What's the meaning of Designed in USA?

Since core77 & RKS are hosting a redesign challenge of RKS’s “Designed in USA” logo, I’d love to hear what everyone thinks about these issues:

  1. What would qualify such a claim on a package?
  2. What would be the benefits of making such a claim?
  3. How would we, as the designers, judge whether our design (perhaps worked on collaboratively with others elsewhere) is “designed in U.S.A.”?

As an American who has now been living outside the U.S for 18 years and I no longer drink the United States Kool-Aid that I never actually realized I was being fed on a daily basis growing up…my opinion is that the “Design in U.S.A.” is one of the most asinine things I’ve seen the American Design community embark upon.

I have yet to see one reason for this movement that makes a lick of sense to me yet. The Design community, until this movement, was about a rising tide that lifts all boats mentality. A global community of designers,that are moving towards making a better World.

Designed in U.S.A is going to do nothing for the idea that Asia is investing MILLIONS of dollars into Design and Innovation. Exposing young children to the concept of what good design and innovation is about. It is going to reap rewards for their culture and turn Asia into not only the manufacturing leaders, but the hands down Design and Innovation Leaders of the world.

Meanwhile, American Designers are going to have a nice logo and maybe a pin to wear on their jackets.


I concur on most of your points, but allow me to play Devil’s advocate. If what you’re saying is true, then what of the following examples that seemingly offer much geographically defined value and, thus, counterpoints:

  1. Apple’s use of “Designed in California” seems to, at the very least, provide their products with a bit of that California pride. It’s not a country, but still geographically based.
  2. The myriad of countries that use their nation as a point of distinction in design quality: Britain, Scandinavia, Spain, France, Italy, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and on and on. Surely, if “they can do it, so can we”?
  3. No matter where the vehicles are actually manufactured, the vast majority of the public still view the Detroit 3’s designs as essentially designed in America. And if that’s a legitimate claim on cars, why not on other designed products?

The Asian issue is something I’ve written about before, but I’m afraid it’s fallen on mostly deaf ears. It’s not hard to imagine that without more forethought, anticipation, and motivation, American designer will easily be overwhelmed by a surge of Asian designers who can offer competitive skills, design thinking, (in many cases) superior turnaround speed, AND manufacturing knowledge–all at a fraction of the cost. That’s a killer combo, and even if it’s just 1 out of 1000 who possess it, that’s still a HUGE number. But I digress…

That, to me, is the worst example. Apple’s Designed in California BS is easily the most pretentious statement out there. Bicycle manufacturers used to put assembled in the USA on their bikes, but have ditched it in favor of slapping a made in Taiwan or China sticker. Working at a shop in the Midwest, I got lots of sour comments about Off shore bikes, but mote people usually bought them anyway.

The “Made in the USA” moniker is less a tool for pride as a tool that USES pride. It is a political lever that pretends to attempt to keep American jobs in America. We all know that the concept of “Made in America” is effectively a fallacy. And to NURBs point, Designed in California is more a thumbing at the nose to the rest of America.

I’m curious about number two:

Do these countries have logos that say “Made in Spain” as a badge of honor or is it like you say about Detroit Automakers: They are Spanish Products?

This is a fineline discussion, but smacks of the underpinnings behind WHY this logo is (not) needed. For me, it reads like a Scarlet Letter as opposed to something to be proud of because it feels like isolationism and insecurity to me.

Of course they will, because they want more for less. Designed to be “good enough” is what matters in a commodity market and satisfies the 80%.

I’d much rather see the effort being put into designing a nice logo be put towards lobbying Government to start looking at Taiwan (amongst others) as examples of countries that get that investment in Design means INVESTING in design…not creating a cute little logo.

There’s no logo, per se, but there’s certainly a “mental” brand, at the very least. Consumers may not buy a product BECAUSE of its nation of origin, but there are many who are AWARE of its origin of design and take some level of pride or comfort in that knowledge.

Basically, I’m trying to figure out why there seems to be some notion of pride tied to countries such as France (Louis Vuitton, Citroen’s concept cars) and Britain (Paul Smith, Dyson) that works to that country’s benefit, but perhaps not for some others. Is there something about the U.S., its design culture, its mixture of ethnic backgrounds–or something else entirely–that precludes any possibility of a “designed in U.S.A.” brand?

