Local design firm relishes role in clients' global success

Scott Gibson has clients from coast to coast in North America, but the 71-year-old president of Gibson Product Design says he has no desire to really go global.

“We’re the support structure that gets people global,” he says, adding that selling a product around the world is much different than selling a service.

“To go global offering that kind of service, I’d have to set up an office, even it’s only for a month, and do cold calling,” Mr. Gibson says. “I even find that difficult in Ottawa, because they don’t know about us. Nobody knows we are here.”

While Gibson Product Design has no plans to expand beyond its Spruce Street location, he says the service it provides is a differentiator between companies that have global success and those that don’t.

“You don’t go global without a great product,” says Mr. Gibson, adding there’s more to a great product than cool technology.

“Everybody’s got tech. It’s expected,” he says. “As you go to markets out there around the globe, people say, ‘You’ve got technology. Good for you. Let’s have a look at your product.’ At this point you realize there are other components too.”

Those components include the look of the product, the function and the affordability of manufacturing.

“That’s kind of where we fit in,” Mr. Gibson says.

Gibson Product Design is fitting in quite well if its success at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is any indication.

Earlier this year, its Ottawa-based client DeepSpar Data Recovery Systems won an innovation award at the show. It was the 10th consecutive year a Gibson client has won an award at CES. Overall, 14 Gibson clients have won awards at the event over the years.

While DeepSpar specializes in retrieving data from crashed hard drives, Gibson Product Design has been responsible for designing a wide range of products, including baby monitors, guitar tuners and metronomes produced by Planet Waves, a division of d’Addario, a musical string manufacturer out of Long Island, New York.

“We come to a product development effort almost masquerading as the consumer. As you walk in the door, you represent the consumer, so you represent the consumer issues,” Mr. Gibson says.

“Our job is to develop a concept … and so in order to do that, you’ve got to understand what the technology is, understand the space, understand who the end users are and have a sense of what the marketplace looks like for those kinds of products, so we try to envisage something that’s going to fit in that space.”

That requires knowledge of fields such as consumer psychology, manufacturing methods, engineering and material requirements.

“We kind of drop right in the middle,” Mr. Gibson says. “Having proposed a few concepts, we’ll get together with the client and whittle it down to a couple of directions that seem to have a lot of process and move into development and design.”

When Mr. Gibson started his company in 1983, much of the work was done with just a black marker. Things have changed, and the firm recently acquired a 3D printer to produce physical models that help clients visualize its concepts.

After 33 years at the helm, Mr. Gibson says he has no plans for retirement.

“Unless I get kicked out of the office by the guys,” he says with a laugh.

While he calls industrial design a “young man’s game,” Mr. Gibson says he can bring wisdom to the table. And passion, although he says he thinks that word is a cliche.

“I’m the Billy Graham of industrial design. I believe in it so much. I’ve seen it all these years, how powerful a tool it is.”