Why Setter Outs aren’t (and don’t want to be) Designers.


Did you every wonder what the difference is between a ‘Setter Out’ and a Designer? They both think of innovative solutions to problems, create drawings and take responsibility for the end product . So where does ‘Design’ end and ‘Setting out’ begin?

Sadly, there is often a lot of friction between Designers and Setter Out’s. A lot of this tension arises from disagreements about what the term ‘Design’ means.

Designers tend to put the greatest store into the ‘Concept’ of the piece – that is, the shape, the size, the colour,  the texture e.t.c and the relationship between the piece and the rest of the scheme.

Setter Outs tend to focus on the practical issues. How should we make it? How’s it going to stand up? How shall we fix it? How are we going to get it there? and of course, How can it be produced on time and on budget.

Both party’s refer to the solution to the problems they themselves are posing as the ‘Design’.

Why do both Designers and Setter Out’s draw the same item?

The Designer’s drawings are there to show the client what to expect, and provide a specification to make sure that all the Contractors are tendering for the same item. The Designer’s drawings can’t show manufacturing details, because they don’t know who is going to manufacture the item at the time they are pitching to the Client to win the design!

The Designers drawings often don’t show anywhere near enough detail to give their drawings to the workshop and get a predictable result out of the other end. It’s up to the Setter Outs to fill in the blanks, do the research and come up with practical suggestions that will deliver to the Client’s brief and the Designer’s concept, while sticking to the cost and program laid down by the Contractor’s project manager.

Doesn’t this lead to tension?

For me the best Designers are the one’s who understand that we want the piece to be a success as much as they do, and who trust us to get on and do what we do best. The friction comes in when you have to work with a Designer who doesn’t understand why we have to interfere with what they’ve already spent weeks working on.

So who gets the credit at the end? WE DO! If the client likes the finished piece the Designer will, if the client doesn’t like it, it’s the Contractor who get the blame.

But you know what? I’m OK with that. And I’m always happy to point out that If Designers new how to draw manufacturing drawings, us Setter Out’s would be out of a Job!

So why don’t Setter Out’s refer to themselves as ‘Designers’.

It could be professional pride, it’s probably a certain amount of stubbornness and it’s almost certainly to save face in front of their Mates.

Despite feeling that they have a lot of uncredited input into the Design, most Setter out’s prefer to keep their distance from the vagaries of the ‘Creative’ processionals. After all, what makes a Setter out a credit to their company is their trade background and their practicality. Not their taste.

What can go wrong How the Designer saw it


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