How Can We Stay Focused and Energetic to Drive Innovation?

How Can We Stay Focused and Energetic to Drive Innovation?

January seems like a perfect month to reflect on the past year and map out plans for the year ahead. This is counterintuitive thinking in business. We are all off to the races with aggressive business goals and personal aspirations to become better humans and drive innovation. I considered several topics for this blog before catching myself to focus on one of the highlights of my business travel from 2022. I am lucky to be able to attend industry events every year. Liberated by our team and supported by our project work with great Clients, I methodically research each show to optimize my time and identify new projects for our team and key suppliers. This is tricky to do since there is an opportunity for advanced concept development in all industries. The emergence of “new mobility” concepts, alternative energy or EV technologies, and autonomous driving are just a few of the emerging and evolving industries we work in to make a positive difference. It’s exhausting and invigorating to research, plan and travel to shows with an eye on new opportunities and working on personal development. I have been blessed with these challenges!

IAAPA Insights

In November of every year, I travel to Orlando to attend IAAPA for a few days. The pandemic, of course, impacted the themed attraction industry in extreme and challenging ways. Ticket sales went immediately to zero and guests were not in the mood or position to buy tee shirts or princess dresses. It was a uniquely different period in our history. As a nation, world and individuals, we all found ourselves in a time of challenge. The lucky businesses survived or, in some cases, thrived depending on the industry, product or service offered. These dark times are behind us and there are now significant opportunities for business growth and personal development. I attended the kickoff event of IAAPA and the Orange County Convention Center. The lineup seemed intriguing and I am always amazed by the production values on display and the keynote speakers. The speaker this year was Abigail Posner from Creative Effectiveness Teams at Google. Ms. Posner offered up a premise that “creativity and innovation drive business growth.” This is an easily embraced concept. Execution towards this goal is challenging for most leaders and many teams. Groupthink settles into most organizations and a fresh look at ourselves, cultures and teams helps us pivot and find new ways of working. The 30-minute presentation resonated on many levels. The five key takeaways offered for our consideration and application in our work and life were as follows;

1. Tap into your unique gifts

I continue to wrestle with the reality that my gifts are limited to a few key attributes. “Let the birds fly and the fish swim” sums it up neatly. Hire great people, give them the tools required to succeed, and stay out of the way. 

2. Just say yes.

So often in life, we look for a way out of opportunities that are a stretch for our talents. Look for ways to embrace opportunity and jump into the deep end. 

3. Look for the links

Cultivate your network and identify connections and contacts to build on collaboration. 

4. Teamwork it

Innovation is a team sport. Look for opportunities to work with cross-functional teams in all areas of life. Remember you are very rarely, if ever, the smartest person in the room. 

5. Share with others

Give back to others in all areas of your life and pay it forward.

Share for the act of sharing with no expectations for a return.  The timing for this message was perfect. I left the event with renewed energy and focus to drive innovation. This learning moment has very little to do with meeting new contacts or exploring emerging technologies. It was one of those experiences that come along when we put ourselves out in the world, navigate airports, and simply show up when we have the opportunity.  My plans for this year include attendance at a minimum of four industry events, team development and growth, working on my lifelong learning goals, reading one book a month, working with charitable organizations, and teaching at Northwestern University.  Please share your thoughts and plans for increased effectiveness and innovation for the new year.

Best wishes for future success! 


Featured image illustration by Sol Cotti

Insights From IAAPA 2022

Insights From IAAPA 2022

Last month, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, also known as IAAPA, held its annual Expo in Orlando, Florida. IAAPA hosts this expo to “spread successful ideas and practices. We also provide valuable tools and resources that make all of our businesses smarter, safer, and more profitable while delivering guest experiences that surprise and delight.”


On the first day of the expo, November 13th, I had the opportunity to play in the 19th annual “Give Kids the World” golf event at Shingle Creek Golf Course. This event has been a highlight of my time in Orlando for the past several years. The weather cooperated for most of the outing, with scattered rain and cloud cover into the afternoon. We were called back into the clubhouse twice as a caution for thunder strikes, and then we finished the round and enjoyed a brief lunch to celebrate another sold-out event.


