A Day in the Life of Mark Bickerstaffe, Director of New Product Development, Kitchen & Bath Europe & Asia Pacific at Kohler Co.
How long have you been at Kohler and what attracted you to the brand?
I’ve been at Kohler for 14 years. I was attracted by the creative opportunity and the chance to work with so many different materials.
Kohler gives me opportunity to really explore and create globally with a vast range of materials and a talented team of people. I get huge satisfaction from discovering products that have a global reach.
What elements does a typical day hold for you?
I manage a big, talented team of people across the world. If I’m in the UK I typically spend the first few hours of the day on calls to other regions where the time zones are ahead, such as India or China. We discuss live projects that we are trying to progress, foresight and trend research projects or presentations for customers.
Once calls are complete I’m typically in our London or Cheltenham studio, working with the teams to moving projects forward. Once we get to the end of our day the US comes online and I’m frequently back on project calls for teams based in the US.
We have studios in China, India, Paris, the UK and America where I travel to work with the team on projects, communications and marketing. I also get out in the field to get closer to progress, which is a great part of the job.
Where do you spend most of your time?
On a plane! Travelling is a big part of my role and typically spend 50% of my time in the UK and the other 50% abroad.
How do you ensure that you design products that suit the trends and needs of different countries?
We took a very deliberate step about 12 years ago to look at how we are best structured to grow globally.
Our brand stands for gracious living, rather than a style defined by one country, and we realised that in order to lead everywhere around the world we needed to be immersed in every market.
We have design studios in the major regions so that we understand the customer and cultural trends.
Our work is very insight based and this helps us to determine similarities between regions and create an intelligent view of what’s global and what’s local.
How does the advancement in technology affect design? How do you keep on top of the developments in technology to ensure you're offering the end user the most cutting-edge systems?
We have an advanced development programme which focuses on the leading edge of science, technology, research, sustainability, manufacturing processes and design practice.
Our job is to match this programme with our insight into how people use bathrooms and kitchens. We decide what we invest in to develop products and interior solutions in line with what the future holds.
What impact is sustainability having on design ideas?
Kohler has an absolute commitment to sustainability, not just corporate social responsibility but in our history, culture and values.
We’ve always prioritised respect for the environment and how we minimise our impact.
Our commitment is to be carbon zero by 2035 and we are very much on track for that.
As we think about how that translates into design, it means that we are changing our culture and process to view the life cycle of a product and follow what we call the ‘design for environment principles.’
Is it difficult to manage the life cycle of a product from the original idea to product launch? Is it hard to ensure the product remains exactly as you envisioned from initial drawings right through to completion?
Yes, it’s a tough challenge for any business. When the design teams you work with grow in line with a company they become more diverse, both geographically and culturally. Our challenge is to follow through a design idea while keeping the purity, essence and the idea in absolute alignment.
Our internal creative director has the ultimate say in the way the product develops and evolves, from manufacturing through to launch including how we name the product and how we tell the story of the product.