'' Holland said. ``They are under the Swatch by $10.''
The low-cost Swatch watch, made by Biel, Switzerland-based Swatch Group Ltd., competes with the Snap line.
Seiko saw a need for an inexpensive flexible polymer for the strap and, after extensive trials, settled on recycled PVC as a material meeting functional and cost criteria. PVC is perfect for the strap, he said, but the product does not qualify for sale in all markets.
``With the recycling, we were able to meet the requirements for Japan, but we were not able to meet the requirements for Seiko in Japan,'' Holland said.
A Seiko policy bans PVC on children's products in Japan.
In addition to the recycled PVC strap, the watch has an acrylic body and strap pivoting tip, a nickel-plated-carbon spring-steel backing and a magnet.
Two small pockets in the PVC strap allow two forks of a half-bent staple to go through. A small knurled pin grabs hold of the PVC from the inside. The pivoting tip on the end of one strap works with a hinge point and the magnet to keep the watch securely on a person's wrist. ``We couldn't two-shot the magnet because it would kill the magnetism,'' he said.
``The key is to keep the magnet in contact with the metal,'' Holland said. ``If it starts to separate, it releases exponentially.''
Before finding the solution, Holland experimented on materials with a Houston-based styrenic block copolymers maker. A special formulation met more than 70 percent of the requirements. Increasing the formulation's flexibility, however, caused injector pins to stick to the strap, preventing its release from the mold.
``It would hit the injector pin and then pull back into the mold,'' Holland said. Adding mold release agents and lengthening cycle times pushed up costs and terminated that effort.
Alchemy Labs designers make extensive use of three-dimensional graphics software from Toronto-based Alias Systems Corp. and Alias-enabled Cintiq interactive pen displays from a unit of Japan's Wacom Co. Ltd.
Holland presented his perspectives April 9 in a talk to the Industrial Designers Society of America's Western District conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.