My first day at IAAPA began with a guided tour of the Universal Studios Velocicoaster ride. Along with the golf event, this tour also sold out quickly, and for a good reason. As it turned out, it was another highlight of my trip to Orlando. While waiting to board the bus from the Orange County Convention Center to the park, I met Doug Akers, VP of Operations, with Universal Studios. Doug recently returned stateside from assignments in Asia. I greatly appreciated our time together during the tour.


Overall, the Velocicoaster ride was such a wonderful experience! If you have not yet experienced the coaster, take a calculated risk and queue up for a quick burst of adrenaline. I will spare you any spoilers other than to say it is worth the wait. I look forward to my next trip to Universal soon to enjoy this experience again.


We wrapped up the tour with a lunch presentation by Universal Creative, Technical, and Operations. It was an intriguing story about character and IP-based ride development delivered by passionate professionals. The team did an incredible job facilitating this excellent experience and learning event!


As karma or luck would have it, I met Jakob Stahl, incoming CEO of IAAPA, in the elevator at our hotel after lunch. I offered him congratulations on his promotion. From there, I continued the brisk stroll to the show, and Hal McAvoy and I met on the way to the convention center. Hal led our organization as CEO through the last year and the challenges presented by the pandemic. It was a bit of serendipity to meet the outgoing and incoming leaders for IAAPA over a 15-minute walk! Right place at the right time, as they say!


The IAAPA event kicked off with an update on the state of the industry and a motivating presentation by Abigail Posner with Google. She delivered a passionate presentation and story about following our unique gifts and building networks with different talents. I’m not sure how IAAPA found Abigail, but she had set the tone for the wrap-up of the kickoff event! From there, we launched onto the show floor for day one of the exhibit space.


On the exhibit floor, I reconnected with many old friends and even made a few. Thanks to Sean Reish with TAIT for taking time out of your busy show to provide insights and guidance about design and engineering opportunities. I also visited WhiteWater and met Matt Regan during a standup conversation with Claudio Barrera and Jesse Crawford. I briefly toured the Brunswick Bowling exhibit. We have worked with Brunswick on numerous projects, and it’s always great to gather insights about our work through interaction with consumers.


Attendance at the show totaled 37,000 attendees. This data point is encouraging and points to the accelerated return to profitable performance for the parks, museums, and other attractions. We look forward to the next expo in this dynamic industry, as well as a return to Universal to enjoy all of the entertainment and attractions that the theme park has to offer.


Insights About Concept Development And Production Engineering

Insights About Concept Development And Production Engineering

At Fredricks Design, we have had the pleasure of working across different industries through all phases of successful product and concept development. Our work ranges from automotive, entertainment, consumer goods, furniture, healthcare, and everything in between. As a consultancy, many companies contact us at many phases throughout the product development process. In some programs, we offer turnkey solutions for clients developing new products and brainstorming sessions through manufacturing. We even help marketing teams develop content for digital and print campaigns. In other programs, our reach is limited to a single phase as we help companies conceive new solutions, prototype designs, and develop concepts into production-engineered solutions ready for manufacturing or just about any other area throughout the process.

These workflows give us what we believe to be a unique perspective. We have experienced the development process for hundreds of companies across nearly all industries and have identified inefficiencies and leveraged lessons learned as we move on to the next project. Very early on in our company’s history, we found success balancing creative design and technical engineering from the very inception of a project. This balance allows voices from both disciplines throughout the process. It also heads off issues we see when the two disciplines are in separate silos. We still approach our projects the same today and typically reach even further when working with our clients. On a typical program with large clients, we will bring in key stakeholders from design, engineering, marketing, management, sales, manufacturing, end-users, and any other voice we believe needs to be heard to develop a successful product.

Our Conceptual Development Process

The product development process is something that has evolved over the years. Every company has its own version, and every design studio will tell you why theirs is best. Below I have outlined a simplified version of our internal process by phase to better inform you of what we see as one of the biggest problems in what we would consider the typical breakdown of product development.

