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The Pro Process: How a Bathroom Hardware Designer Works

How knobs and pulls get from idea to paper

Asked to guess how bathroom hardware is made, what would you say? Someone in a factory pushes a button and these products appear on a conveyor belt, right?

Wrong. Behind that beautifully efficient piece of metal lies many, many hours of research, brainstorming, reworking—and maybe even walking in a cemetery.

We sat down with Jose dos Santos, design director of bath hardware at Liberty Hardware, to see what it takes to go from blank page to fully formed concept.

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To design in the here and now, you need to know what’s happening in the here and now. That’s why Liberty Hardware’s design team spends a lot of time looking at design blogs and magazines and going to décor events and museums—all in the name of research. After compiling their findings in a high-level report, the team uses a trend-maturity tool to help predict how the top styles will evolve in the marketplace.

“Some trends are like TV shows, and after six months they are over, while others stick around for a very long time,” dos Santos says.

Inspired by … a Cemetery?

Inspiration for a new fixture might come from a piece of art, a color-of-the-sky conversation with kids, or even something as mundane as a bunch of grapes at the supermarket.

Or it might come from a walk in a cemetery. Recently, the Liberty Hardware design team explored a historic cemetery in Chicago, snapping inspiration photos (like the one above) as they hunted; the intricate stonework and Art Deco style provided plenty of possibilities to ponder.

“Sometimes, something that has absolutely nothing to do with bath hardware will strike your interest and inspire a design,” dos Santos says.

Put It to the Test

With a bathroom hardware idea in mind, an industrial designer sets out to make it a reality. Before long, a serious gut check is needed: Liberty Hardware designs must survive two rounds of focus groups and intense testing. Why? What good is a product that a designer loves but that consumers don’t connect with? “We don’t want to present designs that are just opinion-based,” dos Santos says.

Another step on the road to reality: Designers present their work to the team and then receive formal feedback. The Liberty Hardware design team examines every aspect—scale, function, usability, proportion and more.

Even though the end result is tactile, practical hardware, it’s still art to dos Santos. “Home improvement requires artistic expression,” he says. “That’s a big reason that I’m a designer. I enjoy working with products that require artistic expression.”

Sarah Kellner is a writer for The Home Depot as well as a fine artist. With a background in art and design, she writes on a wide variety of home improvement and design topics. Check out Liberty Hardware’s vast array of bath hardware here, or shop bath products at