Sat, Jun

IR talks to... Marco Gonzalez, in-house designer, Mineheart

Mineheart’s Web page says it is always seeking new materials and interesting collaborations. How would you describe its current offering - and where does digital print comes into that mix at the moment?

Mineheart has a team of three in-house designers - of which I’m one - and around eight collaborative artists/designers, plus it works with interior designers, architects and specifiers to create various products for places like bars and restaurants, offices etc. as well as homes.

Initially the company was known for its wallpapers, murals and wall art, but I’d best now describe the product offering as diverse. We have quite a broad portfolio, including furniture, rugs and accessories. Lighting is actually one of the best selling ranges at the moment, alongside the wallpapers. And we’re always looking at creating new interesting concepts. And I’d say that around 60% of the product offering at the moment incorporates digital print is some way.

How do you choose the printers you work with?

As designers we’re always trying to come up with something novel and new, so it’s a case of sourcing printers with certain capabilities needed for specific concepts we have.

When Mineheart first started it was certainly pushing the boundaries of what digital print could do, and at the time there were very few suppliers that could help with the effects we wanted to achieve. So the company had a pretty tight list of those printers it wanted to work with, and we still use those. But of course things have moved on, so there may be capabilities we want that they don’t have and we are therefore continually looking for suppliers that can meet the needs of the different products we design. And that means we’ll look at the international market, not just locally. But in case anyone starts thinking that sounds grand, the reality is we are an SME, and we’re in a very competitive market, so price as well as capability is a big thing for us as well.

Most of Mineheart products are designed, made and assembled in the UK, allowing it to offer custom-made and bespoke pieces. So does that mean most of the print is handled as one-offs?

No. Mostly we work in batches. We do some one-off custom orders as you say, but normally we work in the region of 20 - 50 units. Certainly, that’s what we do initially to test a product in the market. If sales demand it we’ll then product products in bigger batches.

One of the reasons we’ve just moved from the Tudor House site in Fenstanton to this unit here in Sawtry is that it gives us much more stockholding room, so the expectation is that we’ll start increasing the batch sizes of at least the better selling products.

How do you see your print suppliers - as ‘collaborators’ or as ‘service providers’?

To be honest, we see them as suppliers. We collaborate in the sense that we will discuss with them how best to achieve what we want to achieve. And it’s certainly helpful to us to understand what they need from us to get the best end result – so, how they want the artwork files etc.

How it works with us is that we’ll design a product and then find a printer who we think has the capability to deliver, rather than have a group of printers who constantly keep us abreast of what’s possible with digital print technology. That’s not to say we don’t get updates from the printers we use – and from others – because we do, But most of the time, it’s a case of us going out and researching the possibilities and understanding how we can use print on a product in a new and interesting way.

So how do you do that research and ensure you keep abreast of all that’s possible in terms digital print and its potential application?

Via the internet basically. As designers we’d learn how a process might work for instance, and then see how we can apply it to best creative effect. Take hydrographic printing - which I didn’t know existed until fairly recently. During the research you get to understand how it works, start to stumble across key terms and different articles on the subject. We might think it sounds interesting and then consider how we can apply it to graphics on a round object for instance. I actually find that fact-finding process one of the most interesting parts of a design’s development.

However, closer collaboration with printers could be very useful, because there may be processes that we don’t fully understand, or see the potential for the types of product we could deliver using them.

So how active is the print community in coming to you with creative print possibilities?

A lot of the time, we’re doing the chasing and asking if ‘x’ is possible because we’re coming up with an idea that’s very specific. But from time to time we do get printers coming to us with information, and that’s really useful. I have a drawer full of information and I hold on to it because you just never know when it’s going to come in useful somewhere down the road. It’s all about balance isn’t it – what I don’t want are hundreds of people all saying they can tell me about something novel and they’re all saying pretty much the same!

Would it help if there were some kind of body that could present the cutting edge capabilities to designers like yourself then, rather than having individual businesses knocking on your door?

Yes! Trawling around for information is long winded. Sometimes you just need sort of bullet points, outlining key can-do possibilities. You’ve flagged up things like the Fespa creative day, but for me timing is an issue when it comes to things like conferences. I need to be able to get the information I want when I want to access it, not when somebody has scheduled presenting it, and I think that’s probably the case for most designers. Going to something like a trade show to see print capability isn’t likely to happen.

If the print community really wants to work more collaboratively with the design community then I think coming to creative shows - where most of us are already exhibiting - like the relatively recent 100% Design and Decorex for instance - might be better places to develop relationships and open discussion.

Bespoke wallpapers are very ‘on trend’ aren’t they, and of course those from Mineheart - and Young and Battaglia in particular - are highly sought after. It’s also an area where many digital printers see real potential. Do you have specific wallpaper print providers, and how do you see that developing?

Wallcoverings are certainly the fastest growing digitally printed product offerings in our range.

We do have a particular supplier that we use for wallcoverings, and it’s a company that Mineheart has used since it was formed. As with our other products, we tend to order in batches rather than one-offs on the whole. So our murals are 100cm x 2.5m as standard. We do all the design and pre-print side of it - so the customisation of images for bespoke wall sizes etc. when required, and then send the files to the printer.

Where else do you use - or think you could in the future use - digital print?

As print technology progresses, and we can print onto more surfaces we will certainly look to incorporate it into more products. For instance, here in the room today we have a table (see pic) that has been hand decorated. We could certainly look at printing this kind of thing - there’s massive scope in terms of furniture. At Decorex we did some work for the press area, where we designed digitally printed Chesterfield effect beanbags for instance. And we already print onto things like cabinet doors etc.

Lighting is another area where we can incorporate digital print. The possibilities are endless really. As I say, around 60% of the products we design involve digital print, and we’re always exploring ways of incorporating it in new products.

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