Free space

  • Research – A deep dive into not only the problem we are trying to solve for end-users but also pain points created internally from current products, market positioning, benchmarking (in and out of the market), and defining opportunities based on current issues, needs, and insights gathered.
  • Ideation – Brainstorming using key stakeholders listed above to develop new ideas and solutions to current issues and needs.

Concept development

  • Feasibility and Packaging– Integrating purchased components, existing sub-assemblies, and “slabbing-in” surfaces to understand spatial implications and standards for specific companies or industries. Here we flesh out concepts through high-level modeling and mock-ups we can leverage as we move into detailed design.
  • Supplier iterations – Gathering feedback from suppliers and key stakeholders to obtain information to help accurately develop the concept package and prepare for production development. This phase is typically viewed as part of the Production Development phase and is a constant source of redundant iterations and costly changes.

Production development

  • Detailing – Developing concept direction through detailed modeling including final surfacing, developing component thicknesses, attachment features, hardware, draft analysis, and material applications.
  • Analysis– FEA, weight budgets, swing studies, etc.
  • Rendering– Photorealistic product representation to solidify final color, material, and finishes.
  • Drawings and documentation – Assembly level drawings, BOMs, component drawings, assembly instructions, “build books,” purchased parts, etc. 

With a general understanding of our process, we can get into a key activity that causes the most issues across all industries when developing new products.

The Problem As We See It

The biggest issue facing clients when we are brought into projects is a lack of time and budget spent on the concept development. This phase is seen as a relatively quick phase that is pushed through to production engineering to move the project down the pipeline and meet the goal delivery date. This thought process tends to lead to one major issue facing our clients, changes in the production phase. Significant changes implemented this late in the development cycle cause three main issues for our clients:

  1. They wreak havoc on budgets and timelines – Changes in this phase tend to include many different disciplines and stakeholders that need input on how to address the issues, which tends to be a nightmare for management and is a bottleneck for keeping programs on track.
  2. They tend to snowball – Simple things like a lack of spatial considerations for a purchased component, fasteners, or a part thickness can quickly snowball outside of one assembly and into another. In production phases, we typically see “frozen” parts or assemblies that are pushed into tooling or manufacturing too soon. This leaves a development team between a rock and a hard place.
  3. The number of players – Conceptual teams are typically small and agile. They can work around issues and have more freedom in the phases leading up to production development than they do once manufacturing partners and suppliers get into the mix. The amount of communication needed to make these changes in production is time-consuming. It also leads to inefficiencies and burns out team members.


Typical Timeline


Ideal timeline


How Does This Apply To The Real World?

To see this in action, look at a real-world example of a common occurrence. Recently, we worked with an automotive supplier to help develop some production seating assemblies for a high-end electric vehicle. Our team was brought in as an extension of the supplier’s team to help hit tight deadlines needed to hit production dates. Our scope was to work from the OEM’s A-surface to build a speaker assembly that would mount to the side of a seat with a large motion profile.

We quickly fell into discussions with the OEM about A-surface changes that were needed to feasibly construct the parts after offsetting A-surface for leather thickness, foam, and substrate. These changes were not that significant, but due to the nature of automotive, they were sandwiched between seat frames and frozen internal body panels. These discussions quickly grew to make tolerance concessions with manufacturers and concessions on aesthetics with the OEM’s studio. It also took the involvement of multiple other suppliers providing purchased components. We understand that these things happen when working on vastly complicated interiors with many stakeholders, however, these things are much easier to solve before production development where design teams have way more freedom and far fewer stakeholders.


Concept Development

The Solution As We See It

We will never remove all these changes because product development is an iterative process. However, we help position our clients for success by doing our due diligence in the early phases. This involves getting feedback from suppliers, manufacturing partners, and other key stakeholders to head off these issues. In this example, this would have meant positioning ourselves in one of two potential areas to better affect project flow.

The first and preferred is with the OEM. Positioning ourselves with the OEM to run packaging and feasibility studies on their interior A-surface before production development would have quickly located areas in the A-surface that would result in non-feasible or expensive tooling conditions. This position would be preferred as direct communication with the OEM studio would result in the quickest turn on any identifiable issues and keep the key stakeholders to a minimum. Positioning ourselves in this way is how we ended up working through the example above. The lack of a direct line to the OEM’s studio was not an effective way to find solutions. Furthermore, this approach would have left the OEM with a more defined package to bring to suppliers to get more accurate quotes and lead times.

