do you think Industrial design has a future ?

some people swear at it
some people love it

so do you think ID has a future ?

From what perspective?

And why would I sit here and question my profession like that?

My short answer is absolutely.

My long answer is that this is one of the more frustrating questions I have heard many times before. The topic of “Are Designers Their Worst Enemy” has come up recently. And for reasons different than Nussbaum alluded to (Bloomberg - Are you a robot? I argue it is questions like these that makes Designers their own Enemy.

Cheerygirl, I don’t intend for this to be a personal attack. This is something that has frustrated me about Design(ers) for quite some time. It is one of the most naval gazing groups on the planet. And not necessarily in a positive introspective way. More of a self loathing way.

The questions I hear Designers ask most feel like there is an inherent insecurity that is handed out with each degree. An insecurity that forces us as a group to do what we do best for others (think and problem solve) but second guess and overthink when it comes to promoting ourselves and our profession.

As Designers, we know context is King. Without context Design is subjective and far too open for debate.

Cheerygirl, can you add context? Why do you ask this? Can you reword the question?

As long as things are produced, they will need to be designed, so YES.

Not sure if you are referring to this but: there have been some utopian scenarios proposing such advancements in 3d printers where someone could 3d model their own product and then print it… right now anyone can learn some simple html and design their own website, but how many do it. Of people that do have their own website, how many use an existing template that was designed for them? How many people use things like Nike ID? The development I live in allows you to work with the builder to seriously customize your house. There are about 300 houses in the development, and there where about 20 models to choose from, most houses are almost exact duplicates of the models down to the interior wall colors…

… most people want it done for them, which is cool, I respect that, and it keeps us employed. I’m sure my accountant can’t understand why I wouldn’t want to do my own taxes.

I think that this is a very important and interesting question. You do not need designers to create content.

We are now experiencing content explosion, blogs are a good example. When the technological barriers are lowered everybody jumps in and gives NY Times some competition. Same will happen to design. Much of the of me-too design that is now happening can easily be done better by consumers themselves. Companies are now dedicated to make this happen as they wish to open up new business opportunities. Mass customization is just one direction.

There is a workshop on DIY design.


In my world of industrial products, so many companies of all sizes are aware of the value of professionally designed equipment. Partly it’s due to globalization: the small industrial producer can easily compete globally with the multi-billion $ trans-national. A lot of the small and medium industrial producers are newer companies and aren’t stuck in the cement of tradition. And often they are run by young guys who appreciate design as much as us who practice it.

You do not need designers to create content.

This is what I mean. OF COURSE anyone can create content. Just like anyone can be an Engineer, or a Lawyer, or author, or build a house, or whatever.

As Designers, why do we even debate this? A degree and/or experience is what it takes to do anything WELL on this planet. I can perform surgery tomorrow because of all the friggin’ Health Channel shows I have watched…but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be the patient.

Strip away titles. Creation, Innovation, Design are all part of human DNA.

To counter your thoughts a bit, SK, there are millions of blogs, but like most things, there are few good blogs. So, yes, content is exploding, but filtering through the crap is a chore.

For Christmas this year, I would love for Design as a profession to stop looking over our shoulders worrying about the fact that everyone is a (mediocre) designer and focus on the future and work to make it a better place.

To predict the future, I’d be interested in seeing current and past trends:

  • Growth of ID against GDP and population
  • Growth of Designed vs. Non-designed products at big-box retailers
  • ID school growth (ie. meeting demand, seeding future generations)

I would love for Design as a profession to stop looking over our shoulders worrying about the fact that everyone is a (mediocre) designer and focus on the future and work to make it a better place.

Nicely put, ip_wirelessly.

Graphic Design already had this challenge in the 90’s, where suddenly everyone who owned a PC or Mac could do their own signs and ads. Suddenly we became surrounded by stretchy typefaces and layouts that are simply ‘wrong’. Prior to this there were very strict rules about layout and typeface and font treatment, which Word clip arts and effects didn’t necessarily stick to…

In the meantime, the quality of the DIY graphics hasn’t got better, we (the public) have just become desensitized to bad layout.

The same may happen to our profession. Anyone who can run Google’s 3D program is suddenly a designer, and we’ll get to see a lot of crap passing off as products. The public unfortunately will eventually become visually desensitized and thus accept a higher amount of ‘bad design’.

HOWEVER, they will still be able to differentiate between the crap and high quality design when they see it -just as in the graphics world.

Bottom line -we’ve got to be cognizant of how to keep our profession on the high road, and not let the coming onslaught of ‘anything goes’ product styling lure us into a false sense of security.

Once upon a time, not very long ago - only a few people could read and write. Those who could very very clever and learned. That has changed.

Why should not this happen for design ?

while it is true that many people in the industrialized world know how to read and right, very few of them write novels…

In this context, shouldn’t it be “write” instead of “right”?

Ha Ha… see what I mean?

IMHO, down the drain…

I constantly look at how architecture has protected itself with the license requirement and engineering has the P.E. Look at all the permits you need just to build/renovate a house or just register your car. How about the home inspectors, exterminators, surveyors, etc. Look at all the signatures you need to have by “licensed professionals” on a daily basis…

ID needs to find a way to protect itself. If the profession wasn’t so young, there would probably already be some sort of hoops to be jumped through in order to work in the field as well as fees to be paid in order to get and Industrial Designer to sign off on basic parameters of “responsible design concerns”…

Talent does not equal brains. There are lots of great artists and CAD jockeys out there but knowing the values of ethics such as accounting for mudularity, sustainabilty, obselesscence, etc…

Considering how tight the design community is through websites like this, you would think that something would have occured by now to help us for the future…

-And if you think that all you need are engineers to cover those bases, then ID should be offered only as a Master’s degree for related undergrad degree subjects only. Is this not the practice with becoming a patent lawyer??

hi ip_wirelessly

thanks for sharing your perspective.
Well I was asking this in a thoughtful manner after seeing some people loathing about the profession
while some are praising and promoting it.

