Is ID too glamourised?

I’ve been thinking about how ID and especially furniture/auto design is glamourised. Not only when we are in design school/college/university; but also on websites, in magazines, in books etc.

The running narrative seems to be that there are superstar designers who loll around all day drawing nice sketches and then give it to a factory that pumps out the objects. IRL, my experience has been that at every stage there is a huge amount of problems to solve and obstacles in the way.

e.g. materials not available in the size you want (steel, timber etc); designs coming in at too high a price to be viable in the market; overseas manufacturers not understanding drawings; samples and finished product not being consistent; components going out of production or changing; tools wearing and going out of tolerance.

For every successful project, how many fail? For every good idea, how many make it to market?

Also, for every “designer” there is a team of experts who understand the process who guide their design decisions. I rely on our machinists and upholsterers, joiners, metal fabricators; as well as our suppliers in aluminium extrusion, injection moulding, fabric, foam, laser cutters etc, etc etc, to arrive at a “good design”. So my designs are not my own. I’m just the guy who brings it all together.

My concern is that students of design get an idea that if they can sketch and 3D model sexy objects, that’s what it is to be a designer. When in actual fact, being a designer is all about navigating constraints and balancing cost, functionality, quality, supply and many other problems.

I think most jobs glamorized (or simplified) to that degree. 98% of being an actor is probably sitting in an old trailer by yourself practicing lines waiting for the DP to get to your shot.

The reality is without doing an internship or coop, it is hard to teach a student how to deal with a conference call full of half competent engineers who don’t speak your language and marketing folks with 3 months experience trying to make decisions against all common sense. Those are the realities of any real world experience that can’t be taught.

In general, design education does a very good job of explaining what it is like to be a designer. Most design professors don’t coddle their students, and they shouldn’t. Most kids these days come into school thinking everything they do is awesome, and half of college is teaching you to work long hours and then have someone crap all over it the next morning.

As far as glamour…well that’s up to your personal opinion. I think what we do is pretty damn cool, and we get to show up to work in fancy multi colored socks. That’s glamour baby.

Yes, everything is glamorized, but it has to be. The car we buy, the clothes we wear, most of the time they sell the persona or lifestyle, not the actual product. Magazines, websites, etc., their job is to attract readers (for at least 30 sec. I imagine) so yes, they have to glamorize whatever they show. It’s easier to showcase Johnny Ives than the whole team or all the challenges of design, engineering, manufacturing.
Yes, students often think all they have to do is come up with the concept. Once you present restrictions they get a mental block and can’t design within them. Recently I met with a student about to graduate that thought he would be making mockups of his ideas from the beginning and had not yet appreciated the importance of ideation/sketching.
There’s also the mentality of us against them (designers vs engineers/marketing/manufacturing, etc.). Yes, a lot of them are not reasonable but also a lot of them are extremely bright and knowledgeable, it is our job to make it all come together successfully. The sooner students realize this the better designers they will become.

We are in an emotional business.
Lifestyle products and trans are extreme in that regard.

People are interested in and idolize things and people they connect with. The superstars today are in the entertainment business and I would include sports here as well.
I’d say that designers such as Ive, Newson and Rashid are entertainers in the public eye.
That they are also amazing creative problem solvers, we know but nobody outside our sandbox cares about that and why would they? It’s boring and sounds like work.
For an audience it’s a lot easier and more fun to focus on the entertainment part than the day-to-day problem solving part.

For students, the duality of our profession is of course important to understand, but I think some “glamour” and excitement around the things we make is awesome and inspiring.
Fame is whatever but if people emotionally connect with products that I’ve designed and regard them as objects of desire, I do feel a sense of gratification, glamour and all.

Thanks Bepster. Spot on!

It also seems that life as a designer becomes a lot easier if you do not try to be your own engineer and take the “constraints” into account too early.
Those “superstar” designers look somewhat naive to a corporate guy, but the non acceptance of boundaries sometimes really helps move those boundaries.




Where? When? By who?

While in our tiny little world we may have “rockstars”, but in the real world, no one has heard of Karim Rashid and maybe, just maybe 0.001% could pick out Jony Ive from a line up.

As for the folly of a “hot” sketch, yes, it is folly. A sketch is merely an idea. All ideas fall under the 100/5/1 rule. For any 100, 5 are worth resources and of the 5, 1 will succeed. And to actually launch that 1 product takes a shitton more than some IDer ripping a hot sketch. Unfortunately the myth of the rockstar overshadows that fact.

IDers remind me of Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy - I designed this sweet baby myself.

“its for kids!”

Separate the definitions of “industrial design” from those of “public relations”, “self-promotion”, “advertising”, and “lifestyle marketing” and you will find that the basic job description is still the making and doing and figuring out and behind-the-scenes trench warfare.

The glamour comes in when the likes of Dwell or FastCo or flashy clients attempt to fetishize the designer or design firm. Some people crave this, and for some firms its a business model (often to the detraction of doing solid product development work).