If a jam session is good for musicians, why not for designers, makers and manufacturers?

Pittsburgh’s first Design Jam on November 12 brought together professionals from the region and beyond to share ideas and come up with concepts for new products.

Design House, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that helps revitalize manufacturing through design, conducted the event which took at place at AlphaLab Gear in East Liberty.

“It’s based around this idea that, essentially, when somebody—designer, a maker, entrepreneur—has an idea, they then look to see where they can have that idea made,” Design House board member Paul Hatch explained during his pre-jam presentation on the state of manufacturing dubbed ‘Design Matters.’

“What we’re about, Design House, is reversing that process,” he said. “We actually start with the manufacturer and then come up with the idea. So there’s no shopping around. We’re designing for their talent, for their particular skills.”

Ace Wire Spring and Form Co. from McKees Rocks acted as the partner manufacturer for the event, supplying the components that served as the focus for participants to develop ideas for viable products.

“You just sketch it, see if it makes sense based on what you will have learned about Ace and what they are capable of, and then put the ideas together,” Susan Page Estes, Design House founding partner, said at the start of the jam. “And just have fun. Go with it, whatever flows.”

Kathryn Levy, industrial designer at 4Moms, working on ideas at the Design Jam.

The participants formed three working groups, one of which included Matt Beale, president of Shadyside industrial design firm Daedalus Inc. His group came up with a variety of ideas, including a compact pop-up tent employing Ace springs; lamps integrating springs in the design; and a fruit bowl that could be stored flat, then sprung into shape.

“It was fun material to work with. Ace had a lot of capability,” said Beale who enjoyed the idea of helping a local manufacturer while meeting and working with other people in his field.

“There is more opportunity here,” he said about the possibility of further Design Jams. “I think we can do this a number of more times.”

Design House will be able to participate more directly, as the organization is branching out to other U.S. cities, starting with an office in Pittsburgh.

“Tonight is actually our very first jam outside of Chicago, which is great,” Hatch said. “We’re establishing a chapter of Design House right here, so we can continue to do these jams.”

Board member Tim Fletcher, president of local company One BusinessDesign, was instrumental in paving the way for the Pittsburgh Design Jam, after hearing Hatch speak about the concept during an Industrial Designers Society of America district meeting.

“We’re going to take the seeds of the ideas and further develop them,” he said about the night’s results, “so that when manufacturers look at them, it’s something that can actually be done.”

The process will entail working with a manufacturer to build the project and eventually embarking on a Kickstarter campaign.

The Design Jam was hosted by AlphaLab Gear, an East Liberty economic development organization that works directly with companies that are involved with manufacturing, helping them with such aspects as intellectual property, financial projections, design and market research.

Also partnering to present the evening’s activities were the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Catalyst Connection, both of which also support southwestern Pennsylvania manufacturers.

“I’m very excited that Design House is here,” Catalyst Connection business development director Jim Marsilio said. “This is something that’s very important for the small manufacturers around product development.”

Harry Funk

Harry Funk has been a professional journalist in Western Pennsylvania for 30 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.