Style Numbers revisited
If you have my book, you already know I’m rather humorless when it comes to designers who name, rather than number their styles. In this post, I’ll reiterate the most important reasons and bring up some additional ones. Thanks to Claudia who brought the need to my attention.
Okay, first of all, if you’re a small company with limited styles, you don’t number them for your convenience but for ours. By “ours” I mean retailers, contractors, fabric reps, pattern makers and the like. While you do own the company and have the right to do as you wish, so do we and using names marks you -publicly- as being less than professional. I mean, there is just no better way to advertise your newness at a glance. Just because it doesn’t seem like it’s not a big deal to you, doesn’t mean that it’s not. It’s something that any of us notice -immediately- it’s the first thing I look for. As I said before, naming styles rather than numbering them is a way that you’ve drawn attention to the fact that you’re a newbie and consequently, either a target or someone who is too green to understand the value of our services and products. So why would we go through the hassle of working with you?
I reiterate what Miracle said in her line sheets post:
Names are cute, but style numbers are easier to remember. Try to have consistency with your style numbers as well. Some people mix style letters and numbers– WPE122, and some people use all numbers 8233 (which, in my opinion is easier to remember) and some people use all letters FPJSAX (which, is easy to remember only when it makes sense, this example is a real style number and FPJ stands for Flannel Pajama and SAX is for the saxophone print). I have seen companies use style codes like DNAYTOPDA and I think that just makes people feel dyslexic and they can’t remember how to write them down. Literate people instinctively try to make words out of collections of letters and when they don’t resemble anything meaningful, it becomes frustrating. Kathleen has a whole section in her book about why style numbers are easier for everyone to deal with, including your pattern maker, sample maker and contractor
Mixing letters and numbers
“I have your book, and although you’ve pointed out that we shouldn’t mix letters and numbers when creating style numbers, you haven’t explained why. Is it just for simplicity’s sake?”
I wouldn’t ever recommend mixing letters and numbers unless you’ve been in the business for a long time and know what you’re doing. The only people allowed to use letters are people who produce commodity items like tees etc. They can use shorthand like LS, SS (long sleeve, short sleeve) etc but those exceptions are rare.
Other than the fact that people will instinctively attempt to make words from groupings of letters, your style numbers must be visually friendly to people who are learning disabled, illiterate and non-English speaking. Arabic numerals are internationally universal and you only need to know 10 graphic representations. Never assume factory workers speak English! With letters, you have unnecessarily raised the bar, not all stitchers speak English or use a language with our character set. If someone is illiterate, an “S” and a “Z” can look the same. Similarly, learning disabilities are common among factory workers and “S” and a “Z” can look the same to someone with a visual processing disorder. Never forget that the very people who are spatially and kinetically talented have these kinds of learning problems and it has nothing to do with intelligence. If you think they’re stupid because of it then be sure to add me to the list too. Then, let’s not forget the handwriting differences between people; there’s a lot more ambiguity with letters than there are with numbers, especially if something is printed in block letters vs cursive. It’s much easier to discern a number scrawl than letter scrawl. With the former, the process of elimination is 10. With letters, it’s 26!
Most DEs will use style numbers like this: sb203, ss212 etc, the “sb” representing “sleeveless blouse” and “ss” representing “short skirt”. If you must use a letter, it should always mean the same thing. The “s” in these examples means either sleeveless or short depending on the context (which is only known to you by the way). Basically, these examples are using shorthand descriptives for words. It’s better to use a number like 4 to represent blouses (4203) and another number, say 6 to represent skirts (6212). Believe me, the rest of us will learn very very quickly that “4″ means we’re looking for a blouse pattern and “6″ means we’re looking for a pants pattern. We’ll organize your patterns by category. If you’re using “s”, it’s takes longer to find your patterns because we’ll have to look at every single pattern! Using an “s” provides no rhyme or reason and we can’t sort things quickly at a glance. So maybe you think it’s not important because you only have a few styles but then, you’re not our only customer.
Some designers will add letters at the end of the number and this is problematic for the same reasons. 420S and 420C may make sense to you but it’s confusing to us and it only makes sense if you speak and write English. If you’re making the same blouse but in two different fabrics and need to distinguish cotton from silk, use another number. If it is exactly the same pattern, instead of using the previous examples, use the numbers 4201 and 4202. You’d write both style numbers on each pattern piece. As far as costing goes, you’re covered because different costs are assigned to each style, no? It’s much easier to account for the separate styles this way than your way. Similarly, do consider that you may have differing buttons and trims. If you’ve labeled them 420S/420C, people may not realize these are separate styles and may mix up the inputs. The latter numbering scheme leaves the impression that these styles are mix and match and they’re not. Remember, style numbers do not track what something looks like. Style numbers track what something is.
I think the worst numbering schemes were from DEs who used part of their company name as a part of their style numbers, ex 123DAQU456. Don’t do that. It lends the impression in other people’s minds that you’re not smart enough to remember your own name. This example also illustrates why letters shouldn’t be in the middle of the numbering sequence because from a visual standpoint, they get buried.
Again I reiterate, don’t start style numbers with a zero. I’m amazed at the number of people who’ve read my book (by the way, all of the examples in this post are from book readers) and they still do that. I realize that some spreadsheet software programs will assign numbers beginning with zeros but don’t rely on an accounting program to do that for you. A style numbering system is something you design to reflect the needs of your product mix. Use numbers to represent meanings you assign.