Has Design Won?

I don’t know how many here follow design spokesperson Bruce Nussbaum’s blog over on BusinessWeek, but sometimes he says things that I don’t get. Like some remarks in his recent entry that I just wrote about (link).

I read this forum and have many of the same experiences as what I see posted here, so I don’t believe I’m alone. Do you agree when he posts, “The great struggle for respect in society and in the corporate world is over. Design has won”? If it has, then why are there so many horror stories both here and from friends? And why am I not hearing about more designers becoming Senior VP’s? Is this a case of someone in academia seeing one world that’s different from those of us in the trenches? I’m curious to hear what serious designers think.

I hear what you’re saying, Deez, but part of the issue I’m raising with those bullets is that “design” is essentially a meaningless word anymore because it’s used in so many different contexts. When the comment he makes is raised in reference to the National Design Awards (a relatively narrow design spectrum) but discussed on BusinessWeek’s website (intended for business people who think of design over a large spectrum of meaning), it’s hard for me not to interpret his comment about winning to mean that design has won in the broadest sense. That design across the board - including ID, graphics, experiential, aso - are now understood by companies to be integral and indispensable to their success in the same way that sales and marketing are indispensable. I don’t see that.

In the knucklehead’s defense, his little blog is mostly about the awards, even having such a SHOCKING headline as “The National Design Awards are a failure.” Design doesn’t have to sell itself nymore, but prove itself. Interpret as you wish but I get what he’s saying and the tone of his blog.

It really is nothing more than a superficial discussion on awards. Not even close to the state of design in today’s world.

Anyway, it’s all a big lame bore of an article, if that. Such a shocking headline! National awards a FAILURE! GASP! He’s trying too hard.

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I believe the recent splog attacks have caused a change in how BW handles comments. Until recently I was able to post comments. Now I can’t. That’s why I now just post on my blog and use the trackback (I guess the people at BW haven’t dealt with trackback spam yet).

Your comment is up there, go see, that’s how I found myself here. And Deez, if all my american competitors were like you, there’s no competition.

I haven’t read any of the above links, but I’d also say that in the larger context “design has won” meaning that design has finally succeeded in bringing well designed products to the masses.

When I entered design school fifteen years ago, the majority of product categories were lacking in design–there was a lot of work to do. Today, it’s actually difficult to find a product that hasn’t benefited from good design. Even better, today you can buy this stuff at big-box retailers like Target! The post here on Core about the vacuum manufacturer Oreck was a good example, as it appeared to many to be the last product on earth to not benefit from design. (How long do you think that will last?)

At the same time, you see an unprecedented amount of attention being paid to design by some big, influential companies like P&G and GM.

No, we don’t have a lot of “Chief Design Officers” yet, but that’s just icing on the cake.

Unfortunate you didn’t read the original reference, cg. The discussion isn’t really about whether better products are being produced (that can occur as a result of many things; including something as basic as having better materials), but whether Design is now so well regarded that no one has to “sell” it.

I personally do not believe design has achieved the same level of importance as sales or marketing or engineering within the corporate heirarchy. From what I see, it’s still often necessary to sell design. Unfortunately, from my experience, there are still plenty of people and companies out there that think of “design”* as something extra and not as something integral to their business and success. Lip-service doesn’t count.

(* their definition, whatever that happens to be)

I agree with you csven. As CG proposed, design has won in that it is now used widely in product development, and that success should not be underestimated. However, there is a glass ceiling in most companies to design.

Sometimes the problems seem to be our own fault. I don’t have figures, but I would be willing to bet that, in the US, designers are less likely to have post-graduate degrees than marketing or engineering. That closes doors.

Another aspect would be outsourcing/layoffs. Whenever the economy turns down, or a company makes mistakes, I always read about cuts in engineering and design, but less often in marketing. With regards to outsourcing, I read people predicting design moving to China, but never marketing moving.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is the Wal-Mart-isation of product development. I think it is very acceptable to once again say, “Quality doesn’t matter. Design doesn’t matter. How cheap can we make it?”. Even in commodities, this was a passé statement 10 years ago, or so it seems in hindsight.

The good news is that the 20th century was great for ID. We managed to transform ourselves from a few divinely-touched magicians, to something resembling a profession. I think in the next hundred years Chief Design Officers will become a reality.

For anyone interested, Bruce Nussbaum posted a reply. I’d like to believe that perhaps he’s been reminded that there’s more out there than the Fortune 100. Perhaps he’ll make his way to some of the better threads on this forum and get a different perspective of the overall situation.

Okay, I’ve read the blog post now. I stand behind Bruce on this–design has won. It doesn’t need to be sold because you’re either with design, or your not. If you’re indifferent, you’re probably not going to be around for long in the new world order.

I think what you’re conflicted about is that the CURRENT REALITY doesn’t completely match with what the gurus are saying or the early-adopters are proving. I think this is one of those “rearview mirror” things–we won’t really know that design was “won” until looking back on it.

Ultimately this has to do with socio-economic trends, including globalisation, massification of design, and hyper-efficiency driven by technology. TODAY’s reality may be that your company has not yet made a conscious choice between value (design) or commodity (process) but they must to survive.

