stuff IDers might want to read

Thanks for the link.

This article is meant to provoke, but I’m skeptical of their use of the word “Innovation.”

In the slideshow, consider:

a) “Design” has become a catch-all term for mechanical and electrical engineering. “Mechanical Designers” are mentioned but not “Industrial Designers.”

I particularly take issue with this quote, which only makes sense in commodity markets and does not factor in the value of design:

"Why then, Marks asks, should Nokia (NOK ), Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, Alcatel (ALA ), Siemens (SI ), Samsung, and other brand-name companies all largely duplicate one another’s efforts? Why should each spend $30 million to develop a new smartphone or $200 million on a cellular base station when they can just buy the hardware designs? The ultimate result, he says: Some electronics giants will shrink their R&D forces from several thousand to a few hundred, concentrating on proprietary architecture, setting key specifications, and managing global R&D teams. “There is no doubt the product companies are going to have fewer people design stuff,” Marks predicts. “It’s going to get ugly.”

Well, I agree, it’s going to get ugly until those companies realize they need to use something to differentiate themselves… Hmm… I wonder what that thing might be?

b) These aren’t innovative products from a design POV! They’re all commodities with second-rate ID. The Treo is a great product mostly due to miniturization and a good retrofitted US-innovated OS and the article makes note that the ID was done in the US by Palm.

That said, I think this points out the obvious: the rest of the world is picking up design in a big way. This is good for designers overall if you consider that talent comes in limited supply.

there was a job breakdown (by PTC) somewhere in there. mostly what i expected. can easily see some of those positions moving offshore. if not already gone. but can also imagine ID will get caught up in restructuring of some R&D groups. cuts out of ignorance. lack of representation. plus improved collaborative tools (re: MS buying Groove) makes the line more blurry. what to keep inhouse - what to send overseas. then factor in second-tier ID fighting for top-tier jobs. even for ID it could get interesting. and overall will be interesting how economy reacts.

cg, agred the new “trend” will employ more designers worldwide and likely tap into design talent pools yet little or entrely unexplored in many parts of the world.

What this means for designers in any particular geographic location is that there will be less design work per square footage anywhere on the planet, i.e. contracts will be more evenly spread out but likely concentrated in lower-wage economies.

You sound too optimistic, this is a very worrying trend for both American and European designers still considering themselves largely unique, hot commodities. This will change dramatically over the next decade, unless the total dollar value of design contracts worldwide increases exponentially, which I doubt.

If there is more design being done, it is not of the breakthrough variety and points to exactly the fact that product design HAS already become another commodity traded on cost alone.

business week is at it again with the “hey kids- finger your own ass to get results, that’s the new business trend” message. i wonder how much they get from design companies to run their names in their articles.

somebody call and ask.

And, yet another BW piece about IDEO. They are so consistent with their IDEO-centric blinders, it’s hard to take anything they write very seriously?

wow, ufo logged in for this one.

I’m with cg. I don’t think he was being overlly sunny or optomistic, I think he was being realistic and not getting caught in the headline hype (afterall these guys are in the business of moving units, in this case magazines, just as we are)

Anyhoo, for what it’s worth, companies like FLextronics, who where mentioned in the article for “outsourcing”, have US based ID staffs. It’s a global marketplace, just because some of the companies are based in Asia, doesn’t mean they won’t have international staffs in multiple locations.

will be hardest for those not paying attention. especially students. alot of different messages out there. only good thing i’ve noticed is fewer “which 3D” should i learn posts.

Quite. And I am pondering on the “next big thing” approach that CG also mentions, that BW is taking - note their plug in the Mar 7th re: empathy economy

ah, the arrogance of youth.

some designers just can’t see the truth if it bit their asses.

if engineering travels, so will design, you’re not that unique in what you do.

Of course not, we are all every one of us, alike.

There are some elements of truth that the economy in the US is, over time, shifting toward intellectual and knowledge based services as manufacturing and labor intensive stuff moves to India and China etc and that the design industry, like the software industry, will feel the impact.

But the discussion focuses more on the validity of the over the top urgency demonstrated of late by BusinessWeek and whether they are talking about software/engineering design ( which they are, and marks of flextronics himself is quoted as saying “welp, we cannot develop new technology, just make mfring existing stuff cheaper”) rather than design as generally referred to on Core

i don’t think it’s necessary for bw to repeat something we already know and add a bunch of names to the article implying they’re up to date with design and manufacturing.

if you’re a business owner, engineer or designer you already know. so who are they writing for? 12 year old school kids?


and you sell subscriptions


unlike Engineering, Design is not required to make a product. Design is there to add contextual advantages to that product in a mature market-based economy.

Designers are quite unique in what they do. Ever tried hiring one?
Talent can’t be learned, and it’s in limited supply.

The cultural anthropology/context aspect can’t be learned either. Remember that post by a Chinese designer looking at European photos and asking if it reflected the US “Chopper Demographic?” Classic example. The best designers are well read and well traveled. Demographically that favors western society.

The article actually points out that companies like Motorola and Apple do not, and will not outsource their top-tier products.

It will take at least a generation or more for ID to mature in 3rd world markets. In the meantime we’ll see a wave of cookie-cutter styling being mistook for “design.”

Although the article seems to mix ID, styling, and engineering discipline, it seems to be pretty on-track. Since the marketplace is imperfect, ID is only an desirable to the distribution channels as long as it provides their offering an advantage over competitive products.

