"Most designers we have can run a lathe and a mill," said Hauser, 55. "You can't draw a sketch without knowing how the thing is built. If you don't understand that, you end up being a stylist, and that's useless."
Case in point: the eye surgeon's foot switch. Alcon Surgical, a unit of Swiss food giant Nestle SA, asked Hauser to redesign an old switch housed in a crude metal box that surgeons would awkwardly step on to activate hand tools used in cutting, flushing and other functions.
"It was just a box, it was awful," Hauser said.
Hauser Associates developed a sleek pedal switch that enables doctors to rest their foot on the pedal without fear of accelerating the switch's power when it's not needed. The firm developed every part of the switch except its electrical components, he said.
The contraption doesn't resemble your ordinary automobile pedal. This switch has a smooth, oversize pedal--remember, surgeons wear those bulky wraps around their shoes--that's bounded on the right and left by raised guards to prevent a doctor's foot from slipping off.
It's that engineering know-how that Hauser tries to market. "There's a lot of good offices, but there aren't many able to offer the whole shot," he said. But Hauser still runs into rivals such as IDEO, which likewise knows that such widespread knowledge "seems to be increasingly attractive to our clients," Nuttall said.
In the end, a product's looks still count even if its working parts are flawless, "but you don't decide any issue based only on appearance," Hauser said. "The market is looking to industrial designers not as artists any more, but as part of the team that is aware of marketing, engineering and all those specialty areas" involved in a product's success, he said.
Hauser Associates' long-term outlook, meanwhile, involves a plan for Hauser to eventually sell majority ownership of the firm to Ron Pierce, Hauser's vice president. "I would like, when I get done here, to have some equity" remaining in the firm, Hauser said.
But the firm's future also might include a merger with a firm that focuses on mechanical engineering or some other aspect of product development, so that Hauser Associates can keep offering a wide range of services, he said.
"I've been asked to merge with others in the past, but it was ID and ID," he said, referring to proposals to merge his industrial-design firm with another. "That didn't interest me. But there might be interest in merging with other specialties."