Here’s another counter point (again, just trying to explore this issue, not taking a stance): it is well known that China is collectively–with efforts from the government and various art institutions–pushing to make the country more than a manufacturer. In fact, China has begun a campaign of encouraging studios and schools to raise their quality of design and drive awareness of SPECIFICALLY the notion of “Designed in China” as a stark contrast to “Made in China”. So, if China’s actually DOING this, why wouldn’t this work for the U.S.? An argument can be made that China’s insecurity of being pigeonholed into being only a manufacturer is pushing it to seek “Designed in China” as a badge of honor. If “Designed in…” is indeed isolationist, how do you explain the successes that various European brands have enjoyed by consistently drawing inspiration and marketing materials from their country of origin–even if their products are made elsewhere? Ultimately, what is it that makes “Designed in U.S.A.” such a hard pill to swallow?

I would argue your point about Taiwan. My family’s from Taiwan and I have many designer friends in Taiwan. In fact, I’ve worked in Taiwan during my design career. The support from Taiwanese government has always been and still is very inconsistent. The passion for design is really from the young designers going to school–and the energy is phenomenal. Unfortunately, design is still mostly considered a commodity in a country that values stout engineering (understandably so) much more than creative pursuits. The interesting thing is that unlike “Made in China”, “Made in Taiwan” is much more a badge of pride for the Taiwanese; often you’ll see TV ads sponsored by the government calling people to support Made in Taiwan products. Especially in the bike industry, “Made in Taiwan” has become a symbol of quality and dependability; bike aficionados will buy MIT long before they’ll consider MIC. Here’s a little known fact: most mass-produced Italian bikes are also made in Taiwan, shipped out to Italy for painting and finishing, and labeled as “Made in Italy”.

I see your point about the uselessness of just a logo and that it’s a misdirected effort, but with respect (IP) there might be some KoolAid influencing attitudes towards the US… I think there’s a double standard when it comes to the US expressing national pride. (my wife’s from BC and drinks Canadian Koolaid too :laughing: )

The US design industry should be working to raise the industry profile and it doesn’t have to automatically do it for the world rather than just for itself - other countries don’t. There are several examples national design development done internally; ie. the UK design council, Korean national design policy, etc. all promoting their own businesses.

IMO, the US needs to be competitive and keep design on the mind of companies who will hire local designers. I also think there is a pride with buying local business’s products in most places if they’re of similar quality - it definitely happens in the UK. Maybe a more subtle campaign would be to promote design work done within the borders in other ways, something like those Nokia Lumia “how it was designed” commercials. As you said, the global balance is shifting and US industry could be strengthened

as far as Apple’s “Designed in California” stamp, it’s never bothered me. There’s nothing saying “Designed in South Carolina” can’t be stamped on a product… I just don’t think it will have the same romanticism globally

Why? This sounds an awful lot like an unchallenged assumption/status quo kind of thought process to me.

We’re transitioning from a villiage/tribe economy to a truly global economy. Information exchange has never been as free as has become in the past 10 years. We’re on the leading edge of a Renaissance…a wholesale change in how the world lives and does business. Change has happened in the past, and with it comes a painful process of extracting old thought processes. But the rate of change in our world is unprecedented in times past. Old school thinking doesn’t fit anymore.

I find it disheartening that Designers are continuing down a path of unchallenged assumptions.

I’m a globalist. I believe (very strongly as you can probably tell) that the world is going to move forward with or without those who cling to isolationist views of doing business. “Designed in XXX” falls into that category (Changed to XXX b/c as you point out this is not JUST an American thing).

I don’t doubt that the insider’s view of Taiwan is less that stellar. That’s human nature.

That said, I witnessed it first hand back in October. The Taiwanese Gov’t invested millions (rumoured to be over $20M) in the IDA conference. They sponsored the conference, advertised it, set up countless galleries, and shows and brought students in by the bus load to be exposed to Design. This is an investment. It isn’t something that will see any ROI for 20 years. But I believe it is laying the foundation for Taiwan to transition from “just” engineering and manufacturing to a holistic innovation leader.

The answer for me is a question because at no point have I heard what problem this is supposed to solve. What is it trying to solve?

