Project teams continue to face mounting pressures to deliver creative design solutions that appeal to clients, patients, and staff, all while meeting the stringent demands of healthcare environments. Looking to ease that process—and make it faster and more enjoyable—contract textile vendor CF Stinson (Rochester Hills, Mich.) partnered with Sample Technologies, a software development company (Ann Arbor, Mich.), to create a visual design platform for specifying.

The software program—DesignMix with ColorAI—features a drag-and-drop interface that allows user to create design boards with its fabrics, preview how materials look applied to specific furnishings or in proper scale, and share presentations with clients. Those efforts were rewarded with the product receiving the Best of Competition in the 2019 Nightingale Awards.

Healthcare Design spoke with Tim Mallos, product manager at CF Stinson, and David Bickford, chief technology officer and software architect at Sample Technologies, on the inspiration for the technology and how it refines collaboration  and the design process.

Healthcare Design: Where did the inspiration for DesignMix with ColorAI come from?

David Bickford: Several years ago, owners Keith and Glenn Stinson asked Sample Technologies LLC to provide users with a means to see fabric coordinates on its website (cfstinson.com). This feature was a great addition to the website, and things may have ended there had it not been for some behind-the-scenes fun. Using the coordinate data, we simulated a slot machine for the internal CF Stinson network. Users could “pull” the machine’s lever to display a random fabric with two of its coordinates. The machine was a hit with CF Stinson’s design team, and it sparked the notion that we should build interactive design tools. That winter I spent a few days building a proof-of-concept, drag-and-drop design board for CF Stinson coordinates. Inspired by a gimmick, it is that tech that lead to DesignMix with ColorAI.

What pain points in the specifying process were you trying to address, and what features address them?

Tim Mallos: We didn’t just want to solve a problem; we wanted to bring the joy back to the specifying process. In DesignMix, you can rapidly visualize the scale and color of fabric without having to order and wait for physical samples. This huge time-saver is an immediate jump-start to any project. With time restraints eliminated, users are free to explore the extensive coordinated material results ColorAI pulls from their uploaded inspiration images and other materials on their boards. Designers feel comfortable trying materials they might have overlooked because they can explore design ideas in minutes and share them virtually.

What stands out to you most about this product?

Mallos: I’m always struck by the genuine emotional responses from designers when they’re introduced to DesignMix. About a minute into a demonstration, you can see the moment they “get it,” and then the presentation turns into a conversation. Designers share their past frustrations and tell me how DesignMix is going to help them. I’ve actually had designers apologize for tearing up! This is the most gratifying project I’ve ever helped to develop.

Bickford: It’s important to enjoy your work; we clearly do, and we want that for our users. DesignMix with ColorAI frees designers from the burdensome workflow of standard tools and allows them to rapidly find and coordinate fabrics using colors of their choosing. It’s so easy and natural to use that there’s practically no learning curve.

How exactly does the software help users in materials selection?

Mallos: It ensures designers are able to make confident and informed decisions before they get the physical materials in hand by easily creating fully realized digital design boards. The powerful filters in DesignMix, such as fabric style, durability, and environmental attributes, further refine browse results, strengthen the user’s ability to explore materials that meet their specific needs, and give them the full specification data without leaving the program. DesignMix’s control of material scale lets designers accurately apply and visualize materials rendered on furniture and other products, giving them an immediate understanding of how materials will work together by exploring multiple options and new ideas.

How does DesignMix take into account the important topic of cleanability, and why was that such a priority?

Mallos: Fabrics specified for healthcare environments have to look great and perform even better. Our customers tell us filtering by cleaning compatibility is another great way to explore materials. Utilizing the cleaner compatibility filter in DesignMix, designers can make selections that meet the specific cleaning compatibility requirements of their project. Additionally, we provide a care guide for every pattern that provides the specific cleaner compatibility for that material. Properly matching cleaning protocols with specified materials will help ensure exceptional performance and product longevity.

DesignMix can be used for idea-sharing, too. Tell us about its collaborative elements.

Mallos: DesignMix has been a useful means of collaboration for designers and clients. Whether they’re sending a PDF of their work or sitting together looking at options on DesignMix, we continue to see an incredible growth in collaboration. One of my favorite stories came from a CF Stinson representative who received an email from a designer saying that a client needed samples overnighted, but it was too late in the day to do that. Instead, the rep put together a board on DesignMix and sent it to her as a substitute, which she used in her presentation. I love hearing all the different ways DesignMix helps designers and clients.

As part of the software, users can apply fabric combinations to furniture. How does this work?

Mallos: CF Stinson is a contract textile vendor with a diverse set of customers whose needs and applications are equally diverse. We’ve chosen to provide a wide selection of models from several contract furniture suppliers. Given the easy drag-and-drop capabilities of DesignMix,  these models help our customers to rapidly and accurately visualize fabric combinations at correct scale. Our model choices are constantly being updated, and we’re always looking to add new offerings to meet clients’ needs.

What do you see next for DesignMix?

Bickford: In 2020, we will be enhancing its 3-D rendering functionality and adding better, deeper support for product-related configuration and specification. Our collaboration capabilities and export features will also be updated. ColorAI itself will have its scope broadened to further enable designers to explore material catalogs faster and more thoroughly than ever before.

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at anne.dinardo@emeraldexpo.com.