I spoke with Martin Gadermeier who is CEO and Co-Founder of Pattern Design. The company operates a website that is an innovative resource for designers, printers, creatives, and consumers to realise the digital printing of seamless patterns. We talked about the business, how the idea came to be and what the future holds for digital printing.
What is your background?
We established Pattern Design back in 2010 with my colleague Martina Stadler who is a designer. During her studies, she noticed that there was a kind of lack of vector files with a focus on seamless patterns. She then did her market research and found sites like Fotolia which offered photos as well as vectors but nothing was focused on seamless patterns.
Then we thought we should set up a business plan for a business plan competition and we won it! We learned a lot at the beginning - we thought we knew it all, but there are plenty of areas (Interior, Textiles, Stationery, Accessories…) where you can use seamless patterns, and with the improvements in digital printing there is increased potential. We then set up the software system behind Pattern Design which was a big and complex project but it paid off and now we have 17,516 designs from over 400 Design Partners.
How does it work?
Designers can easily upload their patterns through a verification process also assisted by in house designers. There is a really complex system behind it as the files have to work for a variety production – the system has been developed in house and is very sophisticated and is continually improved by Pattern Design to meet the needs of the market as it evolves.
We have been to trade shows, had meetings, and plenty of discussions with key players within the relevant industries and have developed the system and an understanding of design linked to digital print production with plenty of feedback through collaboration.
What is your mission for Pattern Design?
The true meaning of Pattern Design is to help designers to sell their patterns globally and on the other hand, to help prospective clients to cover their demand for patterns. Sometimes, the designers are great at design but not able to bring their ideas to market and this is because the leap from design to commercialisation is quite a challenge as well as time-consuming. Many prospective clients cannot afford to commission a designer as well as they just need a non-exclusive design. On the other hand, many designers have plenty of designs in their digital drawers which might fit very well for a prospective client.
How does it work – so the pattern gets printed via a nominated retailer or print company as and when they get a customer that may want their design for something?
For retailers, we developed an interface - the Pattern Design API - with an upfront fee of 50 euros. When we started we could provide the system with online shops. For example, you can have a wallpaper shop but you don’t have the patterns and for a retailer, you don’t want to have to buy the pattern in house – as the stock is a risk and a cost – now the retailer will pay for the pattern when they have a sale.
With the growing trend of individualising you can change the colour of the pattern as well as zoom/scale the pattern and this is a USP and this is useful for the shop itself and this really links to the trends for personalisation.
At the moment, we see a big increase in home textiles, towels, tablecloths, cushions…. With our unique software, you can adjust the colour of a pattern to your desired colour pattern under your roof but at an affordable price. The patterns we get from our Design Partners. The more quality patterns we get, the more printing take place and we grow digital printing and our business too.
This is also great as it helps designers gain more revenue and it is a nice add on to your revenue stream for a designer. Right now, we are at the beginning as we are seeing the growth but it is only 3% of market potential generally, so this will only grow.
As we expand in the US – they are really proactive with home textile, fabrics, cotton from 1 metre or less and then put the pattern onto the fabric so you don’t have to invest in a huge amount of material.
Our main model is Print-on-Demand resp. the online shops and its consumers who can buy e.g. a cushion with their desired pattern (and even colour the pattern) directly on the online shop………to have their individual cushion.
It seems you solve a real problem from a software perspective. I hear that often file resolution and colour matching is a big problem for print production?
Yes, our quality requirements must be in line with the printing industry, so the quality of the file is paramount. The problem is often the resolution may not be high enough. If it is a pixel based file in photoshop and it saves a lot of time and hassle by providing a production solution. This is something our print partners really value as it helps them to help their customers as efficiently as possible.
So designers upload a file and that is it?
Technically yes, but the design has to be right. Please note though there are some things they have to learn about as there are standards that we have to align with. We do want good designs, and they have to be original, and they must fulfill our standards. If there is something they do not fulfill then we give them feedback and another chance to get it right.
What about the visual aspect of the pattern?
Yes, we have to have standards but also need to balance the type of pattern against a number of similar types of pattern and whether the pattern is likely to sell in line with buying trends. This is sometimes difficult, but we have designers in-house who assess designs and we have data from the market too. Frankly, we don’t upload designs that we see we already have a number of. So we want designs that increase overall quality - but this is more difficult to assess as taste is so diverse. So what we try to do is stick with the data from the market as to which patterns are doing well. Sometimes we get patterns that are out of date, simple, but unattractive and there are some patterns where the repeat is very noticeable.
So we ask our designers to understand that we serve a diverse set of industries with sometimes very diverse applications. Sometimes people want the pattern on a mobile phone so the repeat is not so much of a problem. This is both the challenge and the opportunity of personalisation!!
In order to help on the production side, we work hard on the algorithms to enable us to automate as much as possible and make the process as smooth as it can be.
So what is your next big goal?
We would like to grow faster within Europe. It is more difficult here as digital printing is not growing as fast as we would hope. The logistics behind the whole ordering process and fulfillment of the whole supply chain needs to grow. In Europe, photos are still popular but patterns have a much larger area of application than photos. On the other hand in the USA, they are more proactive and they see how digital printing can help them to individualise patterns. We want Pattern Design to be the number 1 address for high-quality seamless patterns. When someone wants one, we want to be the go to people. This is why we focus only on seamless patterns so we specialise and provide a unique solution and focus on the quality.
Final question, do you think that designers know about the possibilities of digital printing?
Frankly, I think that most of the stakeholders (printers, designers, etc) still underestimate the vast potential as well as accompanying improvements of digital printing. The potential is not being exploited. We have talked about this for a couple of years now. When we are at shows the enthusiasm is clear but I just read an article that put the market share of digital print at less than 3% of all print output!! Our main aim is to bring brilliant design to life by helping talented designers to bring their patterns to market and we have plenty to do, but the opportunities are really exciting.