Given the post times, I’m going to venture you didn’t see that Bruce now concedes that design hasn’t won.

I’d also point out that we’ve gone through this at least once before. And it was trumpeted in the press then as well. Design “won” in the early 90’s… right before corporate America discovered China. So my rearview mirror is focused on previous instances of making these kinds of announcements too quickly.

I can agree with much of what you’ve said, but I can’t predict the future just as I didn’t predict what would happen back then. Right now, if it was the early 90’s all over again, I’d bet money that corporations would dump design and chase after low-cost, short-term profits. It wins every time when managers don’t concern themselves with the long-term.

I’d agree that design “won” in the 90’s, and we’re still riding that wave. China is only acting as an accelerent to this change (my globalisation comment.)

Was there a defining product (and therefore moment) symbolic of this “win?” We still like to reference the case studies from the 90’s: The Zip drive, the iMac, Good Grips, Target, Amazon, Southwest, the iPod…

Zip drive: mid-90’s product that was mostly neat engineering in a pretty plastic box.

iMac: introduced in 1998(?) and years after the “early 90’s” meltdown; and still an exception to the rule.

Good Grips: ignored for years by those outside of ID until boutique shops like BB&B proved to corporate America that good design - even if slightly more expensive - could succeed in the market. Another exception.

Target: another late-90’s story and one in which I participated; design as desperate attempt to combat Wal*Mart and avoid the fate of K-Mart.

Amazon: online retailer with a business model based on convenience and a hyper-large inventory… not design in the context used by most “designers”.

SouthWest: another business model story that falls far from the kind of broad “Design Has Won” announcement being discussed. By this standard, design “won” with the invention of the wheel or the Industrial Revolution.

Design has won battles; including in the late 80’s. But afaic it hasn’t won the war. I stand by my comment that officers at most large corporations would dump design (especially design research aimed at long-term results) in favor of short-term profits from low-cost (cheap) products. I’m not blaming them. They’re simply reacting to the demands of shareholders. When shareholders are ready to give up short-term gains, then maybe design will be in a position to “win”.

one of the reasons design is not there yet is because companies don’t consider it a tangible process. it’s always kept on the sidelines as if the flag is gonna go up any second and it’s gonna ruin it for a long time to come.

and it varies from industry to industry.

electronics can recover soon because it’s easy to change the cover and a few functions and still get some products out. same goes for low tech products like low cost hand tools, regular furniture, etc, but as things move up stream you find a huge gap of uncertainty.

i think this is due more to technology, or rather the sensitivity degree of design towards the tech matter involved with advanced products.

i’m not saying inadvanced products don’t require such attention but to categorize them in the same level of jurisdiction would probably make it harder for designers to differentiate between what’s next and what’s already established and institutuionalized.

I’d like to add my 2 rupees worth to this, CG, and say that I believe “design has won” with the caveat of it’s location on the hype curve. First, the spike in news media coverage, then there’s the “reality” of the slow upward curve of adoption in the traditional manufacturing industries till it becomes mainstream enough to trickle down to csven’s clientele . That may take 5 years or it may not. If global competitiveness and innovation increases, industries will be moved to respond and design has shown ONE way to respond. See this article from Industrial Trends, which talks about industry in the US being “old and stubborn”

Much like there is the majority base core of “old and stubborn” companies that regard design as a limp wristed luxury in the product development process, the majority of the consumer masses are “old and stubborn” (overweight) Joe Sixpacks who cannot recognize good design in front of their faces, nor even care about it EVEN IF they recognized it. Call them the old fashioned or the ignorant, but 96% of what any of us here regularly drool over may not have the same effect on them. Nor do they care.

It’ll be many decades more, if that, for Design to fully WIN. However the fuuck you interpret the meaning of “design winning.”

I would love to do another deez analogy here, with a joke, but i cant for the hell of me remember the details. I think it was about three dudes discussing something, each saying one thing (profession? female body part?) is better than the others. Nevermind. The point is, enginerds or marketing forum nerds have the same discussion all the time. I’m sure the garbagemen forums discussed the idea of garbage winning.

Ever think about what ID visionaries discussed about 20 years ago? getting respect from propduct companies? getting respect from marketing and engineering? chanting about how design isn’t just pretty sketches? I wonder what that 3 year old down the street will talk about when he’s a 30 year old IDer.

deez ^

I think you are selling the public short. I think that Joe Six-pack doesn’t recognize design as a benefit in EVERY product that he buys, but he does recognize it.

I’m confident that the same person that buys the cheapest Wal-Mart knock-off tupperware, may be spending tens of thousands on his car or motorcycle in aesthetic accesories. The same person that drives a Kia Rio, may have just bought a new Motorola Razr phone.

People aren’t consistent, but they shouldn’t be expected to be. Design is an advantage in any market.

So long as the meaning of “design” is subject to interpretation, any declaration regarding it is suspect.

So long as both the public and corporate management hold different interpretations and assign them as they individually see fit, within a capitalist system there will be ongoin debate on whether design contributes sufficient value to warrant the effort.

So long as people are having this discussion, nothing has been decided and no one has “won”.