A week in the life of Director of Design John Forgarty

John Fogarty is Director of Design at Bisley, a steel storage manufacturer.

At Bisley I work as part of the marketing department. It’s a debate as to whether design should be part of the commercial or the operations side. However, we’re based in our factory in Newport, Wales, and talk daily to our operations colleagues.

It’s usually 8am when I get to work. I live in Monmouth, which is only 30 minutes away. The factory starts working at 7.30am. In the design department, we have to overlap both with our operations colleagues and the marketplace.

I work longish hours, and am usually here until 6.30pm or 7pm. That’s my choice. There are quieter times in the evening when I can think and plan.

There are eight of us in the design studio – a mixture of Designers, Engineers and Product Managers. We do all the drawings, set up all the structures on the system. It’s everything to do with materials and components. We talk to suppliers and develop ideas, and work out the best way of making things. We also mange the product portfolio and lifecycle.

I get to sketch design ideas, but not as much as I’d like. I don’t work with CAD, nor do I any longer do detailed drawings or design. Past experience has taught me that you end up doing a bad management job if you try to overfill your role.

Bisley isn’t just about sheet metal. We combine it with mouldings, die-cast alloys and extrusions. It’s about selecting the material with the best characteristics to perform an individual function and then combining it with other materials in the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing manner.

For new products we start with a brief. I read extensively on the subject of workplace development and we also go to a lot of exhibitions and look at what’s happening in associated parts of the industry. I agree approved projects with the Marketing Director.

Updating current products doesn’t always need a lot of original design. My key role in these cases is setting down the brief, specifications, programme and managing the process. I have to make sure it comes in on time and budget.

We do have to “blue sky” think. Self-evidently this is the best part of the job. However I’m a realist, and I know I can’t spend all my days doing that. But it’s the prospect of applying original thought that gets me up in the morning.

I try and design from the inside out.Storage isn’t just about paper. It’s also about a lifestyle around storage that has nothing to do with files and paper. It might be crash helmets and cycling shorts.

The good side of working in-house is that you are so much more aware of production issues. In-house will always get there quicker and – we would argue – just as elegantly as the glory boys in external design consultancies. That we undoubtedly have a lower profile is just something you learn to accept as going with the territory.

I go up to London about once a month and visit our Surrey headquarters on a weekly basis. We go to London when we need to talk to customers about a product or project.

I don’t miss being based in London. You can keep track of what’s happening by reading and the internet. But you do need to go to shows to kick the tyres. You can then really understand what’s buzzing, what’s real or ephemeral.

Bisley is such a great company. It’s privately owned, and all money is pumped back into the business, investing in new plant and products. That’s the big attraction.

John’s Career path

I’m from an engineering family in South Africa. My dad was a Mechanical Engineer and would always be making things. He made me wonderful toys as a child.

I did Engineering at university, but rapidly discovered that pure engineering wasn’t really my thing.

My father got transferred to the UK at the time that I decided that I didn’t want to be an Engineer. I came to Britain and went to a polytechnic in Colchester. I did an HND in industrial design.

I identified office furniture as the place I wanted to work. It’s multi-material and based around the human form and interaction. I found that very interesting.

My first job was with an office furniture company making desking, systems furniture and seating. I worked initially in the space-planning department – there wasn’t much available in the way of product design at that time.

I then ran the London design studio of an office furniture company, doing a mix of space-planning and product design. We were doing projects for the Middle East and Nigeria but I didn’t get to travel – we were the backroom boys.

I naturally grew into management. It’s a way of increasing your earning potential and a chance to be more influential. You can’t influence change unless you are granted the power.

Later in my career I freelanced for a while and rapidly discovered that, while I’m good at bringing projects in on time and to budget, this does not extend to my invoicing and money-chasing skills. That was when the realisation dawned that I’m better at working as a specialist within a larger organisation.

I went to work for a big engineering conglomerate in Margate, producing sheet metal products, such as storage and desking. It was my first major exposure to sheet metal. Although we did some ground-breaking projects, the company was woefully underinvested.

Luckily I was approached by another company and given the chance to return to full-blown systems furniture. After two years, in 1989, I took two of my team with me to Bisley. Bisley reinvigorated my interest in sheet metal, in the ability to make strong, complex forms. Storage is at the centre of the workstation and key to its efficiency.

Useful links

John Fogarty designs for Bisley, a UK manufacturer of steel furniture. Find out more on its website.