The Power We Have

One of the things that always gets me is how people can make fake products and convince the media they’re real. Industrial designers more than anyone have that power.

Now how many of you read about things like this (,70601-0.html?tw=wn_index_1# ), notice the school, and realize immediately it’s just a wild (if cool) concept. I do. I bet a lot of IDers do. But most people don’t.

So. Anyone want to pull a hoax?

I am all for spurring innovation but the volume of digital concepts touted as real things or designs is out of control. Examples: students so well versed in the digital reality that they lose sight of the human reality and have a very hard time working in real world design situations where a tangible, production ready thing is required. One engineer once said to me, “Wow, that has all the components of a good ID project, pretty, ultra modern, and a complete lack of respect for physics,” in regard to a student concept printed in Popular Mechanics.

Maybe there is a place for this but I see this more and more from famous designers who show digital work only, even it is in production (and by the way most of those look like holy hell in production), to students using “anti-gravity” to create all manner of wheels. The lack of reality points to a big misunderstanding in human needs problem solving…they idea that a thing, no matter how great the idea, must become a thing that works for people in the end.

My fear is the design profession becomes so disconnected that we invalidate our services, or worse, send our marketing and sales partners packing for Asia where they can buy a real thing off the shelf.

I’m with ya. I love pretty concept as much as the next guy with black framed glasses, but at the end of the day, its all about what hits the streets.

It is getting out of hand, and I think the proliferation of blogs has a lot to do with it. A site like Gizmodo puts out a couple thousand articles a year, and doesn’t fact check a single one. If you send them a halfway convincing rendering of a cool product, they post it.

We need a name for this stuff. “Renderware” maybe?

More anecdotal evidence confirming the above:

I collaborated on a concept luggage tag that won a competition a while back. Within a few days it had spread through the tech blogs, morphing from “concept” to “a product that will be ready for the holiday season.”

I still get random phone calls every few weeks asking how to place an order, as they can’t find the “shop” on my site.

When I was freelancing, and thinking of ways to get exposure, the “cloned baby” story hit the air. I think a week later, the whole thing was revealed as a hoax, but it certainly made me think. Why not develop a pretty model of something edgy…the cost would only be the hundreds of dollars. Then, send a press release. I know I could act the part of a stuck up designer, hey, no need to act even!

By the time it came out the whole thing was BS, I would have had my name printed in every newspaper from Montreal to Mongolia, and probably a ton of clients wanting me to 914-ize their concepts.

Even though I’m corporate now, with smaller vision…why didn’t I follow through on this?

ora ito?

Something similar is described in the opening pages of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink”, which should be required reading for all design students. Not sure whether the article says more about the the depths tabloid journalism can sink to or the increasing lack of ethics in this already battered profession of ours. One thing is certain - with mostly style fascists dressed in white and sporting oversized glasses publicly speaking in our name, we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of commanding serious respect from our intended audience. This event pales in comparison with what goes on everyday in design departments and boardrooms everywhere.

As long as schools keep churning out flaky product stylists before concept and process creatives, you will always have some clueless individuals sugar-coating hare brained concepts for the news hungry media. Over the years I’ve had to evaluate dozens of younger designers’ portfolios or design contest projects, and the same story repeats itself - you see tons of splashy Hollywood-ready renderings and tired sci-fi concepts that defy pretty much all basic physics, but are convincingly presented as almost production ready. You cannot fault the uninitiated for falling for such schemes, and they outnumber experienced designers or engineers out there.

It is the design community’s duty to denounce such frauds wherever they occur. To those “designers” and others planning a design career based on hype over substance in this century, one thing: good luck, you will need it in spades.

you say this:

then you say this:

here are my questions, why is this a problem? whose respect do designers need to command? what is the harm? in such a competitive field, especially for the uninitiated, as long as you are not going out of your way to deceive, what is wrong with a little vagueness? what is so wrong with being a “stylist”? is there not design in style?

everyone waxes poetic about process and realistic creative thinking but if you cannot alias, photoshop, rhino, sketch, it into some blinging representation you automatically move down the totem pole, if you can do that why not use it to your advantage?

I imagine most aspiring IDers are unfortunately, whether self-imposed or otherwise, stuck in the role of selling themselves through portfolios of untested/naïve work in a bid to actually get a foot in the door to gain design experience to begin with… a chicken or egg problem if ever there was one!

I wholly agree that the majority of this blame must fall squarely on the schools. Inexperience with proof-of-concept is an issue with engineering students (“Hard” designers?) that usually gets hammered out by the time one reaches the graduate level. Many ID students do not have adequate exposure to actual production processes, thus their designs are often based on their interpretation of physical functionality.

I wonder if ID would be “as much fun” if students had to take mandatory physics, mathematics, computer programming, etc… a solid machine shop course should be mandatory at the very least.