The second potential area is with the Tier 1 supplier, only earlier in the process. This area is close to the position we were in, but late entry meant that many of the issues we turned up through the production engineering process either required concessions from multiple parties to find a solution or resulted in going back through the chain of communication to see if there was anything we could do with interfacing features to help solve our issues. The key is to identify these issues early in the process, giving us more time to make changes. It also takes fewer players to approve solutions and more accurate packages for quotes and lead times.

Our team’s unique skillset and deep knowledge of the entire product development process give us an edge when working through the concept development phase. Effective concept development requires an understanding of all manufacturing processes involved in the production of the product. It would be difficult for a team of industrial designers to effectively work through a concept and highlight areas that will likely need to be modified as the project progresses. This is part of the reason we tend to get as many disciplines as possible involved early in the design process in hopes of heading off future issues and reducing late-term changes to the product.


Concept Development

Wrap up

We know we will never have the perfect process for all clients, all industries, and all projects. This key area is just one spot we have seen significant bottlenecks and headaches in our 35-year history. We understand our client’s desire to push a product into production as quickly as possible and hit key dates and goals set by upper management, and our solution helps to alleviate just that. You tend to hear around our studio, “haste makes waste.” This phrase encapsulates a lot of what we just discussed above, and from our experience, it rarely fails. The simple solution to save time and money is to expand the concept development phase and reduce product development costs.




Advanced Themed Attraction Industry Developments

Advanced Themed Attraction Industry Developments

Over the past several decades, the team at Fredricks Design has worked with demanding design and engineering teams in diverse industries. While industry standards vary depending on the project, product, and intended use, the team has developed the capability to come up to speed and adapt to new projects quickly. Whether it be working with unique project teams or different cultures, we never fail to deliver excellent work under tight timelines and budgets. As our capabilities grew, Fredricks Design identified a fit in the themed attraction industry – specifically in rides, animated props, and special effects. Our deep experience in vehicle development, cockpits, interior systems, and seating for cars, trucks, and heavy equipment fit this industry’s needs well.

Entry Into The Themed Attraction Industry

Low volume production of custom build projects is a key requirement of success on entertainment projects. Rides and props are produced in quantities of less than ten units. The projects perform for decades under rigorous conditions. The team at Fredricks Design wanted to learn more about this industry, so we set about the hard work of presenting the firm and pursuing the first few projects.

Since that initial entrance into the entertainment industry, Fredricks Design has worked with prime vendors for entertainment brands. Our skills in design and studio engineering fit perfectly with concept development projects. Many Clients requested manufacturing capabilities for the outsourcing of turn-key “prime vendor” projects. After exploring several manufacturing suppliers, we had the good fortune to connect with Prefix Corporation based in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Like Fredricks, Prefix is a second-generation, family-run, and Michigan-based company. We began working on projects together, and by October 2018, we had framed and finalized a strategic partnership. This partnership allowed us to pursue and develop projects from concept development through fabrication, assembly testing, and installation of rides and animated props. Our partnership continues to thrive, and we are excited about the future for our Clients and diversified growth for our partnership and team.

Forward Thinking

We have learned many things over the past decade working in the Themed Attraction Industry. Our team has worked on multi-axis motion rides, animated props, advanced concepts, and full-scale mockups. Our portfolio of projects includes work with the largest and best-known entertainment brands in the world. We have also worked with innovative startups on projects from research, sketch, and concept development through production engineering deliverables. It’s been a wild ride and a wonderful adventure with fantastic friends! A big thanks to our Clients, partners, suppliers, and design and engineering team!