With consolidation of retail channels, the retail market relies less on individual product design, and more on the retail brand management / business strategy to provide competitive advantage.

For example: Target does not need to have seek good design for every product. With mass-market campaigns and halo products, the impression of a store-wide superior offering is maintained. Why should they care about the design of an individual coffee maker, the customer at Target already assumes the design is superior just because Target has chosen it. Retailer as style-maker

In my opinion, the other issue is what I call the ‘design hurdle’. I feel, for the large majority of products in the world, there is a limiting return on better design. A product only needs to be designed good-enough to create positive customer awareness/impressions. And yet, for the mass-market the language of good design is well established and easily duplicated. So what is the business return of sophisticated, refined, beauty, when all the customer wants is something that is unoffensive, attractive, and fits in their environment?

So where does that put us? Personally, I think it means the ID industry is ready for a revolution. I have no idea what it is, but I can’t wait for a creative entreprenual designer to identify the next generation of services people with our skills and passions can provide the business world.

i know. :slight_smile:

I personally think the inevitable progression is Experience Design.
It’s becoming harder for ID alone to address usage in the digital age.

Did not mean to be anonymous; the post three above was from me. I still have not gotten the hang of this new fangled computer thingie.


I’ve argued before on this forum and elsewhere for the absolutely urgent need for traditional industrial design education and practice to eventually split into several sub-disciplines, of which “product” will only be one, and not necessarily the most important.

What some call “experience” design I prefer referring to as “situational” design because, the evidence is in, more and more designers are being called on to creatively resolve just that - problematic material situations and environments. A firm I recently consulted with worked intensely with a client on - not making their products vandalism-proof - but avoiding them being vandalized in the first place - this was the project brief. Now that is different. It was a long and painful process that also involved specialists outside ID, but one of the most interesting problem-solving experiences I ever had the chance to be part of. And the solution was not material at all.

As others here correctly pointed out, there is a “just right” amount of product design (especially of the cosmetic variety) that will take the vast majority of manufactured products as far as they can ever go. Surely, a designer is by nature always unhappy to stop the improvement process but, in reality, experienced marketers and other business professionals usually know better than us when the return on R&D investment starts turning into a net loss.

The Bauhaus days are long gone. Today’s gigantic markets demand speed of execution and this certainly has an effect on the creative limits we are allowed to push products to. The other major deciding factor is the decreasing useful lifespan of most that we mass-produce. In that sense I feel product design as we’ve learned it has reached its apex and stopped evolving as a uniquely valued and recognized profession. Current methods have done their time and design must start aiming for the next frontier.

The incredible opportunities already opening up for designers of the “industrial” kind have far less to do with sketching, Alias renderings and foam mockups, and all to do with designers becoming experts at elegantly and economically solving complex situational processes instead. A major advantage in being a “process”, “experience” or “situation” designer over merely, for example, an injection-moulded object designer, is that the number and diversity of body-less “systems” to resolve in any organization will always be infinitely greater than those of any physical artefacts produced.

Once people stop cringing at the mere sight of an over-hyped and overpriced white box called an iPod, they are left to quietly absorb several related but unresolved “situational” problems newly created by this aquisition. Like others, Apple now only measures the sale moment, but future organizations will largely owe their survival to properly dealing with many fuzzier issues beyond their product or service warranty, affecting their clients’ “experience” over the long-term. One obvious candidate here is, for example, the TIME demands made by the object on its owner for proper and safe usage. If time has long overtaken money today as our most valuable (since non-replenishable) resource, it is rather incomprehensible why so little thought ever goes into making products, services and - indeed - “experiences” offer good TIME value for the money spent and benefits received. Think about the absurdly high “maintenance” time costs so many objects impose on us for relatively minor returned benefits - unpackaging, cleaning, storage, transportation, sorting, filing, disposal, and what not. All activities built into the real price but that people have become accustomed to factor in as inevitable and not question. This will change.

What most industrial design does best today is still, sadly, dress engineered products or barely affect their functionality and handling. ID is still concerned with style and the ephemeral “cool” factor at too high a level to remain a financially self-sustainable profession for much longer and especially for the ever-increasing numbers of new graduates the world over.

To create true added value and a unique set of strategic competitive advantages for any firm - i.e. original money-making “situations” in no need of patents since inherently difficult and expensive to immitate - designers will have to impact far more than the physical product. They will have to design the entire client environment, sometimes from the ground up, in which a product will evolve and mutate when it has to. Moreover, designers will also have to become specialists in creating outcomes in which no physical products will ever even exist, but in which the abstract idea is itself the tangible solution.

All this is quite contrary to design today but we are talking about ADDING design specialties, not necessarily eliminating the single current “club” which, by the way, is suffering from serious over-population and increasing redundancy.

The only type of design work to permanently migrate to cheaper pastures will be precisely the garden variety please-the-masses styling now prevalent. Apple is deluded in thinking “Designed in California” means more than fly sh_t elsewhere but there. What designers need to remember in order to survive, evolve and prosper is that, at both the consumer and business levels, people have always-changing needs, desires and problems to be addressed. A multitude of different approaches are available to profitably serve these without necessarily forcing the purchase of a new product and the heavy baggage that invariably comes with it.

That’s the “Conceptual Age” Daniel Pink so optimistically refers to in his book. Much work remains to be done in ID to affect meaningful change, but the new economy will likely be one of ideas before machinery.