There are people doing nice renderings and presentations of weak concepts and people are confusing being able to use a tool well with being a designer. I believe that’s what egg is talking about, confusing design with being a render contest. A designer has to be grounded in the real world because in the end, a designers products must be produced. A lot of those renderings are of unrealistic products that can’t be produced.
I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with people doing that, but it shouldn’t be confused with being a designer. Maybe call them future visualizers, concept illustrators, something else. But designers have to deal with the ability to have something produced correctly. A lot of those concepts have no real world basis, you could get an untrained comic book/sci-fi artist to come up with the same if you taught them a 3-d rendering program. There are a lot more constraints on designers that the general public doesn’t realize.

I think either extreme in this debate is off base, the path is in the middle and this conversation seems to have gone to the other extreme.

It is our job as designers to envision what can and will be possible in the future, to keep our eye on the horizon. Not just to think about the easy ways to make things currently (though we wear that hat plenty, esp working corporate).

So how do we walk the thin line?

Knowing the media loves a splashy picture and a guy that says stuff like “I only wear white to represent the new millennium”, how do we use that knowledge to sneak good design into the media?

Put another way, does good design need some more hype?

Who’s there to judge the “good Design”

Is there going to be some tribunal that we lay our stack of renderings and models before? Surely we can’t count on the public! People shop at Wal-Mart with full knowledge of their underhanded business practices.

While we mock Mr. New Millennium, you got to give it to the guy for self branding. Maybe that’s the paradox. Great Designers are too busy focusing on design, they just don’t have time to propigate some edgy, styled image. And Ok (or terrible) design comes to the forefront, because of the shameless self-branding of the designer.

its a conundrum… ok I just wanted to type that.

It does get a bit hairy though eh?

The more I go along the more I rethink my Karimisms though. I mean the guy’s firm did design some great packaging for method, its not ground breaking, but it is stellar compared to what else is out there in that market. The Oh Chair is pretty nice and they hold up well. The super overpriced for DWR is formy. His other Umbra and Nambe work is clean even if his graphics are lifted (thanks for that enlightening post cg)… his stuff is flashy and has a distinct form vocabulary that never evolves, but it is stylish, works, and is manufacturable… and the dude promotes the profession while promoting himself.

Design awareness is good for all of us.
It moves our profession out of the “providing a service” sector, and leads us into the shaping of futures. The more of the general public we can get to notice design, the better off we are going to be.
Maybe we should call it the Karim-effect.
By providing us with a big White shrouded lightning rod, the rest of us get to sneak some good design in with the flash and “blobjects”

Like hiding dog medicine in some bologna, “it’s good for you and you don’t even know it”.

this is what i was trying to say, after all part of the design process is making the case, no? sometimes a pretty image does that…how does the saying go “If you can’t convince them with arguments, dazzle them with…”

so are you saying there is no room in design for things that cannot be produced at the moment or near future? sometimes these projects are just to stretch the limitations, or forecast, imagine what could be and stimulate disussion…

when I talked about the human reality I meant that designers have or are becoming too self centered and incestuous…designs become more about the designer rather than the users. Envisioning the future is one thing, having math and machining is another. I am talking about simple problem solving beyond the pretty idea (the rendering). Professional design requires more than just idea generation…if that was all it was about then you and me have no value.

If you want to pull a nice teasing hoax, think about how often people do a search but can’t discern the facts from the rubbish.

As a salesperson fifteen years ago you simply told the customer about your product. Today as a knowledgeable salesperson you need to tell your customer why half of his facts are incorrect of do not apply to the product at hand.

People believe a lot of bad information and are awful at picking out the good info.

Google as gospel is part of the issue/problem

To pull the hoax, a quick website + a little seeding the forums +and a Media google whore is all that would be needed.

So when do we start? What product can we teather on that thin line? What industry could be grabed hook line and sinker? I admit it does sound fun.

so are you saying there is no room in design for things that cannot be produced at the moment or near future? sometimes these projects are just to stretch the limitations, or forecast, imagine what could be and stimulate disussion…[/quote]

I didn’t mean that at all. I absolutely believe in the conceptual, if anything a little more than the nuts+bolts design to stand out and push design to its boundaries. But for a public that doesn’t fully understand what we do, to only see that stuff doesn’t help even though there is a place for it.

It’s kind of like trying to explain basketball to someone that’s never played or seen it before by just giving them a video of a slam dunk contest. They’ll think the only people that play the game correct are the ones doing slam dunks in the game and they won’t think the little guy hitting 90% 3 pointers is as valuable even though you get more points with the 3. They’ll only be impressed by the dunkers even though all of the other type of players are just as valuable.

Post of the day right there.