Industrial Design Students are true visionaries

I’ll begin with a little history. Back in spring of 1999, we (the then-junior ID class at Purdue) were presented with a technology coined the silicon eye. Basically, it was a sensor that could recognize objects. Our project was to create products using this new, advancing technology.

Here is the amazing part. Nearly EVERY SINGLE ONE of the concepts done by my classmates has reached production in some shape or form. From an electronic door peep hole and individual alarm clock, to a refrigerator that determines what items need replacing, the ideas eventually took the form of real products. And this was 12 years ago. Digital recognition technology was very new at the time so these were truly unique ideas and concepts. During my flight yesterday, I saw two products in SkyMall that were part of that 1999 project list. And I was coming home from Eurobike where I presented my product which was originally part of this same project.

So, as an entrepreneur, we need to really take a closer look at what current students are coming up with because they are the true visionaries for the future. Stuff might seem crazy today or impossible with current technology, but just give it time.

Circa 1999-2001 I was working for a consultancy that had a 3D sensor (or “eye”) startup as a client. The client was purchased by Microsoft last year, either for use in the Kinect technology or just for the patents.

Ideas were not in short supply at that company, nor were nice concept drawings and models from our firm and IDEO. You may recall a “virtual keyboard” concept.

The numbers of PhD’s and highly talented IC engineers at that company were staggering - it was my first experience working with such brainiacs. Several years later the company was still struggling with the real-world application of the sensor, costs, processing power, finding more start-up money, etc.

I agree with you that ID students can have “good vision” - I can name a few concepts I did in school that are now commonplace gee-whiz gadgets, as I’m sure you and many other designers could. I don’t think though that the application of the underlying technologies is the hard part, otherwise VC companies would be going to design schools looking for the “next big thing”.

To paraphrase Bill Gates, “Business is easy. Just look at what other people are doing to make money. Science is hard.”

Another favorite quote “ideas are cheap, implementation is expensive”

This reminds me of someone I know that likes to think of himself as a genetically gifted product development visionary (and marketing guru). He says he had the idea twenty five years ago that they should make haptic interfaces for driving video games (like the Logitech peripheral). I don’t see his name on any patents in that category.

I think in part its more naivety than ‘vision’. Don’t have the same kind of constraints, like you do in the market place- therefore feel more free to potentially come up with ‘forward thinking’ ideas. That is one of the great values of designing in an academic context. I think more companies should be working with academic institutions in helping to bridge that gap.

Here you go, Intel’s had a crack:

and the book is a free pdf:

(downloaded and printed, but not yet read- maybe this weekend)

Just like writing computer code in a white room. Different teams or individuals will put together the same solutions from given materials and constraints. New technologies are likely to evolve in finite set of directions.

We are not Visionaries with a capital V, designers look at the technologies and imagine different configurations. There are millions of people thinking of combinations of each plastic element of our toolset. That solutions arrive to market that were previously independantly deduced, is a given of what we do.


I am surprised by the amount of negativity in this thread.

But first of all : congratulations to Evan for finally bringing his vision to market.
That is quiet the achievement, which most of us can’t share. (At least not as individual

Second: I do like the idea of venture capital companies coming to diploma shows a lot. Yo might
be onto something, even if his comment was not made in full earnestness.

In Wuppertal, where I graduated, we started off a very successful model of “private public partnership”
through which companies sponsor projects in higher semesters and not only sponsor them but back them
up full steam to release something to market.

This “vision labs” concept has proven so successful not only by encouraging students but also by sparking
new fires in the companies involved.

Bringing Venture Capital companies to diploma shows could go one step further.


P.S. : the latest projects were done with KETTLER ( a renown german outdoor brand) and BRAUN.
sadly Braun is still confidential, and the texts are in German, only:

With all due respect, the only contraint that effects the market place that doesn’t effect students is time. I have never known an innovative company that doesn’t come up with more ‘forward thinking’ ideas than they can shake a stick at. And while the student has the luxuary of 3-6 week projects where they can flitter from one idea to the next, the market place is worrying about the mold that won’t fill because of bad venting or trying to recruit enough end users for pricing research. Without that thing called profit, any idea is dead in the water. Profit requires due diligence which requires time and resources.

yo is spot on. Students tend to have a build it and they will come mentality and in the market place that would be akin to herding cats.

I did not mean that companies don’t have ‘forward thinking’ because of constraints, like time, money etc. Of course many of them do! I just find just having been a student myself (now working), reflecting back that there was some naivety to help drive ideas. You were not always required to think and plan out the full realization of a product. As well, you also simply did not have the experience to draw from. The point that I am adding is that it is not always insightful vision, but naivety and more ‘gut feeling’ reactions to the world and markets that drive student ideation.

appreciate the links! Thanks!

I’ll second Rachels view here. Sometimes it helps, not to know why something doesn’t work…

I don’t know of many, or if any, designers that limit or constrain themselves when coming up with ideas. Engineers - maybe/probably - but I don’t think getting a job stiffles your creativity.

The difference is after that initial ideation, a professional needs to evaluate the ideas against what their customer wants and what the company can deliver. A student does what pleases them. They are off in every which way, again, akin to herding cats.