Let’s pull back the curtain on “Designed in USA”:

  1. Every corporation that uses Design as a precedent is a global company. The have designers, and researchers located all over the world.
  2. Virtually every high level service based Design firm (e.g. Ziba, IDEO, Karim, frog) are global companies. They have Design offices plastered everywhere. Design is not regional anymore.
  3. Many of the USA’s Design Leaders (Ravi Sawhney, himself) are not “American”. They might be NOW, but they were born elsewhere…just to rattle off a few: Jonathan Ive, Karim Rashid, Sorhab Voussoughi, Yves Behar.

It is a jagged pill because it is all based on Emotional Marketing that, in my opinion, is founded on unquestioned assumptions. I’ll be glad to eat my hat on this if there is some kind of primary research that is driving this movement that shows that this is anything more than a letter sweater event.

I’m agnostic about the “Designed in USA” campaign (or whatever it is), but I see no problem with certain countries having a specialty and promoting it. Even in a globalized economy, certain producers tend to flock together or demonstrate a particular skill or flair. French fashion, British menswear, German cars, Italian furniture, Japanese electronics, American military equipment, etc. That’s not bad, or provincial, or old school thinking. It’s something that makes certain parts of the world interesting and different from other parts. But that’s presumably not what they are trying to promote here, unless this logo is intended to go on the underside of a Predator drone.

The thing is, you really can’t design as well when you’re halfway around the world as you can when you’re walking distance to the factory. It’s one of the main problems with things being “designed in the USA” and “made in China”. That kind of divide between design and manufacturing causes problems for both. It’s not something you should really advertise.

The main reason things are still designed in the US at all under this model isn’t because we are better designers, it’s simply that American designers have a much better understanding of their market. This is obvious when you see what Chinese factories put out on spec using their in house designers.

We’re getting into the third generation with some of these Chinese factories now, and this generation is graduating from US business, design, and engineering schools. They speak the language and understand the market. Guess where that ends.

There was an interesting PBS program a few days ago about Made In The USA. It can be viewed online here:

On this whole “Designed in USA”, I think I have more questions than an opinion. Why? What for and who for? To what end? Who will (ultimately) care?

Maybe these types of labeling - Made in _ , Designed in _, Assembled in _, Realized in _ - should just be completely dropped from products altogether? I mean what really qualifies any of these anymore? No labeling could also be a fun guessing game! Like cars that seem to have the oil leak as part of the design.

As always…someone expresses it far more succinctly than I ever could have :slight_smile:

Isn’t this more about heritage and image than reality?

Maybe. Certainly the Germans make nice cars, and we make pretty awesome weapons. In both cases, you could argue it’s because those industries have seen continued local investment over time, and we’re just shipped off to a low wage country at the first opportunity. Although saying that, a lot of German cars are made in the US and Mexico, so maybe not the best example.

Anyway, my main point was that putting an ocean between two key parts of the production process is generally something you do to save money, not to make a better product. So what are you really telling people when your product says “Designed in the USA” and “Made in China”?

As designers, don’t we want less logos on things and not more?

I personally like the “Designed in California” tag on Apple product because it fits their brand, their ethos. I have no problem with saying designed in America, or wherever, as long as it is authentic to the brand and is honest. Sharp for awhile had the signature of the industrial designers who worked ona particular product debossed on the back… A friend of mine has a TV from them with a signature on the back plate. I think that is great if that is what a company wants to be about (though in that example they don’t talk about it).

It gets tricky though because design activities can be very global. In my last role there were times when offices in the US and Europe and Asia might be working on different aspects of one project, or a collection of projects for a single company. Sometimes products for US brands are designed in Europe and vice versa. What do you do then? I think we should be trying to work across boarders not within them.

Which gets me back to Apple’s “designed in California”. They have a very international team, but they all work in California for a company that was born out of the mixture of technology and counter culture that was from the physical place. It rings true to me… And they don’t do it for nostalgia, brownie points, or me or you, they do it for themselves.

Fully agree, Yo…the whole reasoning behind this logo carries no authenticity to me either.

It goes back to the question: What is the reason for this logo?

I’m not convinced that we’ve exhausted all of the possibilities for why there couldn’t be value in “Designed in U.S.A.” So I’m proposing another:

What if the designer intended to imbue the design with some sense of “American culture”? Then would he be justified in WANTING to make the claim “Designed in U.S.A.”?

Another counter point: if “designed in XXX” is meaningless, why is that in instances where designers in country A create a product that is culturally reflective of country B, many people in country B are upset? There must be SOME tangible value that people are associating with “designed in XXX” that has some fundamental link to their country’s identity, is there not?