These are a few reasons we are driven to continue working in this unique and demanding industry:

  1. We grew up watching cartoons and animated movies. We feel humbled and thankful to help bring stories to life from sketch through the installation of the guest experience. 
  2. Families and friends build lasting memories in the theme parks we help create. 
  3. We work with some of the world’s most demanding creative and technical teams.
  4. We are challenged with performance and technical requirements to ensure the safety of park guests and protect the long-term investment of every project.  
  5. Our engineering team adheres to rigorous technical and performance standards to ensure the function and long-term durability of the systems.
  6. We are challenged with tight budgets and timelines. 
  7. Working as an extension of the Client’s creative and technical team, they task us with delivering complex rides and props. These will run for 18-hour days over years and decades with scheduled preventive maintenance.

Themed Attraction Industry

Attendance At IAAPA

We are now preparing for the annual Themed Attraction industry event in Orlando. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions is an opportunity to connect with friends, make new contacts, attend educational events, and tour the show floor to experience emerging technologies for future application.

Emerging and evolving themes for the industry will include the blend of VR and physical experiences. It will also host motion control technologies, character-based attractions, scaled rides for small footprints, and the application of advanced materials and assembly methodologies. Stay tuned for a recap of our insights from IAAPA in a future post.

Before attending the show, I will play in the golf event on Sunday, November 13, 2022. This special event will benefit the Give Kids The World Organization. Hosted right before IAAPA, the event speaks to the spirit of community and giving that thrives throughout the industry. It is an opportunity to relax, play golf, and reflect on why we love this industry!

Please reach out if you would like to connect at the show or set up a review of findings and insights. We are ready to help with your future projects, big, small, or medium in scale. Thanks for our past and future projects!


Detroit Auto Show Insights 2022

Detroit Auto Show Insights 2022

Returning for the first time in three years, the Detroit Auto Show was held this past month in downtown Detroit. Also known as the North American International Auto Show, this longstanding event had not been hosted for the last few years due to shifting trends in the mobility space along with the pandemic. While this event used to be a showcase for OEM car companies and their Tier One suppliers as well as a time to reconnect with industry friends and stay up to date on emerging trends, it seems that even after a three-year hiatus, things have not quite returned to normal.

Much has been written about the demise of the Detroit Auto Show. The downward spiral for this annual event started long before the pandemic. This event used to be held each year in early January. As many are well aware, winter in Detroit is not an ideal environment with sub-zero temperatures and winds. In addition, the show fast followed the holidays every year. Although the venue at Cobo Hall was wonderful, the timing for the event always seemed difficult.

Things had to change, and the pandemic accelerated a shift in the automotive industry. Everything was turned upside down and inside out as we all navigated through our new landscape of uncertainty and reduced budgets. The team at Fredrick’s Design worked from home from March through June 2020.  Like our clients, we were trying to find our way through a new landscape. We were running a lean organization going into the pandemic.

In many ways, our experience as a design and engineering firm is analogous to the industry as a whole. The auto show is trying to build a new foundation in the epicenter of the automotive world. There is a deep and rich legacy to draw from while the City of Detroit is transformed over the next several years. Given this legacy and the recent environment, everyone was expecting so much more from the show this year. Unfortunately, the event did not meet those expectations.

The number of companies with exhibits was disappointing. Many of the leading foreign brands either did not show up or, worse yet, put forward a half-hearted effort to provide a few cars in bare-bones exhibits. The domestic brands expanded their footprint to vast spaces. This was an obvious attempt to fill the exhibit hall at discounted rates. There were even exhibits from a retail car company and a small exhibit for a furniture retailer. 

While many of the displays were a disappointment, it was refreshing to see an EVTOL company with a full-scale urban transport aircraft on display. This, at least, provided a glimpse of the future plans for the show. Urban mobility has been a prevailing theme at CES over the past several years.

Detroit Auto Show

The number of concept cars was dramatically reduced from previous years. There are so many more cost-effective ways for concept reveals. It was disappointing that the OEM brands held back to play it conservatively in Detroit this year. The industry is starving for signals that things will return to some level of healthy activity.

To close, the transportation or automotive industry is now being referred to as “new mobility”. Leading brands are in the midst of reorganizing to find a footing in a sea of turbulent change. Total unit sales are down and there is no end in sight for the big problems for large companies. In a world of change, agility and decisiveness are key elements to the execution of innovation. In many ways, this landscape is a template from the shift in the furniture industry that began years ago.