A Central Ohio firm has been creating products for household names since 1985.
One company quietly ticking below the radar in the Westerville area has designed the look and feel of scores of products we see around us every day. Yet few have heard of Design Central, which has been on the cutting edge of global industrial design since 1985. CEO Rainer Teufel founded the company with a small handful of others and has been the sole owner since 2016.
Design Central’s clients are from all across the world. The company has worked on appliances for LG, footwear for Nike and cell phones for Samsung. It has engineered and designed consumer grills for Charbroil, cutlery for Calphalon, lift trucks for Caterpillar, merchant service terminals for Checkmate—and that’s just the “C’s.” The company is behind the design and packaging of Swiffer, Pampers, Sharpie markers and Evenflo car seats, and that’s just a few of the consumer products it has molded.
Design Central also has a strong presence in health care and commercial/industrial markets.
The company usually has 20 to 30 projects running at any one time, annually tackling some 40 to 50 with a staff of 25 employees, give or take a handful of interns.Stay up to date with the region’s movers and shakers, top employers, philanthropic causes, real estate developments and thriving creative and startup scenes. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.
Design Central’s teams connect deeply with clients from step one, seeking as thorough an understanding of the client’s goal and brand as possible.
Designers Cori Rowley and Monica Tournoux, for example, recently took a trip to Sweden to hike through a forest with toddlers at an outdoor preschool to study how a baby-care product for an unnamed company might be better designed for youngsters living an active lifestyle with a focus on ecology.
Details are key to the company’s designs, to be sure. An entire room within the company’s airy Westerville offices is nothing but racks of cottony, absorbent fabrics in hundreds of embossed patterns gathered from around the world as sample diaper facings.
“We do a lot to immerse ourselves in the cultures we’re in, not just understand how this one product works,” Tournoux says. “You have to understand it in context to people’s lives, and their socioeconomic abilities and access, everything.
“We’re never designing a product in isolation, or to just make a new product. We’re designing products to fill a need that we’ve seen and understood for a lot of people.”
Looks and feel are only two of the aspects that Design Central takes into consideration. There’s also manufacturing, assembly and packaging because if the dreamiest shoe or bath fixture in the world can’t be made efficiently and affordably, it won’t do Design Central’s client any good.
Good design, says Teufel, is about building an understanding rather than simply taking specs and running with them. Having a strong, multidisciplinary team that can listen, mesh with each other and with clients with strengths in many dimensions is critical, Teufel says.
Tommy Tallarico says it’s exactly that process that led him to choose Design Central for the new Intellivision video game system, which is already making waves before it’s even finished.
Tallarico, famous in the video gaming world for his elevation of gaming music to rock star status, is behind a reinvention of Intellivision, a 1980s-era gaming system set to relaunch in October 2020.
Design Central is working on the design and function of the console and controllers, which are angling to be both retro and revolutionary at the same time.
The idea behind Intellivision is a gaming console system that can be enjoyed by the whole family, somewhat like the now-discontinued Nintendo Wii. The physical console would be critical to that effort.
“We needed something that gamers could look and go, ‘that’s cool,’ but not scare away moms,” Tallarico says. “We need them to want to put it in their living rooms.”
An intense startup session with the team sped along the design process, Tallarico says.
“They really just did a psychological dive into my brain as to why I like certain things. I’m a big Ferrari guy so they literally put hundreds of pictures on the wall of cars, and had me circle the little things I like. [They asked questions such as] why I like the vent on this or the way the wheel well goes over this.”
Speed, says Teufel, is one of the ways the world has changed. The time to market for products has increased radically, as has the technology in the products and the tools used to create them. A global supply chain means components are made and assembled all over the world.
It takes a team constantly reinventing their knowledge base to keep up, he says. “No one designer or engineer can know everything. Products are too complex. It doesn’t work anymore and it hasn’t worked for a long time.”