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Thoughts on product design, branding and business in South Africa

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Published May 12, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Shaving a Yak

I have been really enjoying writing something everyday. Well, most days. I found it has caused me to question more, think more deeply and challenge myself everyday.

I have always been someone who thinks and questions things a lot, but challenging myself to write something everyday has pushed me to go think deeper about myself, and my business.

Published May 06, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Shaving a Yak

Kim and I at Man+Wife suffer from a problem. We like to do things perfectly and to make sure all of the steps before are right and sorted so that the final product is perfect.

This is great, until it stops you from starting a project in the first place. I read a blog post by Seth Godin that gave that problem a name its call "shaving a yak".

Kim and I have been planning on putting up signage for our business for the past two years. But we didn't want to put up the signage until we had removed the hedge, but we didn't want to remove the hedge until we were ready to paint the wall, but we couldn't paint the wall until we fixed and patched the brickwork....

So we haven't done the signage.

It's better to do something well now. Then perfectly, but to never get round to it.

Published May 03, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Our Why

In my business, I’m having to learn how to tell our story better. Uplifting the community around me isn’t a side story to my services, it is the purpose of my services.

My son has down syndrome. He is the best. Kim and I started our business so our son could have meaningful work someday. Our business hasn’t taken the straight line we had envisioned, but it’s ok he’s still only 7, we have time.

I’m not sure many of my clients know about why we started our business, or if it would have any impact on if they use us or not. We don’t want clients to work with us only because of our why. I want them to work with us because we offer a great service.

But I shouldn’t separate my why from our business either. It’s what drives Kim and I not to give up, and to do the best we can every day for our clients.

Published April 29, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Branding is like forestry

Building a brand is like managing a forest. It begins with planting the forest. You then need to care for the trees as they grow. The trees aren't worth that much initially as they are small, but with some trimming and care the trees will grow large ready to be harvested.

A brand is the same you begin by creating values and goals and ensure your products and services fit with these values, this is planting the forest. You then carefully refine your products and services to better reflect and enhance your values (caring for the trees while they grow). Once the brand is established you can choose to add more products and services to profit from your brand (harvesting the trees).

If you harvest too many trees, too quickly your forest will be destroyed and you will have to start from scratch. If you harvest carefully you can grow your products and services and maintain or strengthen your brand.

This idea is from Marty Neumeier's The Brand Gap.

Published April 28, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

The last 10%

I believe the difference between good and bad design is not how well the big things are done, but how well the small things are done.

I believe clients don't pay a premium for the first 90% but rather the last 10%. It's the thoughts that go into the little details that make the difference. Some details you may never notice on their own, but when done 100 times have a huge impact on the final result.

Published April 26, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

How to train a client - part 1

I recently had a client who emailed to ask if I could help with the design of a banner? That was it. That was the brief.

What type of banner were they wanting? Was it a website banner, an outdoor banner, a roll up banner? What was the purpose of the banner? Why did they feel that all of a sudden they needed a banner?

As a client, a good place to start when briefing a designer or agency is to clearly describe to problem. Then describe why you feel you need to solve the problem in the first place.

If we go back to the banner example. Had the client said we need a banner so when we go to events we have a more visual presence. This immediate clears up a lot of issues and allows the designer and agency to get clarity on the direction of the project.

A stronger brief would of been: We need a stronger visual presence at fund raising events, we need something that breaks the ice and allows us to start a conversation with interested parties.

This is a stronger brief as it defines the problem clearly without limiting the designer or agency to a predetermined solution. This allows the designer to solve the problem creatively and uniquely. Ultimately the client may end up with a banner as the best solution but it allows the opportunity for innovation.

Published April 22, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

The purpose of brand guidelines

I watched an interview between Chris Do and Brian Collins a few years ago. They discussed how to create strong, long-lasting brands and the brad guidelines were discussing how to create strong, long-lasting brands and the brand guidelines that related to them.

Before watching this video I thought brand guidelines were about creating restrictions on how designers could use the brand's visual elements. Brian's goal with brand guidelines wasn't to restrict what a designer could or couldn't do with the brand but rather to use the brand guidelines as a foundation for designers to create from.

