I’ve been having an email conversation with someone and it has reached such point that I am confused so I’m asking any of you to clarify things for me. The confusion I have is over what a technical designer does -or more importantly- what are their qualifications?
It had always been my understanding that a technical designer -a relatively new job classification by the way- was someone who spec’d out a product, essentially providing the function that designers used to do back when companies were smaller and everybody produced their own stuff in house. Before, technical designers weren’t needed in companies that did their own production because their products were all similar and used the same types of seaming and reproducible features so that level of detail wasn’t needed because seam classes were standardized in house. However, now the need for tech designers has come about due to the advent of big off-shore push manufacturers who are making a much broader range of products (across categories) with a large array of possible seam variations so it makes sense that a specialist would be needed to spec things out for the various contractors that they farm the stuff out to. Still, it was always my understanding that tech designers were advanced pattern makers who had years and years of experience. The issue being that the specs devised, are the instructions that the pattern makers use to develop the patterns. At least, this had always been my understanding.
Eric Shulte is a technical designer who had written a letter to the editor of Apparel Magazine back in 2000 and he got sufficient response from it that he wrote what he considered to be criteria for the qualifications of technical designers. Pattern makers with many years of experience would not have any problems meeting those standards particularly if they’d worked in smaller concerns where job duties overlap and one was exposed to a broad range of needed skills. For example, fitting. In smaller companies, pattern makers are the ones doing prototype fittings (and if they’re not, they should be!) so you get a lot of experience doing that. Eric also detailed some other skills of which none are untoward or unusual for someone with an established work history. These are specifically:
Basic Training for Technical Designers
- Basic Computer Skills (as needed)
- Program-Specific Skills (PDM, Excel or other)
Primary Objectives for Technical Designers
- Facilitate (Not Complicate) the Garment Development Process
- Focus on the Quality (Not Quantity) of Comments
- Concentrate on Important Issues and Get Results
- Facts About Factories: Understanding Your Manufacturing Partners
- The Importance of Clear and Simple Specification Packages
- How To Illustrate Construction Details or Changes
- How To Illustrate Fit Details or Changes
- How To Use Illustrations to Analyze Fit Details or Changes
- Quality and Tolerance Standards for Style and/or Construction Details
Tolerance Standards for Graded Measurements
- Pros and Cons of Various Measuring Methods
- The Importance of Measuring Manuals or Diagrams to Convey Methods
- The Difference Between Auditing and Evaluating
- Understanding How Garment Measurements Are Related
- Understanding How Garment Measurements Can Be Interpreted
- Knowing When to Say “Go Back to Spec”
- Knowing When to Revise a Spec
- Making Sure That Garment Specs Are Truly Achievable
- Writing and Prioritizing Evaluation Report Comments
- Recognizing and Solving Basic Balance and Fit Problems
Advanced Training for Intermediate to Senior Technical Designers
- Recognizing and Solving Advanced Fit Problems
- Principles of Grading
- Developing Company Fit Standards
- Developing Company Grading Standards
- Developing Company Measuring Standards
- Developing Company Construction Standards
- Developing Company Quality and Tolerance Standards
- Developing Policies, Principles and Standards for Technical Design
Now, based on what he wrote, others have come behind him and developed classes and certificate programs for technical designers. The problem is (in my opinion) is that short thrift was made of the first requisite; that the candidate must already be an highly experienced pattern maker to start with. The qualifications Eric detailed were skills required above and beyond that primary one. Apparently however, certification programs lend students the impression that the skills these classes teach, are sufficient unto themselves to do the job (the gist of our email conversation being that this person is having a hard time getting a job as a tech designer) and I don’t agree they’re sufficient.
As far as I can tell, the technical designer should be a better pattern maker than the pattern maker making the pattern; it’s a supervisory position with respect to technical oversight. It’s not a managerial supervisory job but a technical one. Still, apparently some people have been able to get jobs in technical design without strong pattern making qualifications. In my personal experience, I worked with a technical designer once and it was a disaster and I’ll never do it again. This woman had no clue about coat making, yet her specs were going to tell me how to make the pattern? I don’t think so. Not if the company expected to remain solvent.
Have expectations of competency and skills reached such dilution that my expectations are out of whack? I can’t believe that is possible across the board. Basically,I can’t find a nice way to tell this person that they are not qualified for the job in spite of having earned a certificate because they don’t have the context, the foundation of skills -years of industrial pattern experience- upon which the duties of technical designing rest.
Getting a job as a tech designer basically means that one has to get a job with a large company -most of which will want a four year degree plus years of pattern experience- because a small company doesn’t need them. I mean, this candidate would conceivably be qualified at a little company but small companies don’t need technical designers. Rather, they need pattern makers who would also perform the job duties that a technical designer would provide in a larger company. However, if this candidate doesn’t have strong pattern skills to get a job making patterns, they’re out of luck (and actually, she doesn’t want a pattern making job). The way I see it is that there is a mis-match of her skills and demand in the market. A large company does need tech designers but she’s not qualified at that level. A small company -where she could possibly be qualified to get work- doesn’t need tech designers.