Have you ever attempted to design a leather bag or wallet yourself only to give up in frustration?
Or have you ever thought about designing your own leather goods but didn’t feel like you knew where to start?
In this blog I want to help you to demystify the process of idea creation by revealing my 6 step system for coming up with winning ideas that work, even if you don’t have a creative bone in your body.
Now, I’ll take you through my design formula in just a moment, but first understand that design ideas, much like everything else, is about practice and repetition.
Too many people fall into the trap of ‘I’ll start putting pen to paper when I have a design idea in my head ready to go’.
But that’s like saying ‘I’ll start lifting weights when my muscles are strong enough to lift heavy weights’. Unlikely to happen that way round.
Sometimes the best option is to begin the process by actually doing the thing! Even if you don’t actually know what you’re doing, just moving your pencil around on paper can engage your creative side. More on that later on.
However, if you feel like you really can’t start doodling ideas in your sketchbook, then feel free to get inspiration and adapt what’s already been done in your own unique way.
To begin, you’ll want to at least have an idea of what leather item you actually want to make. Is it a bag, a watch strap, a belt? Once you know what you want to make, then you can go looking for inspiration.
Pinterest is a bit ‘old hat’ these days as it’s a limited social media platform - if it even falls into that category. But I still like it for finding new designs that I’ve never thought of, and collecting them into a category or ‘board’ by ‘pinning’ things that inspire you.
Once you’ve searched for and collected dozens of design ideas, you can write down a design brief and sketch (or print off) design elements that interest you.
Let’s choose the example of a bag to keep things simple. You could find a handle design that excites you first, and then think about how you could adapt it or borrow certain design concepts without creating a direct and obvious copy.
Then you could do this for all parts of the bag such as panels, gussets, pockets, base etc. Eventually you can move onto the next stage:
Bringing your design together
Rather than making a Frankenstein of other people's work, when bringing all of these parts together you’ll want to make sure that the design flows well. In other words, just because you like each inspired part of the bag, does it all work well when put together?
I like mustard, I like cake, I also like lasagne, but if you mixed these things together, I wouldn't want to eat it!
To make sure all parts complement each other, I like to begin sketching the bag onto paper using pencil, pen and coloured markers.
This ensures that I can at least get a general idea of what the bag will end up looking like from various angles including specific parts such as handle attachments or gussets.
Once you have a basic idea of the design, you can then begin to think of the practicalities such as overall height, width, pocket size needs, how the bag will be carried or how the bag opens and closes.
For this stage I like to build parts from light card or craft foam that you can buy in large sheets or on the roll (1-2mm works best). Glue, tape or staple in panels, gussets, handles and base to get a life size view of the item you wish to make before cutting into any quality leather.
This is the stage where you will have a few ‘oh, I didn’t even think of that’ moments as well as a few ‘Aha!’ ones too. Work out the kinks such as badly placed handles, gussets too long or short, more width needed etc. You may need to prototype two or three times at this stage.
When you feel confident with how your design feels, gently tease apart all seams and bring your thin card or craft foam back to its 2D state so that you can take measurements and transfer the final design onto thick card in order to create your patterns (cutting out templates).
At this point you may want to make a final prototype piece by using the completed bag patterns to make a bag from salpa or bonded leatherboard. Another cheap option is bonded upholstery leather, especially if you are making a soft chrome tanned leather bag.
As you can see, this process can take a long time! Some top brands take over a year to go from idea to production. This includes field testing the bag with testers for feedback on design and practical use. So the idea of going from sketch, to pattern, to completed bag in a short period of time is only going to work on the most simple of designs.
There may be many changes, substitutions and tweaks needed along the way.
So in summary:
Step 1) Decide on what to make.
Step 2) Use google image search or Pinterest to collect design inspiration for parts or the whole of your design.
Step 3) Begin sketching an overall design to get an idea of what your bag could look like. Bring together some leather samples for your exterior, lining, hardware etc for colour matching and getting a feel for stiffness.
Step 4) Make a thin card or craft foam prototype to get a better feel of how the item will look and hold itself. Make adjustments as needed.
Step 5) Take apart the prototype and transfer measurements onto thick card in order to make your patterns.
Step 6) Cut out your leather parts from your patterns to construct your project. If it's a complex design however, consider using cheaper Upholstery foam to make a more accurate prototype of the finished product before finalising the design.
Now, it's ok to still have questions at this point, you don't always need all the answers and ideas to actually get going. And you definitely don't always have to give birth to a new idea in one day. May times I will begin to research and look for inspiration weeks before I actually start to draw a new product.
Sometimes, when you allow a day or two for your mind to rest, the creative process carries on in the background and suddenly you have a brilliant thought as if from nowhere, sometimes whilst brushing your teeth at night. Just don't forget to rinse!