I found this change in mindset towards brand guidelines incredibly freeing. I was no longer trying to use the guidelines to police the designers, but was creating the guidelines to free designers.

Published April 19, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Generousity vs Scarcity

Be generous with your clients. By being generous with your expertise, customers will come back again and again and will ask you to do more and more in new and different areas, and refer others due to your generous service.

If you are stingy with your expertise, clients will accept the work you have done for them, but they won't become followers of your business or brand.

Generousity brings more generousity. Scarcity brings more scarcity.

Published April 11, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

A leaders superpower

Just before my son was born I read a few books about parenting. The one book said for sons to thrive they needed to be believed in by their parents.

I think this is the same for business leaders. I think that if leaders show their staff / teammates that they are believed in, that it can turn a project or business from one that is struggling to one that is growing and thriving.

I believe showing true belief in others can be a leaders superpower.

Published April 8, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Little steps

I have noticed that development and growth, be it personal or business, don't generally happen in leaps, but rather through small consistent improvements.

I run. When I run I don't get fitter by doing one big run once a month. I get fitter and faster by consistently running most days.

Its the same with skills, design, experience, savings and business. If I consistently work at something, I slowly and imperceivably get better at it. It is only by looking back a few years later that I realise how much I have improved.

Published April 7, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

As a small business how do you protect your intellectual property?

Before anyone gets upset with me, I'm not an intellectual property expert, so this advice comes from experience.

It is a tough question, and the answer is quite dependent on what your product is. If your product can't be easily reversed engineered then keep your technology as a trade secret, then you can keep it from competitors for as long as you are able. There are some trade secrets that are a 100 years old.

For products that can be reversed engineered, you can patent it, but you will need to patent it in multiple countries and even then some countries won't recognise the patents you have taken it.

I believe that the best way of protecting your product is a to build a strong brand and to become very well known for being excellent at one thing. Become known and become the go to business for that one thing. That way if other companies release the exact same product or products with similar features they will always be seen as copycats of your product.

I think you should try to do this even if you have a patent on a product, as patents expire.

Published April 6, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

A designers life

I had a client today, who had a little taste of what designers go though every day. My client's client was asking for detail changes to graphics, and the change would be done only for new changes to be made.

I used to find this very frustrating and often took it personally thinking that I hadn't fully understood the requests the first time.

I'm finally realising that many of these continuous changes are due to the fact that the client is still discovering who their brand is and how the want to represent it.

There are a few ways of dealing with it. I'll leave the destructive and very tempting ones for now, and focus on the constructive ways. The first is to suck it up and make the changes or to remind of the number of revisions allocated in the quote. The second, and this is client and job specific, is to offer to sit with the client and develop a brand strategy. This document will then work as a guide and hopefully limit excessive amounts of needless changes.

Published April 4, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Two designers are better than one

As a designer I can be very precious about my work. I think for a lot of designers it is hard to get other designers to work with you or for you on your projects. You believe that others won't do a good job, or they won't get the details just right, or they just won't care about the end product as much as you will.

A little over 3 years ago I brought on an junior graphic designer to help me with some of my graphic and branding work. It was tough, I'd give her work to do and when she handed it back I would redraw and redo everything just they way I wanted it in the first place.

Slowly, with time she started adding her own details that added depth and detail to a design that I wouldn't of thought of, or she would look at a problem in a completely different way to me that would result in a better end product.

I then tried it with some of my industrial design projects and discovered if I brought in other designers, it would take so much pressure off of my shoulders. I didn't have to solve all the problems by myself but I could share that responsibility and stress, and come up with better solutions.

Ultimately, what I found out is working with others makes your designs better in almost all situations.

Published April 1, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Should you invest in industrial design

You have an idea. You think it is the one. Should you invest in product development and industrial design?

Ask yourself this question first.

Do you have a route to market?

You may have the greatest world changing idea. It might have the ability to revolutionise and change everything, however if you do not have your route to market planned and your market research done, don't start the development process.