And I think in reality, with more experience comes more ideas. As you learn new things, it opens more doors to greater possibilities. With more knowledge, you can create more to solve problems. It could be an interesting experiment. Lock some youngsters and oldsters in a room with plently of deodorant, caffeine and M&Ms, toss in a problem statement and see who comes out with the most/best/interesting/etc. ideas.

I don’t read it as negative, just realistic. In the case of Evan, I’m sure many other people have had the idea of rear view mounted cameras, what made his different is he made it.

Another good (and well worn) example is Scott Wilson’s iPod Nano strap on Kickstarter. There were 5+ other Nano straps on Kickstarter at the same time! Why did Scott get a half million dollars and the others about a buck ninety? Because he executed his better in every way. They all had the same core idea.

As a designer, heck as a person, you probably have an idea every 38.5 seconds. Having an idea is not special. Knowing it is good enough to develop, and having the ability, will, and skill to do so are. If just having the idea were enough, we would be paying science fiction authors from the 50’s and 60’s licensing fees and royalties on everything we make. That fancy screen in Minority Report for example? That story was written in 1956 by Phillip K Dick.

We should all be aiming to have a surplus of innovation. A tree doesn’t make just as many leaves as it needs, it makes many times more. At the end of a season it sheds them and starts over. Be a tree, make lots of leaves.

For those of you worried about your brilliance being stolen by others I’ll leave you with this quote that Adam Richardson, a college of mine, shared with me:

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas, if your ideas are any good you will have to cram them down people’s throats.”


FYI, I’m gonna steal the tree/leaf thing and the idea/throat quote too :wink:

If I could make money from all the people who come to me with ideas all over the map from good to crazy but with no chance at making anything of them, I’d be rich. It takes a certain special combination of skills, personality, finances, etc. to make something out of what is essentially nothing (just an idea).


FYI, I’m gonna steal the tree/leaf thing and the idea/throat quote too > :wink:


Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas, if your ideas are any good you will have to cram them down people’s throats.

Thanks, Yo - for making me choke on my breakfast coffee… Just made my day.
(and be sure I’ll use that one, too)

As a designer, heck as a person, you probably have an idea every 38.5 seconds

Nice to see the trust you put into people in general, but take into account, that you are surrounded by
designers and artists, mostly. Surround yourself with some more production engineers and fiscal types
and you’ll feel different.

There are many men out there, who are carved out of generally different wood than you and I.

IF I got a dollar for every time I was told “brilliant idea”, why don’t you do it." I’d be as rich as Richard…
And those very people thinking those “designer visions” where worth a penny are utterly addled when
you yourself start poking your own “brilliant idea” to pieces before their eyes…

For me the true skill lies in the ability to differentiate the ideas, that are marketable (now) from the
visions that are not marketable right now. What takes a great amount of experience, that college grads
don’t have.

(and that lack of knowledge about what won’t work leads to things like the Dyson…)
Or perhaps there are some Designers, who are willing to take the shitload of work it takes, to bend
the walls of perception… Okey I am coming astray here. Off to work…


As a student, I find this discussion highly relevant. In school—due to the distance from the marketplace—students have more time and freedom to turn out whatever ideas they like into A-grade projects. Yet most of these projects would probably be dismissed in the real world as impractical. However, because the primary goal of students is to learn and develop necessary skills and techniques, freedom for crazy concepts and impractical ideas have their place in academia. If we as students had to worry continuously about pricing research, mold adjustments, or making the marketers happy :[, we wouldn’t have time to build our skills in concept ideation, project presentation, or understanding form.

Hi Ray. I hope I didn’t imply students shouldn’t have the freedom to pursue “crazy” concepts. They most certainly should. And believe it or not, “crazy” ideas are pusued in the professional world too, many times to beyond the lengths a student will take. You just rarely see these. But with the internet, openness is growing. OpenIDEO is a good example. Who knows, maybe in 20 years IP will be a thing of the past.

I would like to add, when I review a student’s portfolio, I would never hold it against them if they have “crazy” concepts. They usually bring a smile to my face. I would hold it against them if that is all I saw. I don’t expect students to have complete knowledge of professional constraints when evaluating and refining concepts, but I do expect some working knowledge. I also need to see some of that knowledge in a portfolio.

+1. Not trying to take your training wheels away, just putting them in perspective. You have to learn in a safe environment and you can’t build all the skills at the same time. School is a place to build the base level of thinking, skills, approach, and contextual knowledge of design history and methodologies. From here your second education will begin in the professional world.

In school you pay to be there, of course you can do crazy work! You are surrounded by peers who are your equals and professors whose job it is to guide you and help you learn. That is very important at that stage in your development.

At work they pay you to be there, you will be one of very few fresh grads. Everyone else will be more experienced, and the group will be led by a creative director who is on the line to exceed all expectations. You will learn by simply by being in this dynamic and diverse environment, but your learning is not the primary purpose of the group.

Even though they are both studios, the subtext couldn’t be more different. Yet each environment needs the other. It is an intricate relationship between the two worlds.

Ha, no problem, I stole it from someone else! :wink: