Turnkey Factory Designers - The future of I.D.?

Designing far away from the factory truly slows down designs. Also factory capability are overlooked when an ocean separates.

The logical progression for I.D., is to build up design talent inside the factories. I have already turned down many requests to move into China factories (and schools). Many of my Euro counterparts have already moved to Guandong and Shenzen and Hangzhou, to be at the factory during design.

Hopefully, trade craftsmanship will move back to France (and all Western nations). But for now, is it possible that a majority of design jobs will become a turn-key design operation for big brands? The brands find the correct factory, and their marketing team simply selects the designs they will like.

Some designer will say “no”, but it is already happening just now. It will be interesting to see the next decade for Industrial Design.

I think there is a potential for this. But I feel it is a long way from what we bring in house as designers. For one I/we are not concerned with just making a functional product but also fitting into a user story and also brand language. From what I have seen from attempts the factories make to realize products I would say they are a long way from bring what I bring to the table. There understanding of proportion fit/finish and on trend looks and feel is not there. Also they have a poor understanding of user experiences and fit. So yes I think giving the right situation and skills this could happen but not in the near future and not with the current culture and education the oversees manufactures have access to. But if they start training people now with those skills and work on it over the next ten years or so they could get up to speed to handle aspects for big western clients. But I think they are a very long way from a turn key approach. Because they are going to lack in user information and the ability to do a cohesive brand/user story. Just my two cents I am sure others will have different opinions.

Ironically, many of the big manufacturers have evolved FROM factory-located designers to centrally located design teams for reasons different than you have identified. While there were efficiencies of being plant based before computers, there are few reasons for the ID staff to be plant based these days if good plant engineers are part of the development group.

I’ve been part of all the scenarios (corporate, centrally located ID working first with centrally located development engineering then with plant based engineering, corporate, plant located ID working with engineering, consultant ID working with engineering, etc, etc). Solid communication via email and Skype means the ID person can be anywhere.

It is already happening and their skills will only get better. We have lost clients because we cannot compete with free. Factories will offer to design the product for free if they get the contract for manufacturing.
Also remember that for every product there are dozens of brands doing the similar products and several sku’s for each product so the client will have to consider free designs or less expensive “factory designs” if they are just doing a re-styling or if sales are down. I can just imagine…“so, we can spend 50-100K on design services or we can take the factory’s design and tweak a few things and get going…” We had a client do this for a new product line. For another more complex project he did the same but eventually came back to us to do it right. This was 5-7 years ago.
There are thousands of factories, different sizes and different skill/quality levels so I can only assume their design skills will continue to get better.
The premier brands will continue to invest in quality design firms or in-house design departments, but for the other 9 out of 10 it will be very tempting to evaluate factories’ design services.

This has been happening for 20 years and goes back and forth. The problem with locating designers at the factory is they can loose connection with the market they are deigning for or loose connection with the leadership of the company and not influence the overall direction. Don’t forget, design is not just how it looks, but also design should be participating in the direction of the company and the larger questions of what to make for who. This kind of design is not a factory based commodity. Design is more than putting a radius on the box, just look at the best practices of industry leading brands. Sure they send designers to the factory, but they are not extensions of it. Quite the opposite in fact.

As an example, almost every car company from every nation has a design center in Southern California. Why? Because that is the epicenter of car culture. Almost every large company doing UX and IxD has a design center in Silicon Valley, because that is the epicenter of that thinking.

Yes but what stops Asian factories from properly educating and training Industrial Designers. What stops them from hiring foreign designers and working maybe not at the factory but in a dedicated design center for the factory?
GM opened up a design center in China years ago and from what I recall sold more units of a particular vehicle in China than in the US, also increasing its ventures in China. If China is the largest auto market what stops it from becoming the next epicenter? This is a different subject but it just shows how the market, economy and demand changes traditional customs. I think that’s what the OP may be alluding to or simply more and more ID moving to Asia.

For Chinese products the design center should be there. The best way to understand a culture is to be continuously immersed in it. That is different than free design from the factory.

All I’m saying is this talk has been going on since I graduated college in the 90s. The doom and gloom tone is not substantiated. Manufacturing left Europe for the US and left the US for Japan, and left Japan for Korea and Taiwan, left there for China and is moving now to Indonisia and Vietnam and of course their has been much talk about “on shoring” with companies like Shinola. Manufacturing will continue to move.

Yes. I think the OP answered his/her own comment but has a much bleak future outlook for ID like you mentioned.
Quality meaningful ID can’t be obtained from free factory designs but there are companies/brands that do it. This translates to less ID jobs. Will all ID move to factories, no.

The reality is you wouldn’t want to work for those companies who would get their ID for free anyway.

I had an interesting conversation with another executive here who told me I should look into crowd sourcing all of our design. I explained that if he felt crowd sourcing was a good talent and skill management methodology he should start with his department, finance… it never got brought up again. This is why it is important for design to be co-located with all of the top stake holders. Product decisions are literally impacting the future growth potential of the company. A good leader wants his or her product team close and a good design leader wants to be collaborating with top executive in the company… you can’t do that with off the shelf for free design. This is one of the reasons I returned to in house design from consulting. I wanted to get shit done.

I think maybe my thought is dismissed too quickly. China has never tried to accept and absorb design before. This is a new thing.

The most famous designers like Luigi Colani moved to China (working for Huaxia Shenzhou), and Colani said that strength in design will certainly move away from California - to Beijing. Gert Hildebrand moved to Shanghai for Qoros. Famous Italian design houses now are being bought by China also, Cerruti is now owned by Li&Fung. Prada, Burberry, Guy Laroche - many famous brands are moving to China focus or ownership.

China is determined to become the design center of the world, and are throwing all their money at the problem. They decide to overcome any racial tensions, by simply importing Europeans and Californians. Very interesting times for design, and I think it is worthy of discussions.

Don’t confuse dismissed with challenged. You start the topic talking about design being commoditized to the factory level and marketers just picking designs then end talking about Prada being bought by a Chinese company. They both involve China but are very different causes and effects. What is the point you are trying to make?

I have recently heard about HTC “deploying” their designers to the factories during PB stage in order to fine tune and instantly work on the ground with the factory.
This makes sense to me and every time I have been physically present, it is amazing how quickly changes are implemented and progress is made.

But that is different from setting the design vision and creating the concepts.
To me, being held up in a chinese factory for months or years would seriously jeopardize my creative output and inspiration. I just couldn’t do it.
That doesn’t mean others couldn’t but I’d be surprised if cutting edge stuff come solely out of factories on a consistent basis.

But there is something to be said about the “Designed in California, made in China” approach that Apple made famous.
This doesn’t mean that the designers in the west are necessarily “better” designers but they have the possibility to be more in touch with what is happening in the mature markets.

To paraphrase John Donne, No designer is an island.
And chinese factories can definitely often feel that way.

I wouldn’t hold my breath…We are now in the 21st century and the distance between idea and market has shrunk considerably due to technology and globalization. Terms like "trade craftsmanship’ can be put up on the history shelf with Antique, Vintage and Retro. Definitely a shrinking niche market within a even more shrinking niche demographic. Sweeping changes are beginning to kick in Europe’s design university system this year after much upheaval. (RCA, The Sustainable Design School, L’Ecole Design Nantes Atlantique, Milano Polytechnic are among the many schools affected by these radical adjustments that are primarily driven by new macro-economic realities). The tipping point for quality design education has not been reached yet, as design education is still being highly sought after in the West. This tipping point will probably occur in the next 10-15 years time.

One definition of ‘mature markets’ means markets that are no longer growing and in some cases shrinking. Investors have left the west years ago for the 21st century and the new massive markets of Asia. All that is left in the West is debt, quantitative easing, inflated real estate prices, increasing unemployment and rising income inequality. Information technology continues to drive innovation in the west which is becoming more dematerialized, digital and virtual everyday. Not good for industrial design.

I am one of those designers who left California years ago for Asia after seeing the writing on the wall. I landed in Seoul after stints in Singapore and Shanghai. What my work and travels have taught me is that the market and consumer behavior in East Asia is about 20-30 years behind that of mature markets in the West. The tension between digital and physical design is still tipped towards the physical in a market that is still in need of economic basics like modern roads, cities, power plants, deep water ports, air ports and sewage systems. And remember, that the means to the ends in building China’s infrastructure will be designed increasingly with modern IT from Korea and Taiwan, not t-square and triangle. Even more growth and profit opportunities for Asia.

The figure that keeps bringing me crashing down to earth is that +/-300 million people (US) is a mere fifth of the population of China. And wages and the cost of living are still so low that there is no need to suppress them. Once China creates parity with the US in the number of consumers, there will be less reason to continue doing business in the US or Europe for that matter. What is interesting to speculate on is what is to become of the US and Europe’s economies? Basic income?

Do you remember what ‘milk men’ were? They are a useful metaphor for describing in 2016 terms, what has become of industrial designers in the West (including California).

A misguided sense of nationalism.

yes, it will keep happening… it will balance some time, but for markets that need quick turn around, designers will be near to the production center, aka factory.

The reason why California became the “design center of the world” in 1950’s, is because some European designers became very famous, and then they wanted to live in Southern California, to live near the movie stars. Many designers moved to California from all over the world. This is all documented. The American companies also tried to make their own California designers become famous too, and even a team of all women designers was advertised to make them famous, and increase the idea of ‘California Design’.

Wherever the best designers move to - that becomes the capital of the design world. The best designers are moving to China now. Simple logic really.

I apologize if my discussion made anyone angered. My meaning was to discuss where in the world design will move to. I do not think it is ‘misguided nationalism’ to hope that design capital of the world is near my home? Every designer wishes their country has all the design!

I don’t think this is true at all.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some talented and influential designers moving to China but to say that there is a mass exodus happing at the moment is a bit over stated.

The quality of life matters when designers with options decide where to move.
From my experiences visiting the industrial hubs of China, I will have to say that I do feel fortunate to live and work in Europe, especially in regards to the state of the environment in those regions and the political situation.

This all might change and for China’s sake, I hope it does.
For now however, my guess is that it’ll take a lot to convince a vast majority of leading designers to leave the shores of California or living standards of Europe behind.

It is not 1950.

Location is irrelevant.

Welcome to the present.