I'm not saying that you have to have contracts signed with potential retailers, but you need to be sure that there is a market large enough to support your future business, and that you know how you are going to get your foot in the door to reach that market.

"Make it and they will come", only works if your market knows it exists and what it is for.

Published March 30, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Why I love R&D

Why do I love research and development? I love creating something out of an idea.

An idea is an intangible distant concept. It only exists in thoughts and words.  I enjoy taking the cloudiness of an idea and making it something that can be seen, touched, and used. To develop that idea beyond where the initial thought could have taken it without it first having being created.

Published March 29, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Product development is not a straight line

Product development is not a straight line. It is a meandering journey with a lot of loops and turns through a dark, foggy wood.

A lecturer of mine, after I presented an early prototype of a design I was working on, said "Well, now we know what it won't look like, we can start figuring out what it will look like.". This statement seems extreme but it is very often true.

As a designer developing a complex product, you can't possibly foresee all the problems, issues and solutions straight away. The best way to begin finding these out is to take a first step and make something. You will soon discover that the next development step on the journey reveals itself.

Published March 28, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Work with, not for, your clients

When I first started taking on my own clients, I used to stress myself out and think I needed to solve their design problems by myself, first time.

I would write a brief, get it approved by the client and then disappear to try to come up with the most amazing solution anyone had every seen. It was exhausting, stressful and not very productive. Often the solution I came up with was overly complicated or I missed the brief or the clients brief had changed drastically in the time I was off trying to solve everything.

I have since discovered that clients are human and they like to be involved. By having regular updates on the project, with the client, you bring in another pair of eyes, which usually have a lot of experience in the space you are working. The client can see first hand the problems and difficulties you are trying to solve. They can see the effort required, where their money is going and they take ownership of the project early.

This means that when the project is ready for hand over, you aren't presenting them with your work and hoping that they approve it, but instead you are showing them their product, that they are proud of as they feel they've been part of the development process.

Published March 25, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Products as branding

A companies product should be the physical embodiment of the brand.

According to Marty Neumeier, branding is a customers gut feeling about a business or a product. The customer takes all the info, impressions, marks and news and combine them to create an idea about a business. This reputation becomes the businesses brand.

It makes sense that the products a company produces should represent the businesses brand completely. The products are the continuous touch points of a business, if the brand values are not present in a product, ultimately the brand will weaken over time.    

Published March 24, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

The purpose of a logo

Wendy, my sister, and I were discussing ideas for a name and logo for an initiative she is starting. This got us discussing the purpose of a logo.

The purpose of a logo is not to describe the organisation or what it does. The purpose of a logo is to identify the organisation.

If you are designing a logo for a logistics company the logo should not be a little man carrying packages, which literally explains what the business does. Instead the logo should be something that is appropriate, distinctive and simple.

If you can successfully balance these 3 elements in a logo, and then apply and use that logo consistently and often, the logo will become a strong identifier and fulfill its purpose.      

Published March 23, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Create something everyday

There is an expectation with design, more so than almost any other type of work, that there is a need for a creative spark or for inspiration to strike. This simply isn't true.

To be a designer you don't need inspiration, you need to create something everyday. Create everyday whether you are inspired, disillusioned, or simply not feeling it. I find I have a lot more creative ideas and solutions when I am actively working on a problem than when I am distracted, hoping for inspiration to strike.

Waiting for inspiration isn't design, it is giving into fear. A fear that your regular work isn't good enough, that you are not good enough. However, it you create everyday, you will create a lot of average work, and some good work. Eventually your average will become good, and your good will become inspired.     

Published March 22, 2022
by Bruce Harbottle

Start to post

Seth Godin, says you should write a blog everyday. The benefits of this is it allows me to not just express my thoughts on industrial design, product development and branding in South Africa, but also allows me to better organise my thoughts on the these topics.

My posts will probably not be more than a paragraph or two. They will be focused on the business of design in South Africa. They may state my opinions or they may ask questions. Either way I think that this will be a beneficial and interesting journey.    

Man and Wife (PTY) LTD
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Kimlyn Harbottle
+27 74 582 2256

Bruce Harbottle
+27 83 603 3359

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