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Legal Aid: Avoiding Designer Ego

Don't let creativity lead to liability
By Peter Lamont
August 23, 2010

Most designers thrive on the idea of thinking outside the box. Creativity is truly the backbone of the kitchen and bath industry. Most designers enjoy challenging themselves and their colleagues with new and innovative designs. In fact, if you turn on the television, you are bound to find numerous channels dedicated to design creativity. Many programs actually pit one designer against another in design competition. The winner is usually the designer who thought outside the box. So, generally speaking, our society encourages the creative and experimental design process.

BEING PROGRESSIVE

New technologies and techniques are allowing designers to be more progressive and creative in their designs. Perhaps this is part of the reason why even new designers possess an unbelievable skill set. In fact, many designers pride themselves on being able to design “anything.” Often times, a customer will have a particular design in their mind and expect that the designer can accomplish it. Customers love to hear that a designer is able to design anything that their hearts desire. Customers generally have no technical experience with cabinet design and do not know what a particular products limitation may be.

For example, many customers go into a cabinet showroom and request a design that is radically different from the displays contained in that showroom. Sometimes they may request a design that was not intended by the cabinet manufacturer. A skilled designer is frequently tempted to meet the challenge of the customer and think outside the box. While creative thinking is to be encouraged, designers must be careful to avoid designer ego.

DEFINING EGO

What is designer ego? Designer ego is when a designer believes that he or she can create anything even when the cabinets they sell have specific limitations. Designer ego blinds designers from thinking clearly and usually results in the creation of liability.

Case in point. Recently a customer asked a designer of European cabinets to create a design that incorporated the suspension of cabinets from an area of her ceiling separating her kitchen and dining room. The designer saw the request as a challenge and something that he could accomplish. After many hours of hard work the designer came up with a plan. The customer approved and the cabinets were ordered. Shortly after the installation of the cabinets, the suspended cabinet fell to the ground. Thankfully, no one was injured but the cabinet caused damage to the floor and was itself destroyed. The customer sued the designer.

Another example involves a customer who requested that a high end cappuccino maker be made part of the cabinet design. In essence, the customer wanted the cappuccino maker to be fastened to the exterior of the kitchen island. The designer who was skilled and experienced took the bull by the horns and created a very progressive design. The customer was thrilled. In fact, he stated that he had never seen anything like it. Two weeks later he sued the designer because the cappuccino maker shifted causing hot liquid to spill on the cabinet and bamboo floor and caused significant damage.

These unfortunate designs, while conceptually possible, were not physically possible based upon the limitations of the products that the designers were working with and are excellent examples of the pitfalls of designer ego.

SAYING NO

As a designer, it is not easy to tell a customer that design is not possible. Instinctively, the designer’s mind races to find a way that he can do it. However, while creativity is inspiring must be kept under control. Designers must know the limitations of their products and must be willing to tell a customer “no.” Remember, just because you can do it does not mean that it is a good idea. In order to prevent liability and litigation, designers must learn to silence their designer ego.


—Peter J. Lamont, Esq., is a commercial litigation attorney practicing at McCarthy & Jennerich in Rutherford, NJ. He specializes in the representation of small- to large-size companies in the building and design industry. To contact him with questions and suggestions on topics for future articles, please email him at plamont@mcjennlaw.com.

Want more legal aid? Read the last Legal Aid column on choosing a lawyer.
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