Turning a good idea into a finished product requires professional design if it is to become a commercial success.


For Lapsak, design was to be product’s key feature, so a professional approach was of even greater importance

Key IssuesResults
  • New product
  • Development from conceptual sketches
  • Price capped production requirements
  • Creation of a “image” product through design
  • Solid increase in sales
  • Very positive reaction from the trade


Business: Originals International (Lapsak)
Design Company: Nomad 3D
Business Type: Furniture and Giftware
Employees: 6
Founded: 1990
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Business Background

Like millions of other people throughout the land, Mike Odams often gets home in the evening at different times and after a hard day’s toil, eats his evening meal in front of the television, catching up on the day’s news, soaps or whatever else takes his fancy. And just like many others, a tea tray with an integral bean bag provides Mike with an ideal alternative to the kitchen table.

The trouble is, these tea trays tend to be aimed at the more “senior” customer, something that Mike, some way off collecting his pension, was all too aware of.

Running a business involved with the importation and wholesale of furniture and giftware, he realised that his evening dining habits were shared by many others of similar and younger age group – not a sector of the market renowned for its taste in floral patterns and chintz!

It was upon this realisation that Mike developed the concept for the Lapsak.

“I don’t know exactly when the idea came to me, it was over a period of time that it developed. I knew the market existed and just started sketching out a few ideas”

Identifying the need for design

Eventually, these sketches developed into detailed diagrams and a full-on business plan for a modern, premium product, lap-hugging tray aimed atthe 20 to 40 age group. Believing that he had developed something to fill a gap in the market, Mike needed a prototype and that meant turning his sketches into an actual product.

With the aid of Business Link for Essex Mike was guided by a design management adviser, through the process of creating an outline design brief, a process that required him to consider not just the aesthetic requirements but also the strategy for the product that the design would need to support. He was introduced to some designers and set about developing a detailed brief for them to work from but it was far from plain sailing;

“I had a clear idea – a vision if you like – about what the product would look like so it was important to me that the designer demonstrated an affinity to this vision coupled with the ability to develop the product into a viable, commercial entity”

It was upon this basis that Mike selected Nomad, which was to prove a vital decision in moving the concept forward.

“Nomad instantly got what we wanted to do with the product andstarted making suggestions to further enhance its appeal”

Amongst these suggestions were such things as the choice of material. For example, Mike had assumed that the tray section would be made of a basic plastic but this couldn’t be easily or economically printed onto.

Knowing the market, Mike also had a clear idea of what the retail cost would be for each unit. This allowed him and the designer to identify the maximum production costs before they committed to the design process.

An intrinsic part of the product’s appeal is the interchangeable base and top tray. Mike developed this concept having been a long time fan of Swatch Watches that made their name using a similar approach, allowing owners to change the straps on their watches with a variety of different, complimentary designs.

The shape of the product was also important. The target market demanded a design that would look good in their homes and with existing models simply having a sack stuck to the bottom of a tray, Lapsak needed to be distinguished through using the appropriate aesthetics and a unique shape.

Another reason for concentrating heavily on the design was the need to create a USP (Unique SellingPoint). One cannot patent the concept of a Lap Tray so it was important to create a totally unique design.

3D computer models were developed, tweaked and honed. A prototype developed, manufacturers and suppliers found with full-scale production starting in 2004.

Although it’s early days, the reaction from the trade has been positive with strong sales – even without a major marketing push. When Mike starts on that element in 2005, then he could well be collecting his pension sooner than he thought -although he claims not yet to be ready for the chintz!

They SayWe Say
Make sure the brief is clear It’s all to easy to wax lyrical about just how good the product is going to be, what wonderful people you have working for you and other superfluous issues. Care needs to be taken not to dilute the core elements that describe the requirements with sufficient background but not so much as to confuse the situation.
Manage the process Although you have employed a professional design company for their input, it doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for the end-result. You need to work with them to develop the brief and make sure every thing is on track.
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