Future Factory understands that a great design should translate into a working product and in order to achieve this, it takes its clients through the processes of design, development and deployment
In the 1990s, the liberalisation of the Indian economy gave Indian industry much breathing space and spurred its growth. But there were several teething problems in the initial stages – a serious one being the sudden surge in competition from global players with better technology, products and design. Till then, industries were used to operating on a level playing field and suddenly, organisations had to face the truth that their products couldn’t compete because of the absence of certain capabilities.
“Unlike our Korean and Chinese neighbours, we weren’t experts on development and unlike our western counterparts, we lacked new technology,” points out Jashish Kambli, executive partner at Future Factory, a Mumbai-based design company, founded in 1996 by Geethika SK and Kambli. Future Factory, which offers product and industrial design and strategy and innovation solution, was founded to complement design talent with business, technology and development capabilities. This was welcomed by businesses as it allowed them to aim for better design without having to invest in dedicated teams and the time needed for research and development.
Today, it has a clientele that includes multinational companies which insist on designs that will translate effortlessly into manufacturing.
Over the years
Kambli says that finance, HR and market penetration were challenges then, when the company was set up, and now, as it is a moving target. “But market penetration is probably the most difficult amongst these because it takes a concerted effort to demonstrate gaps in the current methods of product development,” he says. So the company works with industry bodies such as CII who realise the importance of design.
And though it faces competition, what has helped Future Factory is its focus on extending design capability to address business, technology and development concerns. Overseas designers don’t seem to address production well enough and local designers don’t seem to appreciate business thinking, according to Kambli. Future Factory has focused on a range of capabilities that support design and can help increase the success rate of new products.
“Design can help build business value in many ways. It can increase quality, increase marketability, improve sourcing, enhance aesthetics, improve functionality, reduce cost and so on,” says Kambli. To illustrate with the help of an example, Kambli talks of Pepsodent’s angular bristle toothbrush innovation. It was Future Factory which came up with the design based on observing consumer behaviour and conducting interviews to understand consumer expectations. Pricing the product optimally was one criterion and determining the materials that went into the making of the brush was another. Even packaging was designed such that the toothbrush was placed angular in the blister to showcase the bristles and use design as a storytelling tool.
Design can help build business value in many ways. It can increase quality, increase marketability, improve sourcing, enhance aesthetics, improve functionality, reduce cost and so on.
Future Factory’s engagement with a client begins by understanding the business challenge that could be best addressed by using design. This focus has helped the company build its market across industry segments such as FMCG, pharmaceutical, retail, industrial and consumer durables, with companies such as Mumbai-based Godrej & Boyce and Transasia Biomedicals among its client list. The company engages with businesses at various points, including planning its investments and giving direction to product design efforts – right from product strategy development to product pipeline and lifecycle planning.
Kambli shares the reasons for the company’s ability to increase its talent pool and therefore, achieve its goals. Future Factory designers were amongst the first in India to be awarded the prestigious Red Dot and IDSA awards in 2008, widely regarded in Europe and the U.S. In 2012,the company celebrated the success of its 100th product. “This is a big achievement because to make products successful in the market, it often requires more than just great design talent. It proves that we have been able to supplement our award winning design talent with business, technology and development capabilities to help our clients achieve business success,” says Kambli confidently. The year 2012 also marked the international publication of some of its strategic design work. In five years, the company hopes to be the preferred destination for all companies creating new products for emerging markets.
Sharing his growth plans, Kambli says, the developing markets will be the company’s target areas for expansion. “We are frugal and innovative by nature, having grown up in developing markets. We also understand the DNA of such consumers and of the ecosystems that surround them,” he adds. The company has clients from Japan, China, Western economies and India, but what is common is that they are focused on building their presence in developing economies: Asia, India, China and Africa.
Talent and technology have been critical for the growth of the company. Kambli admits that scaling up a talent led business is difficult and being choosy does not help. But talent is the key to the business –and the business model is built around it. The team is a mix of designers, researchers, engineers and MBAs. The company runs on a flat structure where teams operate with complete autonomy. This promotes trust and reward, a great working culture that attracts talent.
Technology is the other key aspect. Recently, the company set up an electronics lab to support early development. “But technology can come from many places; it can come from material science or even from a new process. We are tapped into some highly privileged new material facilities across the globe and are constantly innovating on new processes,” says Kambli. The company’s own labs – a key aspect of design and product development that nurture early innovation, have resulted in a number of patents.
In addition to technology and talent, the company also lays stress on feedback and understanding customer preferences. For instance, Future Factory recently concluded a fairly extensive study called “KitchenNext” to identify drivers of change in Indian kitchens. These insights are being shared with industries such as appliances and food and beverages to help them identify how to create winning products in the region. The study was recently published in a book that hit the bestseller list in July 2013. “We’re also leading a programme called IDI (India Design Initiative) which investigates the openness of the Indian market to the concept of design and hope to share results in a few months,” says Kambli.
Future Factory’s work is based on the customer’s reality and is often mapped with business imperatives, not just in terms of feedback after the design is released but many a times, even before the team puts pencil to paper. “It’s a great way to stay rooted,” admits Kambli.
Clearly, Future Factory has moved with the times, identified that customers need not just design but to convert it into a working product. “A client recently told me he loved us because we had ‘our skin in the game’,” shares Kambli. Future Factory believes in taking responsibility till the last mile, beginning with design which culminates in development and deployment. This requires specialists who go deep and yet have a broad perspective of the market potential.
“Because our work spans longer horizons through product planning and design strategy, most businesses we work with engage with us deeper and for longer periods,” spells out Kambli. This is perhaps the most important reason for Future Factory’s success as a design partner.
Founders: Geethika SK, Jashish Kambli
Industry: Design for products and industries
Concept in brief:
With the liberalisation of the Indian economy came the challenge of creating products and designs that not only compete in the global markets, but also satisfy the aspirational needs of upwardly mobile Indians. SK Geethika and Jashish Kambli set up Future Factory in 1996 so that businesses could continue to focus on manufacturing and marketing while Future Factory would do research and development to design and develop products that meet market requirements. Over the years, the company’s clientele has expanded to include multinational companies from across the globe targeting developing markets. It has been awarded patents and its flat structure has enabled it to attract talent. Technology and labs have helped the company focus on research and development and innovate. It plans to expand further into emerging markets, strengthening its presence in Asia, India, China and Africa.