I read Nussbaum’s article and I must say I see that differently. I view that as a precaution to the profession.
If we keep reading the same problems repeatedly, then we have an inherent problem. If we want the ID profession
to shine, we must bear an open mind to see problems and change them.

For me, I think the profession will die if we do not face the problems and daring to change them. I see design as
a promising career if it sincerely provides for humanity. But if people have that unwanted ego or attacking the person just because they do not like to read the points; then we will be our own enemies.

I have read some dedicated designers and even professors that they do not see the ID profession as being promising or even
have a future. I observe what kind of people are asking these questions. They have added their context to why they think this way.
Most of them are disillusioned after putting so much energy enthusiastically promoting design in every way they can. Only to find that the profession fails to reach their profession ideal.

The issue is more complicated. Forget the profession and ID and all that. Look at the world of products; they are in intense competition against each other. This is the driver of design fueled by companies’ desire for survival and profits. This competition is intensifying and will continue to do so. In this intensity, those with limited skills will be badly affected.

ID will evolve into a more knowledge intensive responsible profession as global and environment issues push companies to move beyond lip service to address environmental and other issues. ID at a Masters Level only is great idea. It will certainly help.

Many parts of the world are now effetivley turning out Me Too designers who are beginning to make copies that are better than the original. But their ability to create anything original remains abysmal for now. This is where designers in the US and Europe have an edge, as they work within corperations that have strcutres to support hihger levels of innotavation.

But they wull have to rely on higher quality of innovation and skill. Perhaps this will make ID into a more serious profession, as companies increasingly depend on such ability to survive in an increasingly competitive market.

I have read some dedicated designers and even professors that they do not see the ID profession as being promising or even
have a future.

Oh, I know! The sky is definitely falling. Run for the hills. Pack your bags, and don’t forget to turn the lights out when you go. Yes, the sarcasm is intentional.

You are just emphasizing my point. It is this whining that our profession doesn’t “get its due” that irritates me and surely irritates anyone that might be opposite/above Design on the corporate food chain. I mean, really. Do you like listening to the guy in the cube next to you bitch and moan that he didn’t special recognition for doing his job? Especially when his job is no more important than any other person sitting in the cube farm around you?

I didn’t like the corporate life I was part of because of the politics and fact that the company I worked for didn’t recognize design as anything more than window dressing. They believed someone without a degree was able to drive the design process. They were wrong. It was proven after it was too late. Now I am trying to guide my own destiny.

Is ID going to die? Hell no, I say (very emphatically). I won’t let it. At least I won’t let it in my little world. Because in my little world ID is not just putting lipstick on a pig. I, and my partners, believe Design is a Hydra that has many heads. But if one head dies, they all do. If you compartmentalize, or separate out ID Design from Mechanical Design (for instance) you are weakening the process.

Most of them are disillusioned after putting so much energy enthusiastically promoting design in every way they can. Only to find that the profession fails to reach their profession ideal.

Then I say those that are disillusioned and don’t adapt will die (in a Design Career sense), not ID. Darwinism at its best.

The world is changing. Shrinking. Design schools are opening up and pumping out Designers by the boat load. As SK alludes to, there is a lot of crap being pumped out along with the good. Cream rises. Good triumphs over evil. Pick your analogy.

I would be very interested in seeing/hearing what the professors/professionals you hint at have to say. What “ideals” are they aspiring to? My guess is that it is along the lines of not getting the ego-feeding rockstar treatment they dreamed that last design award was supposed to get them. They’re bitter because Karim, or Behar, or Dyson got the spot light…again…and not them.

Here’s the rub, cheerygirl. I totally get where you and the others are coming from. Its easy to get jaded and bitter and pissed off in the Left Brained Corporate World. But I have reached the point in my career that I am tired of bitching about it. I am tired of listening to people bitch about it because its the same tune that was being sung 15 years ago when I got in the industry. Bitching does nothing, doing does everything. If what you’re doing isn’t good enough for your ideals. You need to do better. Or do different. Or do something else. That’s where I am at. Tired of watching, and bitching, and trying to do.

I think this recent post on the Core blog sums up my feelings on whether “Industrial Design has a future”:

"A packed RISD auditorium enjoyed one of the best-programmed [IDSA] conferences ever, with concentrations on Sustainability, Interaction and Experience, Research, and Creativity–exactly the issues most urgent in the > growing and maturing field of what is still, stubbornly, being called industrial design."

…But I’d still like to look at growth data (ie. the facts.)

I have lamented about the Industrial Design moniker before on my blog. I am not sure what is a better title though.

Product Designer?


but hey, even industrial design as a concept might be losing some glamour and glitter and being passed by many more fashionable trends, finding a Mother-word to replace is harder. The design heaven broadening and taking new directions, we should be able to use a phrase for the whole field. Therefore “industrial designer” could maintain it´s position, instead of cellular-phone-usability-experience-reality-identity-in-ubiquitous- environments-design specialist :wink:

It’s not a question of name anymore.
It’s a question of scope and purpose.

Industrial Design is a product of the Industrial Revolution. That revolution is over. Companies used to design products. Today they design integrated services and experiences that may involve software, products, environments, etc.

Welcome to the Experience Economy.
Experience Designers rejoice!